In an anti-black world, the natural hair movement is a rebellion against Western ideals, a self-love wave, or simply freedom for black women around the globe.
From kinks and coils deemed “inappropriate” in the workplace or school, to black men telling black women that straight hair looks better on them; choosing to wear the hair that you were born with is a personal, difficult and life-changing decision.
Each woman has her own natural hair story, and Hair’itage The Journey of Sistahs with Their Hair tells some of them through six characters, or “sistahs”, who have different styles and types of hair.
Written by award-winning Playwright Niccole Nero Gaines, the original play chronicles “the journeys and struggles that African-American women go through with their hair and how that affects their work, family and social lives.”
Gaines, who was raised between Queens, New York and Long Beach, California; started 4 Love Productions 10 years ago to bring quality live entertainment to her Long Island, New York community.
“I really wanted to bring more shows that were more reflective of our total experience, not just one dimensional shows that only show one side of the black experience,” Gaines told Curly Nikki.
Hair’itage is a collection of black women’s real experiences, shared during conversations with family and friends or those she heard in the hair salon she used to own.
|Award-winning Playwright Niccole Nero Gaines|
“I was inspired to write Hair’itage by all the stories I’ve heard over the years from family and friends; how their hair has impacted everything from how their families look at them, to their love lives, to their social lives and their self-esteem,” she said. “I just really wanted to open up a sounding board where women could see women they could relate to.”
The production, which has toured in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York and Maryland, is more than a “hair-love is self-love” speech, as it presents a historical context for why black women wear their hair the ways they do.
“I think it probably goes all the way back to slavery. You know when we came [to America] we had this different texture of hair. It may have been intimidation, and it may have just been ignorance of what our hair was,” she said. “So we were told to suppress how our natural hair looked; to tie it up, to cover it up. Once we were able to get perms or get it straightened we could make our hair look more like Europeans’.”
Relaxers, pressing combs and flat irons are some of the many tools black women have used to make their hair more acceptable in the places they live, work and play. In order to “fit in”, assimilate, or survive; black women often have to do what they need to do to “look the part”, or in other words, white.
Gaines said that her characters are based on people she knows, including herself. She has worn locs for over 20 years, so it’s only fitting that one of her favorite characters is the Loc Sistah.
“A couple of the characters and a few of the scenes are based on things I’ve been through,” Gaines said. “I hear the laughter and then afterwards I hear people talking about it and it’s just amazing to me that so many women go through some of the same things. I guess that’s why the show is so well received; because it’s relatable. It opens up a mirror into the black woman’s life.”
Audiences describe the play as “a very refreshing & realistic look into the world of black women and our hair”; “absolutely unlike anything you’d expect” and “a MUST SEE!!!”
From the beginning of the production, where slaves are brought to America, playgoers go on a journey, exploring the sistahs love-hate relationships with their hair, secret wishes and fears, jealousy and adoration, acceptance, rejection and so much more.
Overall, the play offers insight into the meaning of one’s hair, choices, beliefs and happiness.
“It [Hair’itage] means having self-awareness and pride in who you are,” she said. “Audiences should see it to be entertained and to have a better understanding; they should see it to be entertained; and to have a better understanding of how black women are perceived by how we wear our hair.”
The play is touring this year, with shows débuting next month.
Performances of HAIR’itage the Play presented by The Black Lady Theatre in Brooklyn, New York premiere during Mother’s Day weekend – Friday, May 12th, Saturday, May 13th and Sunday, May 14th. The show will then run every Friday through September 1st. Purchase your tickets from Eventbrite here.