Religion, race and gender will intersect in a one-woman performance about faith on Wednesday.
Graduate acting student Taji Senior will perform a solo staged reading of “’A’ (What the Black Girl Found While Searching for God)” at the Fowler Museum. The story follows a 16-year-old African-American girl who questions her connection to religion. Amid her inner turmoil, the girl, named A, finds comfort in her relationship with God, with whom she has a close friendship. When God disappears with no explanation, she’s forced to embark on a journey in search of him.
“This piece is a journey, not even about what religion is but about connecting with something higher than yourself, something other than yourself,” Senior said. “There’s a stance that it takes, that the journey is incredibly personal.”
Senior first began writing “’A’” toward the end of 2016. She was inspired by George Bernard Shaw’s 1932 play, “The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God.” Matrex Kilgore, who directed the original 2016 production of “‘A’” in Austin, Texas, said the play does not take place at a particular time. Instead, it is surrealist and existentialist, contemplating what it means to be an American black woman in relation to God.
Senior said the reading considers which parts of one’s identity are most important and how one defines oneself. Being both a woman and black has certain implications that include injustice and stigma. But such implications should not stop people from viewing her character as a human being, she said.
“Because of the world we live in, I don’t know if people ever see me as human first and then all those other things,” Senior said.
Senior’s reading is one of the few nonmusical acts that are part of the Fowler Out Loud performance series, said Laura Jane Yee, series coordinator and fourth-year ethnomusicology student. The Fowler Museum typically showcases a lot of African art, and Yee said Senior’s reading about her experience as a person of color is relevant to the venue.
The context of one’s race and gender typically influences what they’ve been influenced to believe within the sphere of religion – the play aims to spark conversations about these beliefs. The play encouraged Senior to consider her relationship with her own faith, Christianity, and how her worldview was influenced by others. Through this, she said she hopes “‘A’” will encourage audiences to question what they have been told to believe.
A eventually realizes that her spirituality and her identity are constantly evolving. But instead of forcing her character’s views on audiences, Senior said she wants people to begin to understand themselves on their own terms instead of the beliefs of others.
“I hope that anytime that I am onstage or any work that I do gives you a way to think more thoughtfully about your life and the decisions that you make for yourself, and I hope that it brings you to a clearer understanding of yourself,” Senior said.