University of Connecticut
In less than ten years, Ntozake Shange‘s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf transformed from a loosely connected group of poems and improvised dances, to a stage production that ran on Broadway for two years, to a telefilm broadcast nationally on PBS‘ American Playhouse. In light of its several successful metamorphoses, the piece‘s greatest strength, like that of the women it depicts, is its ability to adapt and endure. This adaptability stems from its origins as a hybrid work comprised of poetry, dance and music, as well as from Shange‘s impressive capacity to collaborate, improvise and allow the piece to morph as necessary for shifting audiences and mediums. An examination of for colored girls‟ three major versions: group of poems, choreopoem, and telefilm, is utilized as a basis to critique the latter both as an autonomous work of art, and in relation to the versions that came before it. Though some of her original feminist vision was diminished, the drastic changes Shange made to FCG– most notably the addition of male characters– yielded a version viable for television and thus accessible to an infinitely larger audience. Many of the changes also function as an artistic response to accusations that the piece vilified black men, which saturated the press during the Broadway run and have since remained a major preoccupation of the critical literature. Analysis of the telefilm, which has yet to be thoroughly discussed by literary critics or theater historians, provides insights useful for future incarnations of this groundbreaking, oft-produced work of feminist theater.