THE COTILLION

THE COTILLION

THE HARRIET HOLLAND SOCIAL CLUB PRESENTS THE 84TH ANNUAL STAR-BURST COTILLION IN THE GRAND BALLROOM OF THE RENAISSANCE HOTEL, a play with music written and directed by Colette Robert, music and lyrics by Dionne McClain-Freeney, choreography by nicHi douglas, is experienced as a Black debutante ball in a large American city in real time.  Guided by The Emcee and The Club’s esteemed Madam President, as well as three singers and a trove of ingeniously stylish songs, we follow six well-to-do Black girls on the night of their Coming Out: from backstage preparations through the crowning of a bright-and-shiny new Miss Star-Burst.  The Cotillion explores respectability politics in the Black community as well as the history and language of “presenting” Black women.

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April/May 2023

Mezzanine at the ART/New York Theatres

co-produced with our close friends at The Movement Theatre Company!

IN PROCESS  Here’s Colette on what became The Cotillion: “I first became interested in debutante culture when a friend described balls he attended growing up in St Louis. I thought the inherent theatricality of a debutante ball could make a pretty dynamic piece of art, then spent months interviewing debutantes from all over the country. The conversations were fascinating and oh-so-complicated in terms of race, skin color, gender, and class. I used personal knowledge about The Links and Jack and Jill of America, as well as research about The Original Illinois Club in New Orleans, to create my fictional upper-class Black women’s club.  With each question answered, more arose: Is this coming-of-age ritual a means of lifting up Black women, or dividing them? How are debutante balls in conversation with slave auctions and quadroon balls in terms of the presentation and valuation of Black women? What are these debs’ biases? What are my own?

Like my interviewees, I was one of a handful of Black girls at a mostly-white high school. I often felt the need to apologize for and downplay my success in an effort to fit in. I can therefore appreciate the rewarding of accomplishment and ambition at these events, as well as the fellowship building between girls from similar backgrounds. Most of the debs had a positive experience. It was an opportunity to feel like royalty, for their bodies to become works of art.

This play is engaged in the messy, beautiful, ugly complications of living in this country. At a time when, like so many, I find myself in a strange state of disorientation and agitation, when I mostly see big divides—on stage, in audiences, in the country—when I vacillate between my need to keep telling stories and my knowledge that it is not nearly enough, creating a play that smudges the lines between spectator and performer, past and present (in the context of race, gender, and class) helps me understand what it means to be an American art-maker in this moment.  And as an artist who rarely saw my story onstage, I knew that if I wanted to see it, I needed to create it.”

THE MOVEMENT THEATRE COMPANY, founded in 2007, creates an artistic social movement by developing and producing herculean new work by artists of color. Under the leadership of David Mendizábal, Deadria Harrington, Eric Lockley, Taylor Reynolds and Ryan Dobrin, our work engages a multicultural audience in a rich theatrical dialogue, enlightens communities to important issues affecting our world, and empowers artists to celebrate the many sides of their unique voice. Through our work we refuel, affirm, and celebrate our resilience as people of color, embracing theater as a means of community building. The Movement has produced four New York/World Premiere productions, received critical acclaim from The New York Times, an Obie Award, a Drama Desk nomination, 5 AUDELCO Award nominations, and the Game Changer Award by The Common Good. We’ve been an artistic home and launching pad to artists including Whitney White, Aleshea Harris, Sinan Zafar, Jonathan McCrory, Dede Ayite, Harrison David Rivers, Qween Jean, Cha See, David Mendizábal and Antoinette Nwandu. Learn more

MEET THE LEAD ARTISTS

COLETTE ROBERT [PLAYWRIGHT-DIRECTOR] is a Los Angeles native currently based in New York. Recent directing credits include: EGRESS (SLAC); SOLO PLAYS (Williamstown Theatre Festival); STEW (Page 73, Drama Desk and Drama League nominee, Pulitzer Finalist); and BEHIND THE SHEET (Ensemble Studio Theatre, NYT Critic’s Pick). Colette is a member of EST, was a co-facilitator of the New Georges Jam, and was The Drama League’s 2018 Beatrice Terry Writer/Director in Residence. Alumnus of the Mabou Mines Resident Artist Program and the Lincoln Center Directors Lab. Colette was previously an Audrey Resident at New Georges and a Van Lier Directing Fellow at The Public.

DIONNE MCCLAIN-FREENEY [COMPOSER-LYRICIST] is currently making a new piece with playwright Neena Beber and actor Jessica Hecht (OrchardProject). She is a member of the BMI Lehman Engel MusicalTheatre Workshop. Composer: The Movie Star & TheMammy (Joe’s Pub), The Sugar Hill Sisters (NYMF). Composer & Lyricist: The Harriet Holland Social Club PresentsThe 84th Annual Star-Burst Cotillion in The Grand Ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel, Going Home: A Movement of Voices (New York Philharmonic’s New World Initiative), ThisOne Girl’s Story (NYMF, Gayfest, GLAAD Media Award nominee). Music direction:The Fourth Wall (Off -Broadway), Bring The Beat Back, FORA The Musical (NYMF). She has appeared on numerous national and international stages, including headlining Joe’s Pub, and accompanied a variety of artists from Broadway, television, and the recording industry.

nicHi douglas [CHOREOGRAPHER] is a Brooklyn-based  artist, educator, activist and 2021 Princess Grace Award winner. they have developed original theater at The Public, Roundabout, New Victory, Lincoln Center, and Berkeley Rep, among others. they have created interactive dance exhibits for the National Museum of African-American Music and the New York Hall of Science. nicHi’s reparations-focused mutual aid fund, nicHi’s SuSu, launched in 2020, raising over $17K for Black artists since. nicHi is adjunct faculty at NYU/Tisch Drama and guest lectures at Yale School of Drama. their experimental dance work (pray), co-composed by Starry Busby and JJJJJerome Ellis, will be produced by Ars Nova in the 22-23 season. stage credits: Girl From the North Country (Associate Choreographer), SKiNFoLK: An American Show (NYT Critic’s Pick, Choreographer). upcoming: WEIGHTLESS (WP Theater, Choreographer) | www.mynameisnichi.com

ALSO NOTE Primarily a director, Colette shepherds new plays at theaters all around the country. She began working on The Cotillion in 2015 as a New Georges Audrey Resident, originally thinking she might find a playwright to work with. Instead: she wrote the play herself. And now?  She’s currently working on her third play, a murder mystery comedy!