What was Idris’ creative process, I wonder? How was that tampered with, hindered, and enhanced by the space and people available? For instance, a five-person cast where three members played multiple characters, both seemed laborious and efficient, given they were minor characters. This limitation on the growth of character interactions and settings that could take place very much centred the dynamic between Kia and Jimmy Jr. Might this have been a scripted intention, or funding/logistical issues; given that the roles were paid, I wonder how much time and energy both cast and crew put in. As it turns out, their rehearsals had started on January 2nd– meaning the cast and crew had had just over three weeks to memorise lines, rehearse, run tech, and perform!
Very little time for a lot to produce; the set-up of the stage and lights seemed a strategic endeavour. There were different sections illuminated that gave the space a versatility it may not have otherwise had, given its small size. Pulling the ‘garage’ doors back and forth created a more intimate space for scenes – the majority of which broke the fourth wall – to take place on the outside during set/costume changes. Centring the Jimmys’ garage-room was effective too – that is to say, monotonous. Giving off the routine of home life and familiarity each character had with it expanded this garage-room served to highlight how central Jimmy’s growth and focus were (read: on himself) by actually focusing on his home space where he held spatial, racial, you-name-it power.
Throughout the play, the – very white, fairly elderly – audience did not make much noise. The white gaze holds power in silence and there isn’t necessarily anything more to say about it. But the way the characters interacted, how race was spoken about and the tensions that brewed – specific lines – were tactful in writing and tasteful in execution. What I thought was a liberal-rhetoric-targeting, honest-race-conversing sort of production was also one wherein I gleaned guidelines on how linguistic censorship is taught, learned, and exhibited through the creative art of performance. What we seemingly have to play give-and-take with is inevitably complicated especially when politics are explicitly named; and I deeply admire how Idris both brought to light centrist liberal “I’m not racist but-” rhetoric and ensured the audience left happy. Jimmy and Kia were best-friends-forever and somehow non-verbally developed a mutual understandingof what racism was now, no hard feelings. The singing and rapping was confusingly unappealing in all its out-of-tune, bouncey-dancing glory. It was realistic and unbelievable at once.
And also, just for my ego? I knew Kia was gay before she even said it.
On first Thursday my course Black Feminist Theory taught by Professor Heidi R Lewis had the pleasure of attending “American Prom” by Idris Goodwin. As I had not had the pleasure of seeing an Idris Goodwin production since his departure, my excitement much like those of the theatre and the rest of my classmates was palpable. “American Prom,” an original production by Idris Goodwin takes place in Principle, a small American town located in anywhere USA, that features a coming of age story. In Principle, Jimmy T Jr a teenaged white boy wants to take his childhood best friend Kia a black teenage girl to their first prom. However, proms in Principle have been segregated since the beginning of time, often with the excuse that people tend to keep to their own. In a play filled with magic and music, Kia and Jimmy dare to imagine Principle in a different light and confront the issues of race in their town while discovering truths about themselves. Throughout the play Jimmy and Kia have confrontations with their parents over the state of Principle as well as issues dealing with racism, segregation, sexuality and homophobia all working to push them to find ways of dealing with these problems. In an effort to avoid spoilers, I will leave it at that.
As I sat in the theatre amongst my classmates, I became very intrigued with the notion of reimagining a future and preoccupied with who is allowed to have a happy ending in fiction and in real life. While many parts of the play I found entertaining the ending is what lead me to the questions I have now. Was this ending realistic? Was it not? And what pushes me to question the way things ended? I left the play thinking the ending was “wishful thinking” but as I sat in my room and ruminated over it, maybe the complicated feelings I had were the exact point of the play. Why was there this hesitation about the reality of the ending? Was it because I couldn’t imagine it for myself or was it something else? In a play about imagining a different future for one’s self and community why was there this discomfort? After much thinking I realized, it is difficult to imagine new realities with what you have been given. But it is not an impossible task. Taking those feelings, I began to look at the play in a different light. Two kids trying to imagine a different reality than what they were given and trying to make that imagination a reality with what they had was hard but not impossible. Anything worth trying to change will always be a challenge but it is not impossible. Why can’t marginalized people have a happy ending? It is an important piece that doesn’t always get its due respect. Understanding that I began to believe that happy endings for marginalized people was possible and something to look forward to, but more importantly something to truly work towards.
Premiering at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, the play American Prom, written by Idris Goodwin, follows the story of Jimmy T. and his friend Kia B. as they navigate the complexities of racism and homophobia as they exist in small-town America. Jimmy, a white boy, and Kia, a Black girl, attempt to address the issue of racism by suggesting an alternative, all-inclusive prom in opposition to the town’s traditionally racially segregated one. In this process, Jimmy and Kia find themselves pushing their relationship forward through the discussion of racism as it is seen within and between families and in the greater community structure.
One of the most salient moments of the play for me was the discussion that followed Jimmy asking Kia to prom. It seemed like this was one of the first concrete discussions the two had had involving their racial differences. Kia made clear to Jimmy she could not attend prom with him because she was expected be the preacher’s son’s date at Ebony, the all-Black prom. Instead of respecting Kia’s answer, Jimmy interpreted the response as a form of reverse racism. This reaction caused obvious tension in their longstanding relationship, leaving Jimmy alone to think more about Kia’s choice. The next day, in a drunkenly induced dream, famous rapper and Jimmy’s idol, Iz Icon, visits Jimmy to discuss the events of the previous night. Iz Icon helps Jimmy understand why Kia’s response was completely warranted. I appreciated this scene because Jimmy was able to realize and come to terms with his mistake without the help of Kia. So often the responsibly of apologizing and teaching falls into the hands of the wronged and oppressed.
While I found the play to be fairly thorough and authentic in its discussion of race, the ending left me feeling unsettled. Jimmy and Kia return home after running away to find their parents jointly decorating the garage for their dream “Garage Prom.” Then, Jimmy and Kia proceed to get dressed in the midst of an impromptu dance party with famous rapper Iz Icon. Together, they all sing a happy-go-lucky song filled with themes of community and triumph. While this ending may have satisfied some of the audience, I felt like this idealistic finale did an injustice to the play. To me, the overly positive ending failed to acknowledge the work and attention racism still commands in today’s society. This ending allowed for the possible conclusion that an eighty-minute play could somehow address and solve racism in the United States. I would be interested to hear the writer’s and director’s explanation in deciding to write and portray the ending as they did. I can imagine that if the ending were more realistic in its conclusions, people would be less likely to see and promote the play. White audience members in particular may feel attacked if their outwardly anti-racist views were not reaffirmed through an optimistic ending.