When she created and performed in her previous solo work, “Amendment,” Austin writer and performance artist Taji Senior says she wanted to “explore the ways in the which the U.S. Constitution defines and denies the humanity of people of color.” Though that very political work expressed much of what Senior was feeling, to her it “always felt like a collection of monologues of black people airing out their grievances about being black in America.”
She describes her latest one-woman play, “‘A’ (What the Black Girl Found While Searching for God),” as a more incisive piece of theater that evolved out of “Amendment.”
“I began trying to pare that text down into a singular narrative told primarily from the perspective of one character that would act sort of as a kaleidoscope for those varying black experiences,” she says.
It was in this process that she stumbled upon George Bernard Shaw’s short story “The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God,” which relates the tale of an African girl who has been newly converted to Christianity and attempts to seek out God.
It was this unexpected source that would go on to inspire “A”: “I take issue with the way Shaw ends his story, but I did see a lot of my own questions and conflicts reflected back to me in his work, and I thought that was interesting, and that’s what kind of served as a catalyst for what would eventually become ‘A,’” she says.
Senior says that she’d “already been ruminating on the idea of what it might mean to exist as a person outside of the constructs of race and gender as well as examining my own relationship with God and, more specifically, Christianity.”
In particular, Senior says she thinks that Shaw’s story comments on an interesting dynamic that isn’t much explored elsewhere — the relationship between black women and white women.
“I don’t think we examine that particular hierarchy and power dynamic enough,” she says. “If you are black and a woman, someone is always asking you to collapse or neglect one part of your humanity in order for them to achieve full recognition of their own. Especially white women. “
Underneath “A” lies something of a combined spiritual and political inquiry, specifically the question: Who has the right to self-creation?
“I, as Taji, believe in God, or at the very least some other, larger entity, and if I am to believe that I am a creation of that entity, I wonder at what point am I neither black or woman, but rather a creation of this larger entity, that just so happens to be black and woman?” Senior says. “I wondered a lot about those particular designations (black and woman) and how much they add to the totality of who I am as a person. Do I have the opportunity to decide for myself? Those are the ideas and thoughts that I tried to imbue this piece with.”
To help her turn this complex, complicated text into a theatrical reality, Senior enlisted performer and teacher Matrex Kilgore to direct the production. Kilgore, she says, “helps create texture and helps with character development so there is a clear distinction between characters, shifts in tone, tactic.”
He also serves as another voice in the rehearsal room, “to offer notes while you’re on your feet and working through structural and narrative issues,” she says.
Although “A” is more spiritual than “Amendment,” that doesn’t mean it is devoid of a deliberate message for audiences.
“I worked very hard to be intentional about still pointing to the ways in which larger systems and institutions can intimately affect not only a person’s trajectory, but even their personality,” Senior says. “I think a lot of times when we talk about things like systemic oppression and even, locally, gentrification, we discuss them as if they are devoid of intentionality. People don’t just end up poor or with limited resources by happenstance. Very specific legislation and policy are crafted with poverty and marginalization for particular populations as the end game.”
‘“A” (WHAT THE BLACK GIRL FOUND WHILE SEARCHING FOR GOD)’
When: 8 p.m. July 12-14
Where: Ground Floor Theatre, 979 Springdale Road No. 122
Cost: $20 suggested donation