A Ball, A Play, A Gala, and A Space Opera
PART I: A Ball and A Play
Western’s 175th Birthday Red & Black Ball
On Friday, November 1, 2019, Western High School, the oldest all-female public high school in the nation, kicked off a year-long celebration of its 175th anniversary, with events at the school, located (since 1966) at Falls Road and W. Coldspring Lane.
On Saturday, November 2, the celebration kicked into high gear with a grand Ball sponsored by the Alumnae Association, held at the B&O Railroad Museum in downtown Baltimore. The theme colors, Red & Black, are our school’s colors.
Though I am a proud alumna, Class of 1970, I wasn’t planning to attend—I had nothing “grand” to wear! But when some of my classmates contacted me with news that they were going to buy a table—just days before the big event—I gave in. Mostly, for the chance to see our old friend Robin Quivers (famous for being the longtime sidekick of Howard Stern) receive an award of excellence from our alma mater.
After a fruitless shopping trip for a snazzy new outfit, I searched my closet and found an old-standby black and red dress that I loved and still fit. I’d even worn that dress to my niece’s graduation from Western in 2000! For the ball, I added a faux leather/suede jacket and my favorite dressy shoes, and made my way to the Ball, parking on the dark side of the parking lot, behind some old trains. I picked my way over the cobblestones and bare rails to the entrance and was ushered into the Round House, where I quickly found my friends’ table. The Round House, which I hadn’t seen since a field trip with a youth program decades before, was decked out with a red runway, plenty of historical photos of the school since its inception in 1844, plenty of tables filled with Western alumnae and families, and the sounds of old-school music being spun by a groovin’ DJ.
While we dined, chatted with table mates, and met up with long-lost friends—and family, we were entertained by one of Baltimore’s favorite daughters, singer/songwriter, Maysa. The main program featured speeches by accomplished alumnae, as well as several awards: three Honorary Doves—leaders and administrators who made major impacts on the lives of students and the reputation of the school, and two Legendary Doves—Western alumnae who made major impacts on the world at large; my old classmate Robin Quivers was one of them.
Did Robin remember me, the girl who always sat either behind or in front of her in our classes because were seated alphabetically (forward or reverse, depending on teacher preference)? Of course not! But it was still fun to rub shoulders with her, remembering that “I knew her when.” And to see our beloved Athletic Director, Eva Rae Scott, honored as one of the Honorary Doves.
Meanwhile, our Class of 1970 needs to get crackin’: The 50th Anniversary of our graduation is coming up in Spring 2020!!! Let’s Go, Western Girls!
On Sunday November 3, 2019, the day after the Ball, I joined friends from Reservoir Hill Improvement Council (RHIC) and In, For, Of, Inc. (IFO), for a performance of this intriguing, emotional play. RHIC was sponsoring this performance as a fundraiser, and I attended, in part, as an IFO leader supporting our fellow community organization. But I also wanted to see this play, not just because I’d seen it advertised a lot, but also because I, as a black woman writer, was curious to see and understand the perspective of a black (colored) man. In fact, the play is about the black man, not a black man, and it uses archetypes embodied by the play’s characters (wisdom, passion, depression, lust, happiness, love, and anger) to explore the human dimensions of any man of color.
Why is the term “colored” used, instead of “black”? The answer is made plain by playwright Keenan Scott II, in an interview printed in the program book: “I think the term ‘colored’ has come to be used differently by people over the years. For instance, ‘people of color’ is a common term now. In Thoughts of a Colored Man, I use ‘colored’ to spark a visceral reaction like it did during the civil and pre-civil rights days.” (I also have written about the history of terms used to describe black people [https://baltimoreblackwoman.com/2015/02/06/whats-in-a-name-from-n-word-to-african-american/].)
Although this is a one-act play, set in the present, with all the action occurring in a single day, it manages to elicit a detailed “snapshot of [the] community” of black men, delving into emotions, experiences, aspirations, failures, and victories that everyone can relate to on a human level, but that also spark memories, love, and respect for the uniqueness of the black experience. Examples include the all-too-familiar promising basketball player whose dreams of going pro die due to a game-over injury; neighborhood guys hanging out in the barber shop, discussing encroaching gentrification of their community; and being rejected at a Jack and Jill event. I cringed visibly (I think even the actor saw me, since the theatre was small and intimate), because it evoked my childhood memory of attending a Jack and Jill event as a guest—I didn’t fit the profile of an up-and-coming black socialite kid. [If you know nothing about Jack and Jill of America, Inc., Google it!]
At the end of the play, I was in tears. I cried all the way to my car, overcome by memories, love, and affection for this portrait of the black community. On the drive home, I was compelled to stop and photograph this mural which seemed to capture the spirit of the play.
Thoughts of a Colored Man ended its Baltimore run on November 10. But local reviews touted it as a possible Broadway show. If you get a chance, go see it.