By Brittney Johnson, AFRO Intern
The Queen’s Girl Rep is a two-part series running at Everyman Theatre in Baltimore. The first part, Queen’s Girl in the World, is a bold and riveting play written by award-winning playwright Caleen Sinnette Jennings. It is a story about a Black girl coming of age in the context of her Queens, NY neighborhood where she lived with protective middle class parents and the predominantly Jewish private school she attended in Greenwich Village.
The one-woman show captures a young Jennings’ experience of self exploration and discovery in 1960’s America, becoming adaptable to both environments by excelling in school, and still staying humble and grounded in her own community. Part two of the repertoire, Queens Girl in Africa, continues to chronicle the fish-out-of-water experiences of the of bright-eyed, brown-skinned Jacqueline Marie Butler’ who is faced with mastering “code-switching” after her parents leave the country during the heyday of the Civil Right movement for a life in Nigeria.
Jennings talk to the AFRO about the inspiration behind her remarkable play and how Queen’s Girl in the World is a play that will resonate with audiences across the lifespan.
AFRO: Why did you decide to write this play and the importance behind it?
Caleen Jennings: “Well, what I want your readers to know is that person that is nagging you to write about your life, about your family history, and the fabulous stories you tell, listen to them and do it, because this wouldn’t have happened if a friend of mine hadn’t of said, ‘You need to write this down.’”
AFRO: Tell us more about Dawn Ursula and what she does in the play?
Jennings: Well, the fabulous Dawn Ursula who is in ‘Queens Girl in the World’ dawn plays about 15 different characters in this one-woman show that is loosely based on the events of my life.
AFRO: Why would you suggest that we get young women to see this play?
Jennings: “Well, the memory that is most vivid for me as an adolescent is that you feel that number one nobody understands you and number two you don’t fit in anywhere The irony is as you grow up is that you realize that, “Oh, everyone feels that way,” but that’s a natural part of adolescence. It’s a very painful and a very difficult time, but it can also be a time where you often feel silly. A time where you often feel ‘I don’t know what’s going on,’ where you feel naïve. A time where you can be bullied and taken advantage of. This is a story of a young woman who comes into herself through these various experiences that she has, how she kind of just weathers the storm. And in the end, is beginning to put the pieces together. So, I think young women may identify with having been in that stage or may be in that stage now.”
AFRO: What can people expect to leave with and talk about after seeing Queens Girl in the World?
Jennings: “I think you can expect to talk about, well People have told me that they have seen themselves reflected in the characters people say, “Oh, that dad is just like my dad or the mother is just like my mother.” So, I think you’ll see pieces of yourself in the story, and I think you’ll also begin to think about the history that you are living right now. One of the things that was amazing for me I think one of the amazing things for me is, I was just living my life and now looking back on it I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh I was a part of one of those major historical moments.’ Well you are a part of those moments right now and I hope that’ll get people talking about when I look back on this time what will I remember in terms of my life and its historical context.”
AFRO: Is there anything else you’d like to share with AFRO readers about how your life has shaped what they can expect to experience in the theater?
Jennings: “I spent a lot of time mediating quietly. Taking myself back to my bedroom at 8 Laird Place, Ibadan, Nigeria in Spring 1968. In my short lifetime, I had experienced the assassinations of Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, and countless African leaders. I remember feeling as if the earth was spinning. I felt surrounded by death, destruction, and corruption. Racism, tribalism, xenophobia, poverty, and violence made me feel frightened and powerless.”
The play will be running from May 7-Jun 23 at Everyman Theatre on 315 W. Fayette St. Baltimore, Md.
Managing Editor, Tiffany Ginyard contributed to this story.