To celebrate Women’s History Month, The Classical Theatre of Harlem (CTH) and Playbill are teaming up for ICONS: Harlem Renaissance in Motion, a series of audio plays produced by CTH and Venus Radio Theater. Launching on March 8, International Women’s Day, an audio play will release each day until March 12, highlighting five Black women who were central to the Harlem Renaissance.
For the collection of plays, CTH commissioned Harlem-based playwrights to create monologues performed by Harlem-based actors, honoring the largely unsung voices of fascinating figures, especially women, who were integral to the movement.
The third monologue released is from the perspective of Angelina Weld Grimké, written by Andrea Ambam and performed by Tanya Everett. Listen to the full audio play above.
During her time as a teacher in Washington D.C., Grimké began writing essays, short stories, and poems about the experiences of Black Americans, often getting published in Black magazines and journals like the NAACP’s The Crisis. Her poems specifically were often coded in subtle references alluding to her possible queerness, and after her death, scholars found more explicit expressions of queerness in her journal entries and unpublished writings.
As a playwright, she also worked with the NAACP on her play Rachel, a three-act drama which explored and addressed the horrors of lynchings—a direct response to the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation. Produced in 1916, Rachel was the first dramatic play written by a Black woman and performed by an all-Black cast. It’s no surprise that Grimké tackled these topics in her work, as her lineage was deeply rooted in racial justice. Her father, Archibald Grimké was the second Black graduate of Harvard Law School and served as the Vice President of NAACP. Grimké’s paternal great-aunts were noted abolitionists and women’s rights advocates Angelina Grimké Weld and Sarah Moore Grimké.
In Ambam’s play, audiences find “In chosen solitude that is finally catching up with her, Angelina is haunted both by her literal reflection in the mirror as well as her reflections on family, writing, the status of Black liberation, and ...her damn skin.”
ICONS was curated by CTH's Director of Literary Programs & Dramaturg Shawn René Graham and Mellon Foundation Playwright-in-Residence Betty Shamieh.
“The Harlem Renaissance was one of the most extraordinary and prolific periods in U.S. history,” says Graham. “Having these writers, who are living in the midst of a new Black art renaissance in theatre, film and television, revisit these less well-known figures is a testament to the contributions Black artists have made and how they have shaped our culture in the past, present, and future.”
Shamieh adds, “It has been wonderful to witness these writers pour their passion into giving voice to the incredible artists, activists, and intellectuals who shaped the Harlem Renaissance. These imaginative stories brought to life in ICONS illuminate their impact on our culture and our world.”
CTH provides theatrical productions and theatre-based educational and literary programs at little or no cost to underserved communities in Harlem and beyond. Since its founding in 1999, CTH has prioritized opportunity and access in the theatrical arts: onstage, backstage, in its administration, board, and audience. By leading with diversity, equity and inclusion as its core values, CTH attracts one of the most racially, generationally, and socio-economically diverse theatre audiences in New York City. Follow CTH on its website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Follow Venus Radio Theatre on its Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.