A woman, alone on stage, is at a crossroads in her life. Having constantly navigated her world as a mixed race person, she has always made her decisions based on race, “based one black and white.”
This is the premise and opening scene for Monique DeBose’s one woman show, “Beyond Black and White,” coming to Beyond Baroque theater on July 8. Growing up with a black father and Irish Catholic mother, Debose felt, like many mixed race Americans, caught between the two worlds.
“[The show] is about all the lessons and limitations of growing up with an African American father,” she said. “And all the lessons and limitations of growing up with an Irish American mother, and what this one person has done with being a bridge and straddling two worlds to find peace within herself.”
“It has the potential to really be confrontational or controversial for people,” she added.
Having both black and white family granted her access to hear the things black people only say when they are around black people, and the things white people only say among other white people.
“Just speaking specifically to my mom, my Irish American family, there were things that I heard,” she said. “That as a black person I might be like ‘I don’t know if that’s really appropriate for you to say,’ or ‘That’s pretty insensitive considering you haven’t looked at the history.’”
Her script candidly shows the audience the things people say when they think no one else is listening.
“I feel like people who get to go to this show get to be a fly on the wall for conversations that they may not have access to,” she said. “One friend said after seeing a preview of the show, ‘Wow you’re so courageous, that’s the kind of stuff you say about people when they’re dead.’”
DeBose’s story coach, Terrie Silverman, who has been working on the show with DeBose for the last six months said the show required a lot of the performer as well.
“She’s really brave, she’s so willing to tell the truth,” she said. “She’s definitely had some epiphanies about her life in investigating her story for the show. It’s really given her a new perspective on her life…she is so brave and fierce and she is so willing to delve into everything for the sake of the story.”
DeBose said the show will be both light and heavy, with short monologues and singing, as well as different characters, including the character of herself, all running through a non-fictional storyline about her mixed life.
The show introduces something she calls “bridge culture.”
“The other thing about being mixed race, the black part and the white part, yes, you learn how to navigate both worlds,” she said. “But also you develop this whole new culture, this mixed race culture which I’m calling ‘bridge culture’ which for me at least, has created a great deal of empathy and compassion for things and people.”
Lacking the luxury of “staying in my own world, just by the very nature of my existence,” she has found another culture that’s been created from her multicultural existence.
“There’s this third world,” she says. “A bridge culture, which is living in both worlds and learning how to navigate your own world.”
DeBose grew up near Pico and Crescent Heights, but now resides north of Montana with her husband and two children. The move from the Pico-Robertson area to Santa Monica informs some of her performance, and she thinks the show could be “a real opportunity” for locals to see a narrative with which they might not be familiar.
“I live north of Montana and the truth is I don’t see a lot of black people,” she said. “I don’t see a lot of brown people. And people have said that, ‘All the black and brown people leave at 5 o’clock,’ meaning they just work here then leave.”
“So for my neighbors, that kind of thing, it’s a real opportunity for people to tap into a story that they might now know or if there are mixed race families, it’s informative in terms of how to navigate and understand what maybe their children are experiencing, even if they don’t talk about it.”
DeBose is also putting out her third solo album, likely to come out this fall, about the same subject matter of race and identity. More information about her work can be found at www.moniquedebose.com or http://www.beyondbaroque.org/calendar.html
PHOTO CAPTION: Monique DeBose, a holistic voice coach and singer, is performing her first ever one woman show on July 8.