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November 5, 2015

Alice Childress and the Wedding Band

by Anne Paddock

The Negro woman has almost been omitted as important subject matter in the general popular American drama, television, motion pictures and radio.          ~Alice Childress

When I first heard the name Alice Childress while visiting Oberlin College in Ohio, my curiosity was piqued. Who exactly was Alice Childress and why have I never heard of her? The answer to the first question is that Alice Childress (1916-1994) was an American actress, activist, union organizer, playwright, director, and author. She was also a black woman fighting for her voice to be heard and her talent recognized in industries dominated by white men.

In 1944, Childress was nominated for a Tony for best supporting actress in Anna Lucasta but turned to writing when she realized how few good roles were available for black women. Her first play – Florence – was written in 1950 followed by Just a Little Simple,  Gold Through the Trees, Trouble in Mind (which appeared Off-Broadway and was slated to move to Broadway if Childress would change the script and give the play a happier ending, which she refused to do) and one of her most controversial plays: Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White in 1962.Wedding_band

Set in 1918 in South Carolina, Wedding Band is the story of an interracial couple who have been together for ten years and want to move north to get married because local laws prevent their union. When an outbreak of influenza threatens their plans, they realize they cannot run away and must stay to face the racial tensions of both the white and black communities. A strong, often hilarious play (thanks to a group of supporting actors and actresses given great lines), Wedding Band is rather predictable (but very entertaining) up until the last 30 minutes of the second act when both Julia and Herman confront the tensions that have shaped their relationship. The defining moments of this scene are so explosive and emotional that the audience is caught off-guard because all of the hatred and racism up to that point has come from friends and family, and not from within themselves.

Wedding Band is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, especially on college campuses, more than 50 years after it was written during the height of the civil rights movement, which leads me back to one of my original questions: why had I not heard of Alice Childress until 2015? The answer could be because there are few black playwrights and even fewer black female playwrights and that these artists have not been given their due, that I have not sought out local theater enough, or that I have not opened my eyes enough to the social injustices of our society as expressed through the arts. Alice Childress put race relations, the injustices of living in a segregated society, and the people who live on the margins of society front and center while exposing the racism in both white and black society. The woman had courage.

To read the play, Wedding Band, consult your local library or purchase a copy on www.amazon.com. To see the play Wedding Band, consult your local town, city, and college theater production schedule.

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