Truth Telling, With Love

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Truth-Telling, With Love

Delina Patrice Brooks’s An Open Love Letter to Black Fathers

Performer/writer Delina Patrice Brooks has trouble sitting still. Her piece An Open Love Letter to Black Fathers began as an investigation into her own experience of the “daddy-daughter” bond, but soon involved outside sources and, critically for Brooks, dance.

“The dance…is just… necessary,” says Brooks, whose dance training at San Francisco State included Dunham, Congolese, and Afro-Haitian styles. “There’s no way I can move through feelings or story without movement. The energy must be moved around, shaken up, turned into something else.”

Through referrals and social media, Brooks sought to tap the experience of other grown daughters of African American fathers in order to create the language for the piece, which she premiered last year and is remounting at CounterPulse on June 16. She received a much larger number of responses than she had expected.

“I originally wanted 5 women, 5 stories, including my own. I felt like that was a manageable number for me to…dissect and marry into performance,” explains Brooks. In the end, she decided to stop herself after conducting eight interviews, and wove the resulting narratives into monologues for five characters.

Citing groundbreaking playwright Ntozake Shange as an influence, Brooks originally subtitled the piece “A Choreopoem,” but has dropped the subtitle for the upcoming production. Shange’s play for colored girls who consider suicide when the rainbow is enuf helped open Brooks’s eyes to new dramatic possibilities.

“I believe Shange coined the term choreopoem to refer to the hybrid of text, poetry and movement as storytelling agents. Her work helped liberate me as a writer…it gave spotlight to monologues over dialogue, allowing characters to tell their stories themselves.”

A veteran of many Bay Area theater productions (including the excellent Superheroes, where this writer first encountered her) Brooks has worked with many more traditional dramatic set-ups. While An Open Love Letter sheds the trappings of a standard dramatic arc, the five characters — played by Brooks, Tierra Allen, Tossie Long, Cria Merchant, and Meagan U. Wells — will present monologues that Brooks has carefully honed for timing and rhythm, blending at-times uncomfortable insights with humor. Brooks explains that she became a “closet writer” after a visit to Dorsey’s Locker in Oakland, which featured spoken word artists that showed her how vital poetry could be. After several years of performing in other people’s shows, she decided to to create her own.

“While African and diasporic dance allow me to experience a deep sense of joy, writing allows me to understand my own thoughts,” says Brooks. “Open Love Letter came at the end of a healing process…And the expression of that process — the strong, bold language, the monologues as opposed to dialogue, the poetic nuances, the words that became melodic and turned into songs, those are all kind of natural out-growths in my writing style.”

Of course the words won’t bear all the burden of the audience’s pleasure, and where there’s dance, there tends to be music.

“Last year we had Guy DeChalus, a versatile musician who plays percussion, banjo, fiddle and more. He added a wonderfully eerie quality to the work, particularly to the darker scenes. This year, we have Tommy “Soulati” Shepherd, also a versatile musician, who plays drums, keys, and beat boxes like no other, sings, harmonizes and on and on,” explains Brooks, laughing. “Tommy will create musical interludes, and he’ll be joined by vocalists Omega Rae and Laila Tov-Perez.”

Brooks expresses a lot of gratitude to the women who told her the very personal stories that inform An Open Love Letter to Black Fathers. They trusted her as a witness to sometimes painful memories, and she expresses that her family background is grounded in the love that is ultimately the dominant message of the piece. Her own parents, she says, have been her biggest supporters over the years.

“I am grateful…to my mom who didn’t cringe as I shared some of our family history that might be considered dirty laundry. She recognizes that my freedom lies in truth-telling, and that I’ve wrapped the narrative of her/our past in love. And I am grateful to my father for teaching me the true meaning and expression of unconditional love. I believe that fathers and daughters everywhere have something to learn, to covet, or to release, and they are invited to open themselves up to that un/doing.”

An Open Love Letter to Black Fathers

Written, Produced & Directed by Delina Patrice Brooks

June 16-18, 2016 | Thursday – Saturday

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