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HTCAFW Artist Statement 2019

My name is Cynthia Christina Harris and I am a healing artist, playwright, conjure woman, and proud Nashvillian.  How to Catch a Flying Woman is my third original production.  My work celebrates southern women’s voices. It is the artistic half of my research into black women’s lives and intimate relationships.  I consider the work to be a choreo-poem, inspired greatly by Ntozake Shange’s work, For Colored Girls.  I received my first copy of For Colored Girls in the 5th grade from my Aunt Joyce.  I was given the opportunity to perform Shange’s words that year, in Ms. Kaul Williams’ Drama class at Meigs Magnet School.  The experience of seeing the words on the page and later performing a monologue for Forensics, changed my life.

I come from a family of creative folk that include gospel singers, scholar artists, hair stylists, novelists, and storytellers.  I grew up being entertained by the tall tales of my uncles and their adventures as boys growing into men during and after segregation in Nashville.  The overlapping melodies that were the voices of my mom and aunts in excited conversation, soothed me to sleep as a baby girl and later inspired my approach to monologues and dialogue.

One important part of my story as an artist, begins with the story of an aunt and a niece.  My mother’s younger sister, Aunt Joyce, was a second mother to me.  In fact, growing up, I called Aunt Joyce – Mom. I called my mother, Mommy.  I was careful to hold the distinction between the two.  To say that Aunt Joyce is an involved relative is a vast understatement.  She attends all functions and school programs – even now, with a new generation of grandchildren, grand nieces and grand nephews.  She often volunteered me for Christmas and Easter speeches at our home church, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in North Nashville, where my mother and her siblings grew up.  She sent clowns and flowers to school for all my birthdays.  Most importantly, Aunt Joyce  helped develop my love for poetry and literature.  Our trips to the downtown branch of the Nashville Public Library, began with puppet shows and extended time in the children’s section.  Eventually, those trips evolved into lessons on using library resources to complete homework assignments, as my classwork became more intense with entry to Meigs Magnet Middle School and later Hume Fogg Academic High School. Aunt Joyce sat with me, in the days before the internet,  teaching me to use the  microfiche reader and how the dewey decimal system translated into locations for journals and books in the aisles. I knew that I liked my special time with Aunt Joyce, but didn’t realize until later,  the great value of what she was teaching me.  I learned that creativity and accessing new information went hand in hand.   I learned to use ever resource available to me.  I learned to think for myself and ask big questions.  I also learned to expect answers and guidance.

A little over 10 years ago, I was introduced to another story of an aunt and niece, this time it was Vali Forrister, co-founder and Artistic Director of Actors Bridge Ensemble, and the writing program she created for her niece, Haviland.  Fifteen years ago in June, Vali started the Act Like a Grrrl, an autobiographical writing and performance program for young women in Nashville, ages 12 – 18.  She created the program out of the desire to create a space for her niece and, ultimately, all girls in Nashville to be bold, think critically, and break barriers.  I thought this was one of the most bad-ass things a woman could do, hold space for the voices of younger women.  I was reminded of Aunt Joyce and the opportunity her unwavering support created for me.  Last summer Vali produced the She Said/She Said Festival of Women’s Stories.   Vali invited me to participate and How to Catch a Flying Woman took flight for the first time.

I’m honored to have How to Catch a Flying Woman produced a second time by Actors Bridge Ensemble and presented in partnership with the Nashville Public Library’s Civil Rights Room.  Nashville Public Library is part of my Nashville.  It is home and history.  It helped shape me as an artist and I am overjoyed to perform in April 2019.

 

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