No Blue Memories – A Night to Remember

Liam Kennedy, Contributing Writer

The collaboration of a live band, several puppeteers, and actors in No Blue Memories: the Life of Gwendolyn Brooks, was shown for Clark last Thursday evening. No Blue Memories shows the impact of Gwendolyn Brooks as writing for her community – “a nation on no map.” The Higgins School of Humanities sponsored the showing and the theatrical performance was commissioned by the Poetry Foundation.

The show opens with Gwendolyn Brooks beginning to write as a child and shows her growing up and becoming a fully realized poet and writer. While focusing on Brooks, the production supplies a plentiful setting. The city of Chicago is almost another character as the city visibly changes as the story progresses. The show explores both what Brooks did, and what happened to her; covering events like getting married, winning the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, being the first Black woman to do so, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr..

Produced by Manual Cinema, the theatrical performance included live music, puppeteering, light projections, and acting. The music was composed by sisters Jamila and Ayanna Woods, and performed by them both in addition to other musicians.

There are many readings of poetry and writing that Gwendolyn Brooks reads aloud. Many of these writings came from the Brooks archives. However, a producer of the show and two of Brooks’ protégées wrote some of what Brooks said and wrote on stage. The show was not made for children but it is accessible to children, the director Sarah Forance said. The show has been performed at many schools and colleges.

There are many ways to observe the show. You can watch the band play and sing throughout the show, taking cues from the puppeteers. You could focus on the projector operators, changing scenes, acting through puppets, and cueing the band. You may also follow N. LaQuis Harkins as Gwendolyn Brooks, acting in front of the screen that the puppets are projected on to. These visuals were projected over the three stations to create the final product. 

Ayanna Woods said that what was screened was one of the first performances and that now the performance runs much smoother. To the layman, however, you could not tell that there were still kinks to be worked out. In composing the music for the show, Ayanna and Jamilla Woods both wrote music for parts of the show and wrote music that the show was then shaped around. Music was used to connect certain parts of the story together as well as to give recurring themes or characters their own sound.