Happy Fringe! Here at Geva, we now have two performances under our belts and 30 to go over the next 9 days. Hope you’re enjoying the variety of shows to see as much as we are! Today, Tara Lake describes the inspiration for and creation of her show I Know It Was the Blood: The Totally True Adventures of a Newfangled Black Woman.
I’m a soprano, storyteller, and performer born and raised in New Jersey, and currently based in Cincinnati.
I’m excited to tell share a bit about my road to the Keybank Rochester Fringe and the birth of my new show, I Know It Was the Blood: The Totally True Adventures of a Newfangled Black Woman.
This show is one hour of everything I love about my work: A lot of story, a lot of singing, and healthy dashes of theatre – steeped in family, down home culture, and newfangled attitudes.
Still a brand new show, I Know It Was the Blood won the Artists’ Choice Award at Chicago Fringe Festival, where it had its World Premiere in August, 2018.
I’m very excited and honored to be sharing this production with Rochester.
My road to Fringe began in the local storytelling community when I was living North Carolina. When challenged to share a story about my first love, I knew instantly that I wanted to talk about my experiences with the musical women in my family who carry our legacy as African American southerners, our love for our family home and history in South Carolina, and the richness of our culture and its music. I wanted to convey, somehow, how we carried on these practices even when so many members of our family left the South. I wanted to laugh with my audience, and share with them all of the laughter and song that keeps my sprawling, multigenerational family intact.
My quest to complete this task led to the penning of a one of my first stories for performance, which I titled “I Know It Was the Blood”. It became one of my most popular stories, and I was invited to perform it for a FIAT Automobiles radio commercial series. Over the years, I’ve shared a number of stories, and I began to see that some of these were connected by a thread that wove my family narrative into my own quirky life tales.
Even in the moments when these stories were less than jovial, there was a deeper resonance of joy, a love of family, and a certain flavor of Americana that was uniquely Southern. Because of the twists and turns of history, they were also specific to the experience of American migration. For me, that includes my experiences growing up in northern New Jersey – a flavorful stew of cultures that I thought was normal to the American experience before leaving home and realizing just how lucky I’d been to grow up with people from multiple corners of the world. The more I had time to reflect, the more the stories grew.
One of those stories gave me the memorable opportunity to share the stage with Elizabeth Edwards, attorney, author, and activist – and famously the estranged wife of former U.S. Senator from North Carolina and Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. With an abundance of class and a touch of irony, Elizabeth Edwards told a difficult story about her father to an audience of strangers in a Carrboro, NC theatre. She did it while in the final months of a battle with cancer and with the awareness that the echoes of the stories of her father would be placed, in our minds, atop the scandalous headlines we’d all read about her husband.
Meanwhile, I was working up the nerve to fully share my story that night.
In addition to being followed by Elizabeth Edwards, I was sharing a story that was a departure for me. Ostensibly a story about a lively family wedding, “The Wedding” pulled back the layers of humor and song that generally show up in copious amounts in most of my performances. It was a story with raw edges.
But seeing Elizabeth Edwards in the theatre, and recognizing the courage it must have taken for her to leave the cocoon of her home during that tumultuous year, emboldened me. If Ms. Edwards could find the courage to tell her story, and to stand on the stage in the midst of her illness and the still-ongoing media intrusion in her life, then surely, I could find the courage to tell mine.
I invested my telling of “The Wedding” with more vulnerability that I had planned to, and years later, that version stuck. When I left the stage that night, Ms. Edwards was gracious enough to stand in applause, shake my hand, and thank me for my story. Stunned, and on my way to my seat, I said only “Thank you so very much, Ma’am” in return. I wish I’d had the time to say more.
Seven months later, Ms. Edwards passed away. I’ve told many stories since “The Wedding”, but I returned to it when I started crafting this solo show, perhaps because of a lesson that Ms. Edwards taught me. Sometimes, even when a story is difficult, the only path is to stare down your fear and find the courage to be brave. I’ve never had to find courage on the level that Ms. Edwards did, but I am grateful for her example, just the same. I think of her every time I tell “The Wedding”.
Ultimately, I Know It Was The Blood: The Totally True Adventures of a Newfangled Black Woman is a story of triumph. It’s about enjoying the sweet stuff, getting through the bitter stuff, and living to laugh and lean into the sweet stuff again. It’s about finding the courage to live authentically and survive. And it’s about holding on to love and family through all of that journey.
I relish building a glorious community with my audiences each time I present this show. It’s riotous fun every time.
I’m so looking forward to building a story-rich hootenanny with the KeyBank Rochester Fringe family. See you soon!