Guest artist: Margaret Laurena Kemp

A Negro Speaks of Rivers

My play A Negro Speaks of Rivers, from which this video clip is excerpted, ties together personal and ecological history, revealing that water and land use issues are also culture and race issues.

Low-income, urban America is alternately glamorized in music videos and demonized in the news as “the hood” or “the ghetto.” In this climate, any real discussion about creating a sustainable future for these communities is sorely lacking. A Negro Speaks of Rivers is my artistic response to this lack. The play begins with my personal narrative, and then it ties this narrative to intersections between environmental racism and urban development. A Negro Speaks of Rivers also brings onto the stage the Afro-Caribbean immigrant community I grew up in, a group of people whose voices are virtually absent from American theater.

A Negro Speaks of Rivers is inspired by the tradition of African American slave memoirs and the unearthing of cowrie shells, amulets, toys and other objects belonging to enslaved peoples from the ground of old plantations. 1970s Boston, where the play is largely located, was also full of individuals and events that speak to the history of race in America. I revisit Louise Day Hicks, court-ordered busing, race riots, redlining, blockbusting and FHA-sanctioned segregation in order to link the past to the present and to show how the choices we make in terms of urban land use impact the human body and spirit.

This new play is on the way to South Africa in the fall, where I will also work with the women artists’ collective The Mothertongue Project. My area of expertise in theater training is releasing the voice and body. I will work with two Mothertongue professional performers and a group of young refugee women from Lawrence House, a registered children’s home with the Department of Social Development, dedicated to the care of abandoned, separated or unaccompanied refugee minors. I will focus on women who are suffering in silence, the women who often give up and accept undergoing deep physical and psychological sufferings. I will create a performance piece that opens a dialogue, releases the trauma and transforms the lives of these young women, whose voices are often the most misunderstood, ignored and silenced by trauma.

~ Margaret Laurena Kemp

Margaret Laurena Kemp is an award-winning actor and writer who has performed worldwide. She has won national and international acclaim for her starring role as Lena Mackey in the film “Children of God,” which is currently in selected cinemas and will be broadcast on Showtime this summer. Kemp is a Certified Associate Instructor of Fitzmaurice Voicework, and she teaches voice and acting at such institutions as the University of Southern California and privately throughout Los Angeles.  She has been a visiting artist at the Theatre of Changes in Athens, Greece, and the HUB Arts Center in Nassau, Bahamas. She holds a BS in performance studies from Northwestern University and an MFA in classical theater from the Shakespeare Theater at the George Washington University in Washington, DC.
“A Negro Speaks of Rivers” © Margaret Laurena Kemp. For rights information contact the artist at margaretkemp [AT] earthlink [DOT] net. You can support Kemp’s South Africa project by purchasing a $10 raffle ticket or making a PayPal donation here

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