The Female Voice: Traci Tolmaire
red, black and GREEN: a blues has been a blessing in my life because it has caused me to look at myself, family, community, art, and “going green” in unexpected ways. I now know that art is everywhere and in everyone, community is alive, family is more than your blood, and people are recycling and reusing without even knowing it. rbGb opened my eyes to new people and new art. For example, Cleveland “The Flower Man” Turner lived on the streets of Houston’s Third Ward for seventeen years before getting sober, riding on a bicycle decorated with flowers, and getting a house and decorating it with other people’s “junk.” The Flower Man is himself both a work of art and a leader in the green movement. As an added bonus, the rbGb cast and crew have become a family during our residencies. As we travel together we share creative ideas, personal stories, and do our best to perform a piece that honors the people and cities we represent.
Speaking of representing, as the only female performer in rbGb I am lucky to be able to rep the ladies and to show that a woman can play a man in an unexpected way—no wigs, props, or costume changes. I play men (artist/activist Rick Lowe and The Flower Man) and women who are physically the opposite of me in terms of gender, age, and race. The goal was to portray their essence with a few of the mannerisms I learned by watching video interviews of them during the Life is Living festivals on which rbGb is based. Initially, I wanted to add props or at least one costume piece to show that I was becoming each character, but we decided not to and it challenged me to rethink my approach to character development. Thankfully, I had the support of my rbGb family. So far, I have not yet been asked why I play two men when there are three male cast members. In this piece, you don’t have to be a replica of someone in order to tell his or her story. (Now that’s nontraditional casting.)
Having the opportunity to hone my craft is a welcome result of being the only female cast member. (Along with getting my own dressing room . . . talk about a blessing!) But perhaps the biggest blessing of all is being able to perform in my hometown, a city that is also a key player in rbGb. I’m a proud Chicagoan, a south side girl, and a Whitney Young High School graduate. My love for dance began in this city. I see Chicago in all of its fullness and beauty. Despite this, rbGb reminds me of Chicago’s tragedy. We have lost and are losing scores of our children, teenagers, and young adults to gun violence. Recently, two “Chicago sons,” whom I grew up with, were shot to death. Every show, I think of them—Thomas Wortham (Tommy), Lenwood Cameron Hearon (Cam), and all of those who have been gunned down. I think about their mothers who, like the Sudanese mother I portray in rbGb, are trying to renew themselves and their communities after the indescribable pain and heartache of having your child, your beloved, your baby, murdered. They know that we are all connected and that we are all family needing support, encouragement, respect, and love from one another. I have the honor of dedicating this show to them and to all of those who are doing their part to “go green”—to preserve the value of human life and their environment. They embody red, black and GREEN: a blues.