*Jasmine Guy has been entertaining audiences by dancing, singing and acting for many years and is etched into our minds as Whitley Gilbert of “A Different World.” But that was only the tip of her very large entertainment iceberg. Broadway, films, sitcoms? She’s done them all.
Our Lee Bailey was able to speak with Ms. Guy for a spell – in Universal City at taping of TV One’s upcoming “Way Black When” series – and she had some pretty darn interesting things to say about Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls …,” artistic interpretation, and making works that are readily digested by all audiences.
And yes, he does know a little something about audiences. In 2009, Guy directed the True Colors production of “For Colored Girls” starring Robin Givens and Nicole Ari Parker in Atlanta. In fact, she had several famous audience members at one of her shows for research purposes.
“We did a production of ‘For Colored Girls’ at the Southwest Art Center and I got a call from Tyler (Perry) that he wanted to come and see the show and he came and we met and talked,” said Guy. “Then he brought Janet (Jackson) to come see it. Our production would have talk-backs after the show because there are so many issues in that play. It was a wonderful opportunity for us to bring in well-being specialists. We even did men’s panels speaking on ‘For Colored Girls’.”
The subject matter involved in the play is real, raw and it cuts deep. To many women its subject matter is an unfortunate part of their past, and represents an unfortunate present to others.
This was not lost on Jasmine. She told EURweb.com that she was ever vigilant as to the affects this play had on the psyche of black women. We’re sure you are aware of the dialogue Tyler Perry’s version has garnered, but Guy told us it was even worse in the ’70s.
“Laturna Jackson, who was in the original ‘For Colored Girls’ in the ’70s came and had a historical talk about when this play came out and what it did for black women,” she explained. “The backlash that ensued and the death threats. Ntozake Shange was voicing a part of our culture that had never been aired and people were angry about it. In the ‘Colored Girls’ that I directed I saw the light between the crevices of the dialogue. In between the stories that were told is a story of survival, sisterhood and the men who did do the right thing when they are in our lives, the incredible impact they had on us when they do uplift us and how much we need them. I tried to focus on that as much as possible.”
For Guy it was all a matter of interpretation of art and how she would reflect that to the viewing audience.
“I just felt, in reading it, it could be a very oppressive play if not taken a certain way. The interpretation of the poems used is wide open so I chose to do some things with humor that might not have been done that way,” she explained. “The title is ‘For Colored Girls Who Consider Suicide When the Rainbow Was Enuff,’ but we decided to focus on the rainbow and not the suicide. There’s a choice of interpretation if the words are the same. I had seven wonderful women for this piece and we had to show seven different ways women get angry, seven different ways women get sad. It’s a little tricky because we all want to turn ‘sister girl’ on you, but do we really need to do that? Do we really need to throw a man’s underwear out the window and lock the door so he can’t get in at night? Sometimes we implode, we don’t get back up. Sometimes we aren’t the nervy, sassafras that we think we should have been or could have been. A lot of times other women lift us back up and I wanted that to be evident in my play. I wanted there to be a sisterhood among women instead of this catfight that we always get a rap for.”
In this instance Jasmine is acting as that sister of reason. If a man is lucky he will have several in his life: mother, sister, daughter and, if you’re real lucky, wife. With all the emotional landmines surrounding Tyler Perry’s interpretation of Ntozake Shange’s choreo-poem we had to ask her what she thought of his film.
“Let me preface this by saying I think this is something that is best on the live stage, just like every book does not translate well to film or a musical might not translate to film. It’s very difficult. I think what Tyler was charged to do was very difficult. Then, the monologues were written as poems. They are to be studied and interpreted. It’s not an accessible language that we’re used to hearing. So, I think he was able to marry the two languages and wrap these stories in some kind of realism that a movie going audience can follow. He certainly had some of our best talent out there to tell the story. I think he did very well on that.”
Not unlike that “sister of reason” that every man could use, Guy’s opinion of Perry’s work is two-sided and real.
“I do think we could have used a little more light in the piece,” conceded Guy. “I would have liked to have felt a little better about getting up the next day. I also feel for our men, and I feel this way about white people as well, when we do all these black productions; whether it’s August Wilson’s ‘Fences’ or ‘Raisin In The Sun’. I think all of our productions need to be true to the work without bashing the audience that needs to see it. If we make it so y’all don’t want to come you’re not going to hear what we’re trying to say. I had to market my play in Atlanta and I would go on television and on the radio and say just because the title is ‘For Colored Girls’ doesn’t mean that men and white people can’t come and see it. The white men that are in my family, they come to see all my work, they need to be able to see it too. Sometimes we get a little heavy handed.”
It is apparent there are black men in the world with low moral fiber and the same can be said for all people. But, according to Guy, we don’t really need to beat one another over the head with it, do we? Here she has a message for those with the keys to the fountain of creativity.
“The oppression of our women and the oppression of black people, I think, are evident things in our work on top of us having to say it,” said Guy. “As directors and artist and directors of the word, let’s try to find that other triumph. Those men and those white people who are not our enemies, I need my men. It is the completion of who I am, it enhances my womanhood. There are so many more men in my life that do that, than the other. It’s been my personal experience that I cannot go against my father and my uncles, past boyfriends and lovers who did not do me wrong.”
And that’s coming from a woman who is fresh off a divorce from a 10 year marriage. It was such a pleasure speaking with Jasmine Guy and we will have more from her in an upcoming addition of EURweb.com in which she will talk about her new projects, God’s role in career and the legacy of “Different World.”