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The upcoming October 1 stage performance of I Am Queen: CHARLOTTE is produced by Epoch Tribe in partnership with Blumenthal Performing Arts as part of the Charlotte International Arts Festival.
The show was originally produced as part of Queen Charlotte Week, a city-wide celebration in March 2022. The Black Wall Street Times spoke with the dual creative engines behind the unique idea to see what audiences can expect in less than one month.
In preparation of the upcoming show, writer and creator Hannah Hasan understands the assignment well, “every emotion that one has in creating and presenting art, I feel on a daily basis.” She continued, “everyday I have a moment of ‘this is why we’re doing this.’”
The yin to her yang, show producer Shardae Hasan, echoed those very sentiments, saying, “it’s more high stakes, it’s a testament of the artistry and creativity of Black women. It’s not pressure that I feel, it’s more of the desire to operate in excellence at all times knowing that whether or not we deliver decides a lot for us individually – but more importantly – us as a collective.”
Realizing moments like this are bigger than themselves, The Epoch Tribe duo has been telling the stories of marginalized communities for nearly 15 years, but it’s the stories of Black people that are the cornerstone of their work. I Am Queen is an opportunity to widen the scope of what it’s like to live, love and evolve as Black women through their own voices against the backdrop of stunning visuals and sounds, live and onstage.
What better place to celebrate Black Queens than in the City built for them?
Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, (1744-1818), wife of the English King George III (1738-1820), was directly descended from Margarita de Castro y Sousa, a Black branch of the Portuguese royal house, according to historian Mario de Valdes y Cocom.
Well before photography would be invented, early portraits of the Queen show that Charlotte had African physical attributes and writings from that period also alluded to her “mulatto” appearance, meaning “one with mixed black and white ancestry.”
According to PBS, the African characteristics evident in so many of the Queen’s portraits had political significance, and since commissioned royal artists of that period were expected to play down, soften or even obliterate “undesirable” features in a subject’s face, they often painted Queen Charlotte’s skin tone as lighter and manipulated other physical features.
Yet on October 1, 2022, Black women will be front and center in all their splendor at the heart of the Queen City.
With nearly 60 Black women interviewed, Shardae states she wants the audience to see themselves represented in the show’s featured monologues. “I want people to recognize the extraordinary work of their own journeys reflected on stage. Everybody has a journey, a story, and there is an element of amazingness to all of them.”
Every story has a beginning
The I Am Queen: Charlotte project originated this time last year. Hannah was approached about doing a book project by a local photographer to document the stories of Black women and after speaking with so many Black women of varied backgrounds, she knew a bigger story needed to be told.
After interviewing all of the women featured, Hannah noted that she instructed her actors well ahead of showtime, “this is not traditional theater, it’s not rooted in whiteness. This is our show.”
Determined to remain authentic to the stories told, she added, “We are not asking them to get on stage to act out another Black woman’s story – we are asking them to learn them, to hold them, care for them and relay their story.”
Shardae, a mold-breaker and student of the theater, states, “I see similar themes on what we get to see on stage. A lot of them are historical, Civil Rights Era, musicals, etc., but there wasn’t a space for contemporary storytelling. And that’s why we feel it’s so important to do this work.”
She emphasized, “Our work focuses on living history by documenting the accomplishments of Black women in real-time.”
“We’re giving flowers today. We don’t have to wait for 50, 60, 100 years to go by to recognize the work being done by Black women,” says Shardae.
Not only does the show feature Black women on stage, but it is carefully curated to have their influence throughout the entire production. Shardae explains, “we have a Black woman director, lighting designer, videographers, photographers, actors – we don’t get those spaces a lot so we’re very intentional about being seen and supported.” She furthered, “Part of our responsibility is to do the difficult things so that the next group of people that come after us don’t have to do it the same way.”
Working in harmony, the heart of it all, Hannah explains Charlotte is a hub for Black women that “rarely get a moment on stage.” The head of it all, Shardae couldn’t agree more,”when you look at what’s presented in Charlotte theaters, there is nothing like this.”
For many years, the dynamic duo have been putting on plays on smaller stages in the Charlotte community, but according to Hannah, “at some point you just have to go for it.” She elaborated, “we know how to work with actors and poets and turning it into a script with intricate monologues has been a process that Shardae has helped to craft.”
“There is a space in our art that is very Black, there is a call-and-response moment in our show which creates space for people to feel like they’re apart of it,” explains Hannah.
“I don’t care who you are – you’re going to have a very Black experience,” says Hannah.
Queens of the City through and through, Hannah says she is often inspired by the southern comforts of Charlotte’s people, elaborating, “if I want to find connectivity, that’s here, it’s the people for me.”
Shardae sees “Charlotte as a place that has a lot of opportunity for growth, especially in the creative space. We have the potential to be a hub of space and opportunity for Black creatives.”