Fanshen Cox: One Drop of Love
The performing arts have the ability to entertain, but more significantly, they provide a creative medium to challenge barriers and create a voice of civilized resistance to ideas and social systems. The performing arts question, explore, excite new ideas and, in many artists’ hopes, inspire more meaningful dialogue. Participating in the performing arts, either as audience members or as performers, allows society to see itself reflected in the mirror of the stage and, assessing that image, determine whether or not we can and should—or will—change. The performing arts are a simple vehicle to elevate the species if we choose to employ them to help us reach out to one another and express our anger and grief, joy and triumphs.
It is no small feat of courage to put one’s self on display for others, to volunteer to be the mirror, but such people are necessary to keep a society vital and grounded in the practice of emotional honesty, which is very hard to come by and, for some people, even harder to hear or watch. New voices, new ideas and new performers who bring to light troubling realities of race, power dynamics, belief systems and social evolution are often rejected and scorned for showing us what we would rather not confront. Other times, however, their courage is embraced, applauded and encouraged to go forth to more people in more communities spreading, as it were, one drop of love at a time.
This week we welcome teacher, writer and performing artist Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni whose one-woman show, One Drop of Love, tackles themes of racial identity, love, community and attempting conversation despite all obvious awkwardness. It’s funny, it’s real and we asked Fanshen if we could re-post her original blog about how and why she created the show, which is produced by Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni. She agreed, and we reposted her blog below:
It is an exciting time to be an actor, when the notion of ‘performance’ is taking on new meanings and has the potential to change the way we view the art form. Traditional definitions of ‘performance’ include the act of staging or presenting a play; a rendering of a dramatic role. Now scholar/activists like Judith Butler are exploring a new definition of performance, or ‘performativity‘–looking at how we use language and behavior to construct identity.
In my solo show, One Drop of Love, I get to meld these two understandings of performance. I am an actor who portrays several different characters: my Jamaican/Pan-Africanist father, my Blackfeet-Cherokee-Danish mother, candy and fruit vendors from East and West Africa, Census Workers from the 1790s to the present, racist cops from Cambridge, MA and many others. At the same time, in taking on these roles, I explore the construction of ‘racial’ identity, and how these identities are created through speech and acts – as opposed to genetics or physical appearance.
In 2006 I was going to marry the man of my dreams, and all I had left to do was call my father and ask him to walk me down the aisle. The thought of this call filled me with angst. I hadn’t witnessed my father interact in positive ways with ‘white’ people since my parents’ divorce in 1977. The man I would eventually marry (much to my own surprise) is European. After weeks of stewing, I finally convinced myself that this thing called ‘race’ was not going to get in the way of my joy. I made the call. And then my father did not attend our wedding.
One Drop of Love begins here and then journeys through time and space to examine the constructs and behaviors and speech acts that led to this moment. In the end, my father and I reach some sense of reconciliation, but questions about the influence of the one-drop rule, and how it affects our – and society’s – relationship to ‘race’ remain for me, my father, and the audience to continue to ponder. I know how privileged I am to be able to perform (in both senses of the word), and I plan to utilize that privilege to encourage complex conversations about ‘race’ and racism and use my chosen art form to create change.