Arts.Advocacy+Wellness: "Spotlights LaTonia Phipps & Fishing In Brooklyn"
LaTonia Phipps & Fishing In Brooklyn
Theater artist, poet, and teaching artist LaTonia Phipps, is emerging on the scene with her powerful one-woman show Fishing In Brooklyn.
“One woman’s solo-de-tour towards forgiveness and rebirth as told through thru the eyes of her younger self. With a live djembe drummer and sans props, this multi-talented actress transforms into multiple characters telling this autobiographical story as she revisits memories of her late mother. She quickly discovers this journey was not in vein, when she reconnects with her African and Latin roots and ultimately her true self. A 16 character piece that blends humor, slam poetry, dance, music, drama, full of possibility and hope.”
After seeing her show last Friday, it was imperative that I introduce her to the Future Forward family. Here is what she shared:
Tell us about your background...born, raised, cultural roots.
Cultural roots wow… Well I would say some amazing country in Africa. But to be a bit more specific. My fathers’ people came from Jamaica to Costa Rica where my dad was born. While my mothers people came from South Carolina. Around the early 80s’ their paths crossed and a pretty little brown girl name LaTonia, with a whole lot of sass emerged onto the rough streets of Bedstuy Brooklyn. Majority of my childhood was spent in Brooklyn and then around various part of New York.
You are an amazing talent with so much light, where did your love for theater and poetry begin?
My love for theater actually began with my parents; they were both performers, which I didn’t find out in detail until later in my adolescence. My mother was a former model and was a character in her own right. She was also a clothing designer and would capture a room with her colorful patterns without saying a word. And my father, an actor in the early 80’s, he was and is the greatest storyteller I know. However, with English being his second language it was a bit of deterrence for him. Nonetheless, you couldn’t help but follow his storytelling of his youth and experiences within the world; I refer to him as my own personal griot. This vibrant upbringing definitely leads me straight to the stage. With poetry, as a child I grew up very shy and would only speak to people indirectly or sometimes not at all. Poetry was my voice, and every time I would perform these pieces they would sang out rhythmically as in a piece of music. I didn’t know at the time that this type of poetry was called Spoken Word… I just knew I had a gift and needed to be heard.
Your creative genius brought you to Fishing in Brooklyn. How did you come up with the title and what brought about the story?
At 18 I was given an opportunity to study theater in St. Petersburg Russia and also Ghana, West Africa it was during this trip I gave birth to "Fishing’ In Brooklyn." I felt as if each person I came into contact with was a puzzle piece that fit into a larger plan. I immediately began to question my own puzzle. Where did I fit? What was my history and story? On my travels I also begin to gain a better understanding of the term "Mother"... mother tongue, mother language, mother to child relationships, all symbolizing the beginning for me. Immediately I realized I hadn't officially healed from my mothers’ death. So I took a big gulp delved into childhood memories of time spent with her mother, research my own cultural upbringing and deemed the show..."Fishing’ In Brooklyn". The term is a metaphor for me "fishing" for a deeper understanding of myself also the last moment I had with my mother was of us Fishing in Brooklyn together.
What do you feel nightly, internally and/or externally, when you share this story so seamlessly?
Internally… honestly it is the most terrifying yet fulfilling trip I go on each night I perform FIB. Because I never know how the show is going to go. The audience could completely love it and give me ravenous applause or they could completely dislike it… either way your up their for an hour and you need to make it work. There are16 characters in my play that means there are 16 different ways I could tell this story from 16 different perspectives. So each night I say okay tonight’s your night (referring to one of the characters) make it count. And I go on a journey of newness, like I’m telling it for the first time. Externally…the play is very universal so I’m always watching to see who I’m affecting, who I’m healing, who I’m offending and who I’m loving through my words.
Can you speak a little to the spiritual references in the show.
The spiritual reference I focus on in my play is a West African deities name Yemyah (referred to as the Mother of all bodies of water and the fish within them are her children) found within the Yoruba culture in Nigeria. During the creation of this piece I was curious to understand the connection between me and my mother and also the connection between Africa and me, and all the other brown children apart of the descended from the Diaspora.
During the middle passage when brown and black people were brought over there was a grave connection to water. It’s where our Ancestors died, bathed, sweat, drank etc… Our history, our beginning, our truth is buried within the womb of the seas. It was important for me to make that connection in my own search for my mother and understand this beginning.
Your work is now being compared to some of the Masters in one-woman performance such as Anna Deveare-Smith and Ntozake Shange...how does that make you feel as an emerging artist on the scene?
I feel deeply honored to be compared to such greats as Smith and Shange. They are the mothers of our time. I could only hope that my work would be as refined as there’s that some young playwright/actress will be compared to me one day and I can past the torch along.
Thanks Latonia...very engaging interview and story! Make sure you guys check out Fishing In Brooklyn: