The Dance: The History Of American Minstelry!
by Willard Manus
It takes guts in these politically correct times to dredge up old racial caricatures and fling them in the face of an audience, but that's exactly what Jason Christophe White and Aaron White do in their bold, impudent show, THE DANCE: THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN MINSTELRY!
The two young African-American actors met at Cal Arts six years ago and began working on the piece. Jason, who did most of the writing, decided to dig into the buried history of minstelry and shine a light on it today. His research revealed that 17th century popular entertainment was rooted not only in African-American but Irish, Jewish and Asian stereotypes. Those tainted images have dominated show business ever since and are still being sold, in more subtle ways, to audiences today.
THE DANCE compresses three hundred years of minstelry into a one-hour show. The main focus is on the blackface performers of the 19th and 20th centuries. First it was white entertainers in grotesque, painted-on masks pretending to be "coons" as they sang, danced and clowned (think Al Jolson doing Mammy); next it was Negroes like Bert Williams and Louis Armstrong who were obliged to mimic the whites' bizarre routines (and makeup!) in order to earn a living.
Jason White and Aaron White impersonate a slew of blackfaced characters in the course of their largely satiric show, sometimes dancing and clowning, other times lip-synching and miming. Their talent and energy are prodigious, and they manage to make the audience laugh without diminishing the impact of their message, which is aimed at making people confront the stereotypical ways they think about themselves and others.
THE DANCE has been performed in L.A. and New York
thus far, plus at numerous colleges and high schools across the country. PBS TV showed a 7-minute excerpt; visit seethedance.com and click on What Is the dance? For booking information contact Kat Mcentee at 859-581-4555.
Jason Christophe White deservedly won the 2007 NAACP playwriting award for THE DANCE.