On March 10, the performance space at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music was flowing not with the sounds of saxophones and hi-hats, but of actors’ voices blending against a graffiti-filled backdrop, as they spoke the words of playwright Suzan Lori-Parks.
The cathartic production of “In the Blood,” the ancient Greek-style tragedy of an impoverished mother of five, was written in 1999 and loosely based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter. The play is directed by Mia Kristin Smith and produced by Diversity Works. Quanda Johnson, an alumnus of The New School for Drama, started this student-led organization in 2009 to expand opportunities for works by playwrights of color. “In the Blood” is its third production.
LeKethia Dalcoe, who masterfully portrayed Hester, the troubling and complex lead of the play, is also the president of the organization. A student of The New School for Drama, she considers herself an advocate for diversity in the arts and noted the important role that writers, producers and directors play in changing the current landscape of theater in New York and beyond.
“I think it really starts down into the producers, the people who have the money willing to let those funds go out to produce these types of pieces, because they’re out there, and those stories are interesting like any other stories.” However, Dalcoe was also careful to point out the significance of “producing, or willing to do work of all different types and genres, and not just sticking to what we believe black people want to see, or people of color want to see.”
She also noted that universities could do their part by providing more funding fore minorities through scholarships, especially at The New School.
“We have directors and we have writers also in the program, and if they’re from certain backgrounds, they often write plays that adhere to a certain group and so forth,” she said.
“In The Blood” is uncomfortable to watch, as we would expect from a well-performed tragedy, but it isn’t a Greek tragedy. It deals with gender, race, class and sexuality issues that are endemic to our time and place. It is absolutely significant and instrumental that a woman of color wrote this play in the late 20th century. Though Hester’s experience is far from Parks’ reality — or the reality of most people — it unfortunately reflects some disturbing aspects of the world we all inhabit.
Diversity Works holds monthly meetings, which are open to all New School students.