by Noémie Attia
Biopics – they often glorify personalities and fail to do justice to the era they represent, or to reveal anything relevant about ours.
No Blue Memories shows it’s high time we break this habit.
Manual Cinema created this live cinematic performance of shadow theatre with actors, paper puppets and live music to pay Miss Gwendolyn Brooks a tribute for her centenary. Brooks was an important poet from Chicago who had a massive political impact in the United States for most of the twentieth century. She was also the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize.
“[Brooks] is a personal figure, as well as an artistic giant in the city,” says Sarah Fornace, the director of the show and a member of the Chicago-based arts company, on the phone. The entire ensemble on stage in No Blue Memories is African American, all from Chicago. Each artist in the project had an anecdote to share about Brooks, as she was very involved in the local artistic community throughout her life. It only made sense that Chicagoans, themselves, recount her story.
In the show, actors’ shadows and paper puppets animate Brooks’ poems and personal life on a screen, accompanied by live music composed and performed by Jamila and Ayanna Woods. “It’s definitely audio and visual,” Fornace says. “You can just watch the screen above and it’s like a movie, or you can look down and see the actors speaking and the band playing and singing.” Eve Ewing and Nate Marshall, the writers of the show, wove their narrative around the events of Brooks’ life and also the socio-political events happening around her – most notably, the Civil Rights movement.
“Whether you knew of Gwendolyn Brooks’ poetry before or not, I would say that everyone that comes to the theatre is going to have an amazing emotional journey,” Fornace says. “And it is some of the best music and poetry I’ve ever heard on stage.”
No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks takes place on February 24 at the Chan Centre for Performing Arts.