COURTESY OF ASHLYN FRANK
Fordham’s Studio shows typically give directing and playwriting students an outlet to share their art with the community. This year’s studio show broke tradition by having two performance majors, Wayne Babineaux and Eliana Rowe, both Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’20, present a studio double bill that commemorates Black History Month.
“It’s really great that it’s happening during Black History Month, because it’s two stories about black history and our lineage,” Rowe said. “It’s going to be a night of black-tastic greatness.”
Babineaux’s exploration of his ancestor Coincoin, an enslaved African who freed herself and her children in the 1700s after whom his show is named, started in his sophomore year in his Global Black History course. “At the time, I was going through a lot of emotional turmoil and I was seeing all these parallels between me and Coincoin. It felt like I could relate to her on a spiritual level.”
By searching through his family history, Babineaux was able to find more opportunities to tell his story, his favorite being from the first Fordham Drag Show. “I wrote my own songs for the show, and in between the songs, there were spoken sections telling her story from her perspective,“ he said.
Coincoin evolved in his performance in this year’s Drag Show. “That’s still one of my favorite performances. I felt so liberated at that moment. My voice, my body got to space where they really haven’t gotten before.”
The Studio show gave Babineaux a new platform to share his ancestry. Coincoin’s story, like many others, had been lost to history. “I want people to see that the traditional narratives that we have told about slavery are not necessarily the only narratives that took place,” Babineaux said.
Rowe also expressed her passion for storytelling through her play. “I think that there comes a point in your life as an artist where you just can’t wait for other people to give you a venue to tell your story; you have to do it yourself,” Rowe said. “There is a reason that it happened to you and why you experienced it.”
“My Papier Mâché Monster” is about Rowe’s personal journey. “I am not alone in my experience of navigating my mental health and religion. I grew up in the Pentecostal church, in a very Jamaican Pentecostal church. It was a very intense environment,” she said. “The main question I am asking in this piece is what happens when a set of beliefs that you grew up with becomes damaging.”
Rowe hopes her piece will start a conversation, leaving viewers looking into their own stories. “I recognized that in the building of this piece, it opened up a lot of conversation about people exploring their spirituality, which I think in the arts we really try and avoid because it’s like an imaginary world and you’re playing.”
Babineaux and Rowe, both performance majors, wore different hats throughout the process of making their stories come to life.
The two got to experience their art through playwriting. “It’s hard to remember to stay in your lane because it’s such a deeply personal piece,” Rowe said.
For Babineaux, it was equally emotional. “As the writer, I know what I intended each section to be even before I start acting it. It’s been very personal. Everything about writing this is deeply personal.
“I am so excited for people to see it. All of this work I have put in for the last two years will finally be put somewhere where I can see it,” he said.
Babineaux and Rowe both face many intersections within their lives that change their interactions every day. Their perspectives create new conversations for Fordham’s theater department.
“Having two black queer voices happening in the studio space is really important,” Rowe said. “Even on that level, it’s really necessary to keep putting narratives out there that make people feel seen.”
Babineaux’s “Coincoin” and Rowe’s “My Papier Mâché Monster” will be shown from Feb. 20-22 at the White Box Theatre. Free tickets can be reserved by email at [email protected] starting Wednesday, Feb. 19.