Before we were online there was the clothesline…..
The Clothesline Muse is a devised theatrical production originally conceived as dance by Dr. Kariamu Welsh and developed into an evening length multi discipline theatrical piece with collaborators Nnenna Freelon and Maya Freelon Asante. The intergenerational story is centered around Grandma Blu (played by Freelon), an elderly washerwoman, storyteller and owner of Blu’s by Hand Laundry and her 26 year old granddaughter Mary Mack (played by Tyanna West). Mary is an emerging screenwriter, feminist and afro-futurist, who sees little value in washerwoman culture and Grandma’s old fashioned stories. As Grandma Blu passes on, Mary must fulfill her promise to take care of her house filled to the brim with a lifetime of memories and laundry artifacts. Mary’s decision to dispose of everything in sight prompts Grandma to share her clothesline stories one last time. Blu will not be moved until Mary understands and connects the values tied to her washing stories. She insists that Mary “holds up her end of the line.” But how can Mary honor her Grandmother’s past without compromising her own future? As Grandma Blu and Mary explore each other’s stories, they come to realize there is much more hanging on-line than the laundry.
Kariamu Welsh’s choreography transforms vernacular wash movements into poetic dance, celebrating the passion and beauty of women’s work. Jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon composed the original music influenced by gospel, folk and blues traditions. Maya Freelon Asante’s vibrant tissue paper art acts as a kinetic sculpture representing strength, fragility and the stories that connect us to each other and the clothesline. Projections and still images provide a glimpse into the magical world created when we listen to one another.
On a special note, The Clothesline Muse collaborators are also family. Maya Freelon Asante is Kariamu Welsh’s daughter-in-law and Nnenna Freelon is her mother.