BWW Exclusive: Tonya Pinkins Speaks Up About Responses to Her MOTHER COURAGE Departure- 'No Man Speaks For Me in 2016'
As BroadwayWorld previously reported, Tony Award winner Tonya Pinkins announced on December 30 that she would be leaving Classic Stage Company's Off-Broadway production of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children on January 3. The production began previewing on December 9 and is scheduled to resume performances on Tuesday, January 12, now led by Kecia Lewis.
Now she's opening up about the whole controversy and more specifically, comments from Potts and company. Read her full piece below:
No Man Speaks For Me in 2016
Now I say, Michael Potts is not equipped to speak for me. Michael Potts was a postscript to the production after John Jelks, withdrew for personal reasons. If, as Potts says, "I was running it," the Chaplain would have been played by Frances Jue.
Potts states that I, "...insisted on being called 'Momma..." which he spells like the disrespectful 'Yo Momma.' I asked to be respectfully called 'Mama' as in Mama Nadi in RUINED. A term of respect for women of a certain age in the Congo. Potts' ignorance of this appellation is emblematic of his myopia throughout this production.
It was at my suggestion that CSC endeavored to negotiate a new translation by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. When that proved impossible, Eve Ensler of V-day: City of Joy in the Congo was the next and best choice. Eve and I would be following in the footsteps of Ntozake Shange who translated and transported Mother Courage the Reconstruction South for The Public Theater and Rose Mbowa. who translated and performed as Mother Courage in the first authorized African production in Luganda the language of Uganda. But, a couple of weeks before rehearsals began, I was told that the death of Brecht's heir stalled the approval of an Ensler translation in time for the start of our production. In hindsight, I question if that was even true. This left me with Kulick's Frankenstein "McDraft." based loosely on John Willet's edited translation of the Brecht.
Potts appears in a little less than half of the play and has donned himself narrator of a my experience? HE didn't hear me say this when HE thought I should. Why isn't Potts more versed in the job he was elected to; Equity Deputy? As deputy, Michael Potts failed the black women in Mother Courage by failing to attend to their beseechings.
Mirrirai Sitole and Zenzi Williams asked Michael Potts to call an equity meeting to address the testosterone overdosed environment. I asked Potts about the meeting and he replied "The meeting occurred and you were late" The meeting he referenced was a meeting of Kulick, cast and crew. Only Equity members may attend Equity meetings. Potts never called the "equity meeting" the women requested.
Zenzi Williams said ,"I have never been spoken to the way he [Brian Kulick] spoke to me." Mirirai Sithole was traumatized and said "It was not a safe space." Both women were brought to tears in rehearsal. On this Potts is as mute as dumb Katrin. Ladies forgive me for telling stories that are not mine to tell but Michael Potts is white washing history to defend the master, to protect the way it is and the way it is must change.
I told Kulick that as Artistic Director of Classic Stage Company and as the director of the play, he was responsible for the squelching mysogyny. I said it to his face with company members present. He said, "I'm sorry," He did nothing.
When Kevin Mambo ceased playing the scenes with me in performance and instead circled me on stage like I was prey. Kulick did not stop him. Instead, he told me I "...was driving the actors [male] insane." Well, Mother Courage is supposed to drive the men insane because they can't have her, they can't control her and they can't stop her. That was Brecht's intent.
Kulick spoke for himself regarding his trans[-]plantation of Brecht to the general Congo. Does Kulick need Potts, to be his armor the way we three Black women needed him to be ours during this ordeal? Potts failed us then and continues to fail us now. Kulick empowered the male actors to behave like men in war, to bully and undermine us because women are always the first casualties of war.
Dr. Robin D. G. Kelly, author and Gary B. Nash Professor of American History at UCLA states that "Black women are in fact more vulnerable because of the exclusions of race and gender and Black men often play a role in perpetuating inequality/vulnerability/oppression,"
Potts and Kulick have worked together five times. I surmise Potts' is safeguarding his next job by sacrificing me, the Black woman who spoke truths that he would rather remained unspoken. Black women show up in support of Black male movements everyday. Why Potts are you coming for me when White men are at the apex of a pyramid built upon Black vaginas?
Dr Kimberle Crenshaw, co-founder of The African American Policy Forum and law professor at UCLA and Columbia University School of Law says, "We have failed Black [women] when their experiences are not centered at the core of our vision of racial justice. We have failed them when we resist empowering women as core leaders of our organizations. We have failed them when we subject them to catcalling and other forms of sexual harassment on the front lines of protests against racialized violence. We have failed them when we applaud their work in these settings, while marginalizing them in the corridors of power behind closed doors."
"We have also failed them when we encourage or force them to choose between their gender and their race; and when we question their loyalty to the race when they raise feminist issues rather than working with them to erase the roadblocks those concerns represent."
My experience at CSC reflects inequality at the intersection of race and gender. Were I differently abled, transgendered, muslim or a combination of them, I would experience inequality distinctly differently for each and every way in which I was not a part of the healthy, White, male, Christian normative of American society, where privilege and power reside.
Just as there is uniqueness within that "norm", there is infinite and overlapping uniqueness outside of it. Intersectionality addresses overlapping social identities and related systems of oppression, domination or discrimination. Potts would deny me my unique experience and voice.
My departure from CSC's Mother Courage was not bourne of one episode but of a lifetime of experiences of inequality, patriarchy and misogyny. CSC's Mother Courage was simply the straw to break my silence.