Local playwright, choreographer, performer, writer and trans activist Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi says U.S. society is in the throes of major change.
“What we’re facing now is a systematic reckoning,” says Edidi, 37. “We’re being invited to invest in a world free of oppression or invest in what used to be normal which was steeped in white supremacy and not good for most people. We’re being asked to align ourselves with the values we claim to avow. Exactly when the American theater reopens is part of a bigger question. It asks when will we care enough to take to the necessary precautions to be able to make sure most of us survive this thing.”
Best known for both writing and performing in “For Trans Black Girls …” and “Klytmnestra: An Epic Slam Poem,” Edidi, the first trans woman of color nominated for a Helen Hayes Award, is currently swamped with Zoom panels and meetings, but still makes time for crafting thoughtful posts for her thousands of social media followers.
Edidi has contributed a new short play to an ingenious quarantine initiative, Play At Home. D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, along with other professional regional theaters with a stake in promoting new works, have commissioned dozens of original short plays that can be downloaded (playathome.org) for free and performed either privately or on Zoom.
“The guidelines were pretty simple — the play needed to be about 10 minutes long and spark joy. That was about it. And, yeah, the playwrights would be paid,” she says.
In less than two days, Edidi created “The Diaz Family Talent Show,” a 10-character piece about an Afro-Latin family (not unlike Edidi’s real-life maternal lineage) coming together to help heal its youngest member (based on the author).
“In my own growing up, the times when I felt most safe and affirmed were at our informal family talent shows. Members of my musical family would give impromptu performances. I used to put that little T-shirt on my head and do Patti LaBelle singing ‘Over the Rainbow.’ The play is really an homage to my own family.”
When reminiscing, Edidi pauses — “It’s been an emotional time. The people I do speak to in my family are elderly and at risk. I may not be able to see them until there’s a vaccine.”
With quarantine, Black Lives Matter protests, court rulings and a reversal of transgender health protections, there’s a lot happening.
“We all have the right to process our emotions, feel the emotions we’re feeling, and work through them,” she says. “Don’t let anyone rush you through that.”
In reference to the landmark Supreme Court decisions protecting LGBTQ people in the workplace, Edidi says, “I smiled — I didn’t think that was going to happen. I also ask how many black trans women have jobs? How many get hired for jobs? So, while it’s good news. That happiness is also tempered by other realities.”
At present, Edidi is also working on a book of poetry that started off as a critique of colonization and white supremacy, but the content has changed in light of recent events.
“Because I feel that a world free of oppression is closer than it has been for a long time, I now want to include poems of hope, love and about the world that might come after.”
Some days she’s discouraged by the sluggish pace of change. But then Edidi tells herself, “Dane, you are an artist and one of the gifts of the artist is to help others imagine new ways of being. Go operate in your gift. It’s serious, but never punish yourself for feeling joy.”