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Family is a bond we are born into. For some, this bond is strong, and strengthens as it is adhered to each members willingness to continue to uphold a responsibility to support, enlighten, care for, protect, accept, and empower each member of a blood-bound family; the blood that binds these members is like a river flowing through a landscape of culture and heritage that, in turn, when honored and embraced by these members provides an abundance of support, love, knowledge, strength, and connection that can see us through anything.
It's in her blood
In the upcoming Philadelphia Fringe Arts Festival premiere of I Know It Was the Blood: The Totally True Adventures of a Newfangled Black Woman, actress, singer, and playwright Tara Lake uses poetry, song, and storytelling to bring us an award winning autobiographical “coming-of-age tale of African American girlhood; a celebration of the survival of African American heritage and family ties in a changing world and a changing environment.”
The migration experience is something many families, especially African American families encounter(ed). In this play, the protagonist—a young girl—brings audiences along on her experience with her family migrating from South Carolina to New Jersey within a tightly knit cocoon of family love, religion and church.
In the early 1980s and 90s, the environment and economy around this family is changing. Lake shares that “crime is becoming more unrelenting, and the urban environment becomes less friendly to the family; they encounter a number of challenges, and as a result, this girl is tossed out of her cocoon of family, into a tougher reality of northern New Jersey life. The thing that sustains this girl throughout this journey is her family’s heritage with song—especially of spirituals and soulful gospel music—I’m a singer, so a lot of that is performed throughout the work.”
I Know It Was the Blood is also the title of a popular gospel song, one that Lake shares has great importance to her, her family, and their migration experience. She also shares that incorporating the song title (and the song) into the play holds two specific meanings.
“First, this song is a wonderful example of mid-century gospel that ties into the African American urban experience as it has been important to the great migration experience which my family is a part of," Lake said. "Second, it is a metaphor for the importance of familial heritage throughout the show—especially the maternal and matrilineal familial heritage that is a continuing thread throughout pulling it all together.”
A soulful stew
Lake provided a little more insight into the show, detailing that there are three major stories being told within this play. These stories are a celebration of southern roots, gospel soul, queer identity, and navigating questions of personal authenticity blended together in this soulful stew. It’s also about love and family and the ways in which a family’s love can conquer all challenges.
Lake just moved to Philadelphia, and after performing this play in various cities, states, and countries, she feels that performing it here is like bringing the play home. “Philly people understand family, they understand surviving through changes, and circumstances, and difficulties and navigating urban environments and keeping family and love centered to that.”
We Philly folk can expect a joyful play; one that Lake often refers to as a hootenanny of a good time where she and her audiences laugh and have a good time together. But, also one that brings together a universal pride of family, love, and survival.
What, When, Where:
The show opens September 20 through September 22 at The Whole Shebang, 1813 South 11th Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $13 and can be purchased online.
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