“BOTH AND (A Play About Laughing While Black)” at The Wallis | In Conversation with Author and Actor Carolyn Ratteray

How Carolyn Ratteray’s “Both And (A Play About Laughing While Black)” Deeply Investigates The Nucleus Of Black Joy

PHOTO: Boston Court Pasadena Production | The South Pasadenan | Carolyn Ratteray in
PHOTO: Boston Court Pasadena Production | The South Pasadenan | Carolyn Ratteray in "Both And"

“Both And (A Play About Laughing While Black)” had its World Premiere at Boston Court Theatre in Pasadena in May of 2022. It was the culmination of a fulfilling artistic process for actor Carolyn Ratteray which included a digital online workshop presentation in 2021. Now the Wallis Center for Performing Arts is remounting the Boston Court production. “It feels amazing to know that another theatre believes in this story strongly enough to invite us for a remount,” says Ratteray. “It’s exciting that we get to share Both And with more of the LA community!”

Both And” delves into the heart of Black joy through a blend of clowning, poetic text, and a dynamic tour-de-force performance by Ratteray. The play narrates the story of Teayanna, who, as her mother lies on her deathbed, finds herself in a liminal space between life and death. This compelling journey is not just a quest to aid her mother’s passage but also an exploration of the wisdom of ancestors, the legacy of the Middle Passage, and the unexpected revelations hidden in her mother’s purse.

PHOTO: Boston Court Pasadena Production | The South Pasadenan | Carolyn Ratteray in "Both And"
PHOTO: Boston Court Pasadena Production | The South Pasadenan | Carolyn Ratteray in “Both And”

According to Ratteray, this play has a couple threads of genesis. “Growing up with my mother and father who were both passionate social justice advocates, I saw, early on, how easy it was to get burnt out fighting a system that seemed to have endless manifestations of injustice,” Ratteray tells us. “Towards the end of my mother’s life, we had several conversations about what was needed to keep going, to feel renewed, and what was challenging about external expectations and notions of Self. This show is an investigation of what it means to cultivate a relationship to Joy amidst the struggle, and questions how do we embrace all parts of ourselves and claim our full humanity, even when the world insists on one version of us.

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Personally, I experience that so often in society people of color need to wear a suit of armor in order to navigate the challenges of the intrinsically and exquisitely racist social structure in which we live, so much so that the instinct for softness can get lost in our translations of ourselves. This piece seeks to examine that reality.”

She says it is a conversation she wants to have with her students as they pass through her classrooms exhausted, burnt out, and scared – a conversation she wishes she could have with Black women who may feel like she has felt – a need to truncate a part of herself in order to sustain the image of a strong Black woman. “It’s a conversation I think we all should have about how to let go and laugh freely in order to find the Joy waiting for us on the other side of grief,” she explains. “I believe everyone must find the BOTH AND in themselves so that we can acknowledge ourselves as lover and fighter, sophisticated and silly, ignorant and wise, innocent and worldly. We are Both And. And in being Both And, we are inexhaustible.”

Another kernel of the play began around 2014 when Ratteray attended a Devising workshop at Celebration Barn Theatre in Maine. She had lost her mother years earlier and had lost her father the previous year and as she fell in love with the art of clowning she became curious about how a clown would experience grief. “I discovered that we had much to learn from the loving and healing simplicity of the clown.”

PHOTO: Boston Court Pasadena Production | The South Pasadenan | Carolyn Ratteray in "Both And"
PHOTO: Boston Court Pasadena Production | The South Pasadenan | Carolyn Ratteray in “Both And”

The show is loosely autobiographical and there is a moment when Teayanna realizes that she no longer needs to carry the pain of her generational trauma, but instead must find a way to honor it. It’s a pivotal moment in the play that is close to Ratteray’s heart. “It is a very freeing moment when she learns how to move forward with Joy.”

In experiencing the passing of both parents, Ratteray says “there is no way around grief.
I learned that, if I let it, grief can settle in my body, but by learning to let go of things that do not serve me and embracing the sadness that comes with loss, I found my way to an incredible and inevitable wellspring of Joy.”

She also has a wellspring of gratitude for the entire dramaturgical team at Boston Court Theatre – Jessica Kubzansky, Emilie Pascale Beck, Margaret Shigeko Starbuck – as well as her director Andi Chapman, for helping her develop this piece. “Because Theatre has the power to connect us, I hope that everyone will be moved by Both And ( a play about laughing while Black) and see themselves reflected in this story regardless from which cultural vantage point they come,” she says. “We need more opportunities to tell our stories that are rooted in laughter and joy as well as the pain and struggle; all of those things connect us as humans. I find myself in love with Black stories that focus on the currents of Joy in the Black experience vs stories that dwell in tragedy. I’m keenly excited for the works of my peers in this LA theatre community like Aja Houston, Marlow Wyatt, Kacie Rogers, and June Carryl to name a few. There are so many amazing writers, but we also need consistent producers and platforms for these beautifully diverse stories.”

“Both And” is a testament to the power of storytelling and Ratteray reminds us that storytelling is one of the oldest things we have ever done as human beings. “It has been the most consistent and long-standing methods by which we grow, evolve, and heal as a community. It is how we can understand each other and learn to empathize with each other more deeply. Somehow, we are so connected digitally, but still so disconnected. I hope this story does it’s part to help connect us.”

“Both And” is recommended for adults and children ages 13 and above. The play has a running time of 95 minutes and will be performed without an intermission. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to experience a piece of theater that not only entertains but also enlightens.

Tickets for “Both And (A Play About Laughing While Black)” are available now and runs through January 28. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit The Wallis.