Josephine Baker is and remains a huge inspiration for me. She’s incredibly fearless, she took risks but most of all she knew how to put on a show.
When I came into my own as a woman, I was drawn to her femininity. She embraced being a woman so effortlessly. I admired the woman who dared to have a pet leopard and wore skimpy clothes and rhinestone in a time period where women were considered scandalous for wearing pants. To this day, I want to possess the same bravado as Josephine.
I knew the glitz and the glam of Josephine, but it wasn’t until the Black Ensemble Theater’s Black Pearl: A Tribute to Josephine Baker that the multiple complex layers of Josephine were revealed.
The play chronicles the unique perspective of an older Josephine reflecting on her life. We witness the highs and lows of the first African-American international superstar with no filter. From failed relationships to her rise to stardom, this production does a remarkable job of making the audience bystanders to her life. There were many times where it was as if we were watching the real Josephine.
Throughout the play, the audience becomes witnesses to the many barriers in Josephine’s way. However, against the odds of racism, poverty and abandonment, Josephine succeeded. I’m sure she would take comfort in knowing that her story is in great hands at The Black Ensemble Theater.
Recently I caught up with director Daryl Brooks on his vision behind the play. We talked about how he selected the Josephines, the legacy Josephine left, and little known Josephine facts.
As I’ve mentioned, I encourage everyone to check out this play. Without further ado, let’s dive into The Black Pearl with Daryl Brooks.
Bringing Josephine to the Black Ensemble Theater
TCL: What made you want to bring the life of Josephine Baker to the Black Ensemble Theater?
DB: Josephine Baker was a entertainment and civil rights icon that not a lot of people know about. Bringing this story to the stage was a important part of retelling a part of history that is often forgotten
TCL:When watching the play, we see both a young and older Josephine, Explain your reasoning behind showing the two perspectives? Why is it important for the audience to see the two Josephines?
DB: Two Josephine’s were important, because we all change with age. Josephine had such a different contrast in life from her younger years to her older years. It seemed important to display those changes on stage with 2 very different actress’
TCL: Let’s talk about the two Josephines. What characteristics did the actresses have to embody in order to play Josephine
DB: They had to embody the essence of Josephine. Her strength, her courage and her freeness
TCL: Was there anything that surprised you about Josephine that you didn’t previously know before putting together the production? If so, what did you learn?
DB: A lot. I did not know that she was credited with creating the Charleston. I also did not know that while she was being a spy for the French during WWII she almost died twice from peritonitis.
TCL: In your own words, tell us about the type of legacy Josephine left behind?
DB: Josephine left a legacy of courage that has rarely been seen. Her ability to do things her way in a society that told her she couldn’t should be admired
TCL: What do you admire most about Josephine?
DB: Her ability to stand out and be proud when she wasn’t suppose to.
TCL: After seeing the performance, what do you hope the audience takes away from it?
DB: That everyone can truly step out on their own inner strength, and achieve the greatness that is in everybody
TCL: In your own words, give us your pitch as to why we need to see Black Pearl?
DB: The Black Pearl takes us on a journey with an international superstar the United States had given up. Through her own strength and courage Josephine Baker was able to overcome the toughest hurdles any person could ever be faced with and in the end become an international superstar on her terms.
Black Pearl: A Tribute to Josephine Baker is playing now till June 25th at The Black Ensemble Theater. Take some time out of your day to learn about one of the greatest performers of all time. It’s an evening or afternoon well spent.
*Photo Credit: Michael Courier for The Black Ensemble Theater