by Amrita Ramanan, Literary Manager
A couple of Sundays ago, as I stepped outside to enjoy the beautiful weather following the Hurricane Irene aftermath, I decided to take a brief detour from my typical stroll to Arena Stage and witness history by checking out the dedication of the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial. I joined the crowds by the Tidal Basin and was instantly overwhelmed by the beautiful landscape and the timeless mantras of Dr. King that permeated throughout. How amazing to be in D.C. right here, right now! As I left the memorial, it occurred to me where else I've heard Dr. King's name referenced lately: Trouble in Mind.
Art often imitates life, but it's exciting when art imitates life over time. Trouble in Mind was first written in 1955, but here I am in 2011 being reminded of how the play still speaks to us. Fifty years later, and we're hit with the timeliness of our history and still grappling with some of the same issues Alice Childress and the characters of Trouble wrestle with. After I noticed this similarity, several others started to pop up in a variety of mediums that I encountered around the city - museums, movies and discussion series.
So, with that, here's my guided DMV tour of how to engage with Trouble in Mind when you're not in the theater. But make sure to bring these experiences and ideas to the theater when you see the show. You may be surprised with what you discover when all of these artistic worlds collide:
Movies: Check out The Help (still playing in many movie theaters around the DC metro-area). Set in Mississippi during the 1960s, southern society girl 'Skeeter' returns from college determined to become a writer, but turns her friends' lives - and a small Mississippi town - upside down when she decides to interview the black women who have spent their lives taking care of priveleged southern families. Aibileen, Skeeter's best friend's housekeeper, is the first to open up and soon more women come forward to tell their stories. There's some great commentary on the roles and expectations of African-Americans by popular society, particularly the notorious Mammy role that Wiletta gets pushed into in Choas in Belleville, the play within the play in Trouble in Mind.
Museums: Swing by the Smithsonian Museum of American History and peruse For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights. It's the first exhibition of it's kind to explore the fight for civil rights in the United States through a series of visual images. You'll see photographs of Rosa Park's Montgomery Bus Boycott and Hattie Macdaniel with the soundscape of "Old Man River" as you trek through the exhibit, showcasing a true "reel to real" experience. You can also order the book version of the exhibit online.
While you're at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, head down a block to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History for Race: Are We So Different?. Developed by the American Anthropological Association in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota, the exhibit takes race under the microscope from biological, cultural and historical point of view.
Get your girl power on with The Guerilla Girls talk Back at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Known as self-proclaimed troublemakers, the Guerrilla Girls merge comedy and social commentary through populist art production, including posters and books, and live performances where they take on the personas of powerful women in the arts (Alice Childress being one of them). Catch em' while you can!
Discussion Series: In addition to the great ambience and delish food, Bus Boys and Poets offers A.C.T.O.R. (A Continuing Talk On Race). Developed for the community, by the community, A.C.T.O.R. provides the opportunity for people to come together and speak openly and honestly about issues of race the 1st Sunday of every month. The intent is that each person walks away from the discussion feeling challenged, uncomfortable, enlightened, refreshed or reassured. Each month will offer up a new topic, with Busboys and Poets sponsoring a facilitator.