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by Yvette Heyliger

Photo by Miriam Berkley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yours truly, Yvette Heyliger (Willow 2011 & Oak 2008), was selected to present an excerpt from my first one woman show, Bridge to Baraka, in We Are Theatre, the women theatre artist advocacy event conceived and produced by Guerrilla Girls On Tour! at the Cherry Lane Theatre on September 24, 2012. Since 2001, Guerrilla Girls On Tour! has annually protested against sexism in the American Theatre. These protests purposely occur around the time of the Tony Awards to highlight the fact that women are not nominated for Tony’s because they are seldom hired to work on Broadway. Even in the 2011-2012 theatre season where an unprecedented four plays by women were produced, none of these women dramatists received a Tony award nomination for “Best Play.” We Are Theatre was also produced by 50/50 in 2020 and Women’s Initiative (made up of members of the Dramatists Guild). It was made possible through the generosity of founder and artistic director of the Cherry Lane Theatre, Angelina Fiordellisi, and a host of sponsors including Hedgebrook.

I Am That Bear! was excerpted and adapted from my larger solo work, Bridge To Baraka especially for We Are Theatre. In this excerpt, Yvette X discusses the Black Arts Movement and encourages women theatre artists to take a page from the spirit of this unlikely movement to fuel the fight for parity in the American Theatre.”

 

YVETTE X

Calling women. Calling all women: mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, aunts, nieces, girlfriends and grandmothers… wherever you are, calling you. Urgent. Come in you women. Come on in.

My name is Yvette X, Uptown Artist. I am not a man. I am not white and I am not young, but I write plays for the American theatre featuring roles for leading women. Y’all have heard the statistics, it’s pretty bleak and you can believe when things are hard for white folks, they are doubly hard for black folks. So, what gives me the audacity to write the plays I want to write, the way I want to write them? On whose shoulders do I stand? To find the answer to that question we have to go back—back to Black! (Sound cue, James Brown’s hit song, “Say It Loud; I’m Black and I’m Proud.” YVETTE X dances a step from the time period.)

Now, hold on to your seats. This may shock you—I’m standing on the shoulders of the Black Arts Movement. Is there anyone here that was around in the 60’s? Well then, you’ll remember that the writing of the Black Arts Movement was not for the faint of heart. It was felt by many to be reverse racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, separatist, and generally inflammatory, but there is a lot more to it than what you might think; more to it than ‘Whitey did this to us,” and “Whitey did that to us,”—more to it than a bunch of angry poems. What we women can take from the Black Arts Movement is what inspires me to keep fighting the good fight.

You see, as quiet as it’s kept, the Black Arts Movement saved lives, too. We may have won the right to vote, to sit at the white lunch counter, in the front of the bus or next to a white kid in class, but the day-to-day quality of life for most Black folks was still the same—poverty, unemployment, lack of education and health care. You name it—Black folks needed it, couldn’t get it, but were expected to pay taxes for it anyway. (SHE chants a slogan from the period.) “Arm yourself or harm yourself! Arm yourself or harm yourself!” No longer content to turn the other cheek or wait until they get to the gold paved streets of heaven to get their milk and honey, you had a whole bunch of fed-up, angry Black folks wanting to take some white folks out!

But dig this; what happened was Blacks, some whom had never written before, chose the PEN instead of the GUN as a means of armed self-defense against the System. White folks don’t know how close they came—just an ellipsis, an em dash, or a comma away from meetin’ their maker! I’m telling you, black folks were out of control—writing for themselves, by themselves and about themselves in a way they never had before and gettin’ those stories to the masses “by any means necessary.” Not caring what “The Man” thought about it, or if he would ever read it, review it or by a ticket to see it—pushing the envelope and breaking every rule governing grammar, style, form, content, and plain old good manners. America had never seen such a militant artistic movement. White folks were scratching their heads wondering, “Now, what bear did we poke?” Sweet, sticky honey! I just thought of something. I AM THAT BEAR!

(Sound cue, “Baraka Groove” by Larry Farrow.) I am the bear that writes plays for the American theatre featuring roles for leading women, in a country where female playwrights are not produced to the extent of any male playwright, living or dead. I am that bear standing on the shoulders of artistic warriors whose poetry, plays and essays were like honey from the Tree of Life—recognized, sought after and consumed for the first time in spite of their buzzing, stinging, sticky words. (Sound out.) These forerunners of multiculturalism could not be denied a place in the canon of American literature, just as we women will not be denied equal pay and access to America’s stages!

For heaven’s sake, if Black folks facing relentless racism in the 60’s could start a Movement, then surely we multicultural women in the new millennium can do it. My name is Black Bear X and if there is a Black Bear XX [two-x] or a Black Bear XXX [three-x] or four-x among you who got poked tonight, then… Calling you… Calling all you grizzly women. Urgent. Come in you women. Come on in. (Blackout.)

© 2012 by Yvette Heyliger.

 

Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

Yvette Heyliger
About Yvette Heyliger

7 Comments

  • Yvonne Farrow
    8:14 PM - 25 October, 2012

    This is fantastick! Congratulations!

    • Yvette Heyliger
      4:24 PM - 29 October, 2012

      Thank you so much! It was fun to do and a great exercise for me to really hone the message of the play within the time constraints of this event.

  • Lvflg
    10:02 AM - 27 October, 2012

    Play it again – somewhere. A fine work. An excellent performance. [I saw it last summer].

    • Yvette Heyliger
      4:26 PM - 29 October, 2012

      Thanks so much! The play is growing. I hope to do it again in a festival this coming winter. I was asked to add a few more minutes of material, so I have been working on that. Thanks for writing! Yvette

  • Charmaigne
    3:10 PM - 27 October, 2012

    Amazing talent! Wow.

    • Yvette Heyliger
      9:49 AM - 25 June, 2013

      Sorry I never responded to your post re: my piece on the Hedgebrook blog. Thanks so much!

  • Yvette Heyliger
    4:31 PM - 29 October, 2012

    It has been a while since I have been on the other side of the footlights (since the early 80’s when I was on the Cosby Show!) It was ALMOST like getting back up on that horse, but not exactly! Thanks for your supportive words! Yvette

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