Unbossed & Unbowed: Ingrid Griffith’s Play Brings Shirley Back
Q&A with Playwright/Actor Ingrid Griffith and Maitefa Angaza for Our Time Press
Shirley Chisholm returns to tell her story in outspoken terms in playwright Ingrid Griffith’s new work, Unbossed & Unbowed, on Friday, November 29th. Griffith herself plays the intrepid Caribbean-born politician in a one-woman, audience-engaged production at Bailey’s Café. She tells Our Time Press readers what to expect and why she’s so inspired by Shirley. Showtime is 5:30 and tickets are $15 online and $25 at the door. For further information, search for Unbossed & Unbowed on Eventbrite.
Our Time Press: Has this play been staged elsewhere before coming to Brooklyn?
Ingrid Griffith: Yes, various forms of the work-in-progress have been at venues in Brooklyn, New York City and in New Jersey.
OTP: Is it appropriate for all ages?
Ingrid Griffith: It’s appropriate for ages 14 and up. A younger audience may have difficulty staying engaged or grasping the historical references and nuances.
OTP: Are audiences likely to learn much that they didn’t know about Shirley as a person, apart from the politician?
Ingrid Griffith: Yes, besides the story being about Shirley’s political career and activism, it’s about her family. The story shows her parents’ circumstances, the political atmosphere in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where they lived and why, I believe, Shirley decided to become a social activist and politician. The story begins when Shirley is 10 years old and ends when she is in her 50s.
OTP: Can you give us an idea, without giving too much away, of what you mean by “immersive and interactive?”
Ingrid Griffith: The full-staged production will have visuals and audio highlighting events that influenced Shirley and the other characters. The multimedia aspect of the show will allow the audience to become immersed in the story.
It is interactive in the sense that because of the solo-show genre, audience members will feel more like participants. When Shirley is the narrator, she speaks directly to the audience and that inclusion encourages audience members to be more reactive and responsive than they would be if they were watching a traditional play.
OTP: How does Unbossed and Unbowed further your trajectory in using history to raise awareness of current-day issues?
Ingrid Griffith: Presenting my story in Demerara Gold allowed me to see how impactful and far-reaching the telling of our stories can be and how important it is to share what we’ve been through. I’d like to continue creating stories about people we know or should know to present what we’re dealing with now. It helps us understand our history, the social implications and the common threads that empower us and hinder us. For instance, why is it difficult for people of color in America to have a healthy nuclear family unit, afford a home, get the careers they want, achieve more? I want to present stories that will not only entertain but will inform, empower, push us to think and change.
OTP: Were there any mistakes or missteps that Shirley used to grow as she progressed as a politician?
Ingrid Griffith: I think Shirley would say that they were. She was a very private person so there were no profound personal revelations in my research. But I sense that the campaign staff she had when she was running for the Presidency of the U.S. could have been better managed; that monies she received to help fund her campaign could have been better managed as well, and that some choices she made in her personal life she may have regretted.
OTP: What has your work as an actor brought to your work as a playwright?
Ingrid Griffith: A better understanding of what’s needed for the characters I write to be multidimensional. And to have the patience and courage to stick with the writing process.
OTP: Before you staged your own work, what was one of your most impactful experiences in theater?
Ingrid Griffith: I was playing Ruth in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin’ in the Sun. During a rehearsal, it hit me that this African-American family’s story was so similar to mine. Stories from a truthful place are timeless and will have a message that someone right now needs to hear.
OTP: How has your work, such as Demerara Gold, been received by Caribbean audiences in the U.S.?
Ingrid Griffith: The immigrant story has been told in many genres. I’ve been touring Demerara Gold for the past five years and have seen that the solo-show presentation has had a particularly sharp resonance with Caribbean audiences. The key is the combination of the story with the inspirational effect of having a single performer on a bare stage control the narrative of her life. Caribbean audiences throughout the U.S. have been turning out to see Demerara Gold and have been recommending it. It’s been an exciting ride.
OTP: Why do you think there is not more Caribbean theater known to the general public?
Ingrid Griffith: That might have to do with interest, income and time. Caribbeans are not as eager to go see a play, especially if it’s not comedy, as they are to go dancing or go on a picnic or a bus ride. Also, community theater is costly to sustain, even when there’s some outside funding and financial supporters. I think there are a good number of Caribbean playwrights and actors who want more opportunities to share their voices/our stories, but it would be difficult to keep a Caribbean theater running if there’s not enough of an interested audience.
OTP: Who has been supportive/instrumental in helping bring this work to the stage?
Ingrid Griffith: “Unbossed & Unbowed” began with a few scenes that I shared in a solo-show workshop a few years ago. Since then, colleagues, fellow artists and a voice within have been keeping me going.