Hannah Drake and Actors Theatre premier ‘Fix It Black Girl’

by Allie Fireel

In the midst of the historic upheaval and protesting that has followed the killing of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, Louisville based poet Hannah Drake has been speaking and protesting all over town. Then just last week Actors Theatre of Louisville announced Fix it Black Girl, a new theatrical work created by Drake. QK spoke with Drake to take a closer look at the upcoming show, and to look at how Drake’s voice and influence have come into prominence. 

Drake is not new to the spotlight, having written poems and blogs that have gone viral, starting with her poem Formation, which Drake cites as a big turning point in her career as a poet. Formation was followed by a decision – after the 2016 election – to start working in a second medium.

“I knew I had more things to say to the world,” said Drake. “People had been blogging forever  and I was late to the game. I thought, I’ll start blogging and see what happens.” 

Her blog, Write Some Shit, has birthed several viral videos, the most read being Do Not Move Off The Sidewalk Challenge: Holding Your Space in A White World.

The idea is simple. When walking on a sidewalk, black people should not step out of the way for white people, which Drake suggested black people do all the time without even thinking about it. 

“Once you see it you’ll never unsee it,” said Drake, who then added some historical contex. “I knew there were actual laws during  Jim Crow, black people had to get off the sidewalk and let a white person by.”

The popularity of her blog helped Drake step onto a larger stage, with a much larger metaphorical microphone. 

“(A friend) said one day millions of people will read your work, and as life would have it,  this year over a million people have read my blog.”

Given the upheaval in recent weeks, it would be easy to think that Actors Theatre chose to produce Drakes work to create synergy with the Black Lives Matter movement. However, the collaboration was actually inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic. Actors Theatre, like many creative organizations, is trying to figure out what their work looks like in Covid Town, and Artistic Director Rober Barry Fleming felt that a presentation of Drake’s work -via zoom- would fit in with new limitations on creators and performers, while also addressing issues of racial injustice which were -at the time- simmering and seemingly ready to boil over.

Boil over they did, thrusting Drake’s voice into a prominent position in the BLM protests, at the same moment she was gearing up for her collaboration with Actors.

Upon first hearing the title, some folks are confused. Drake cites their consternation  and questions as a great indication of why that title, and the themes, of Fix It Black Girl is so important.

“You say (the title)  to a black woman, you don’t have to explain anything. Black women understand. But most people  who hear the title say ‘why that title?’ I think  black women are often tasked with, required to, expected to ‘fix it’ all the time.”

The “it” in question is anything and everything, as if problems roll from the top of the patriarchy pyramid, with people using their privilege to push the problems onto people historically deprived of the power to push back, until black women get stuck fixing all those problems. According to Drake it creates a tough choice for black women.

“You’re like in between a rock and hard place because part of you wants to say, ‘I’m done fixing problems.’”

Regardless of that instinct, Drake says that black women seldom refuse to do the work with which they are tasked. 

“Because you know that you live here, you live in America, you want this world to be a better place.” 

Drake “curated” the works in Fix It from her own impressive body of poetry and monologues. She praised the approach that Actors Theatre’s Artistic Director, Robert Barry Fleming took to Drake’s curation. 

“He said do what it is that I have to do, say what I have to say.”

Though she has been part of performing groups before, such as Roots and Wings, Drake is mostly used to hearing her words come out of her own mouth. But in Fix It, six Louisville based performers -Erica Denise, Janelle Renee Dunn, Robin G, Sujotta Pace, and Karla Ross- help bring Drake’s creation to life.

“Even though I wrote everything, to hear the women read it the first time, and  know that I wrote it, I was moved to tears.” 

Drake’s hope is that Fix It can hit different people in different ways. “I don’t want people to think, Oh, that’s for black people only. It’s for everyone.”  

For some, it has a gentle message. “This piece is a love letter to black women -because I wanted  black women to know how much I love them.”

But for others, Drake wants it to be a learning experience. “Black people are taught  about white people all the time. White  people have to be intentional about learning about black people,” said Drake. “Actors Theatre is providing (an opportunity ) to learn about black women. People need to be intentional about watching it, and intentional about absorbing  the content, and after you absorb the content go read a book, go read an article.” 

Fix It Black Girl streams for free tonight on Actors Theatre’s Facebook page, and will be followed by a panel and talkback. Post stream the piece will be available  on Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Facebook and YouTube pages, so you can catch the show, and then also hopefully harass all your white friends until they watch it as well. 

And be sure to keep an eye out for Drake’s upcoming project, a collaboration with Ideas xLab, (Un)Known, which just received a 75k grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.