A Saphia Suarez Production @ Yale College
When writing and directing this play, it was vital to me that our process as well as our performance embody what for me is the most crucial value of bomba: equity. Bomba is danced in a "batey," or dance circle, made up of musicians, singers, and onlookers. Anyone and everyone can jump into the batey, and once you do, the floor is yours. You have everyone's attention, and they must watch as you tell your story. To honor this, I created an equitable audition process. I held audition workshops, knowing that the actors I was looking for—Black and Afro Latinx women—may not feel comfortable in the theater. I broke down the audition process: what would be expected, and what we were looking for. Which was, most of all, heart and a personal connection to the liberatory black narratives central to the musical. Next, I opened up auditions to the New Haven community—something I had not yet seen done at Yale. I partnered with a New Haven bomba group, Movimiento Cultural, and they served as the musicians in this production. One member chose to audition as well, and she became a lead actor. This, to me, is what theater is all about—honoring liberatory narratives with an equitable, joyous, and hopefully liberatory, production process.
“La Negra” portrays the history of Afro Puerto Rican women on the island leading their communities on a path to liberation, from Yuisa, the first female Taino chieftain on the island, to Colectiva Feminista, a feminist group that helped organize recent protests on the island as it struggles to recover from hurricane Maria. The recent uprising in Puerto Rico has exhibited a unique balance between anger and joy, exemplifying the joy as liberation at the heart of Puerto Rican culture. This musical uses traditional bomba song and dance to portray this joy and liberation.