About Dark Cowgirls and Prairie Queens
“That’s why ya got ta keep the spirit of every brave black man and woman that ya ever meet right up here in the front of your head. Cauz when ya ain’t got no more strength left, all yah gotta do is reach right up here in the front of yo’ head and pull a little of they strength out and use it.”
Dark Cowgirls and Prairie Queens is the story of a little known facet of American History. Filled with vivid images, captivating stories and harmonious song, “Cowgirls brings to life seven of the most colorful Black women to emerge from the American West. The play is an imaginative dramatization of the lives of Mary Fields (Black Mary), Biddy Mason (Grandma Mason), sculptress Edmonia Lewis (Little Wildfire), Mary Ellen Pleasant (Mammy Pleasant) of underground railroad fame, and Julia Boulette (fondly remembered as the Queen of Virginia City). This production is part of an original series that has been funded by the Roy Cockrum Foundation in celebration of our 50th Anniversary in 2019; a foundation which enables theaters to reach beyond their normal scope of activities and undertake ambitious and creative productions.
Dark Cowgirls and Prairie Queens has been presented in many venues throughout its 35 year history, including the New Victory Theater, a Broadway theater. It was featured at the closing of the Free Southern Theatre (1963 - 1985) in New Orleans, Louisiana and the beginning of the first National Black Theater Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Dark Cowgirls has roots at the Alternate ROOTS Festival in Atlanta, Georgia and its story still lives in communities from Mississippi to California, and from Massachusetts to Florida. It has been performed for women (at the Women in Theater Festival in Boston and the Foot of the Mountain in Minneapolis) and men (the Black Cowboys of Northern Alabama and Northern California). Dark Cowgirls owes its longevity to the many small stubborn sponsors who believed that it was important to tell stories of empowerment and to celebrate the forgotten lives of Black women.
“The production is well written in conversational down-home language, and well acted in storytelling style...It’s as if a touring history pageant had come to the local school and the players turned out to be amazingly talented...The stomping dance to ‘Did You Feed My Cow?’ brings to mind the best parts of ‘Bring In da Noise, Bring In da Funk.”
— ANNA GAINES, THE NEW YORK TIMES
"Dark Cowgirls and Prairie Queens was developed in response to a community need; the need to hear stories that validate and strengthen us. Each year African American theater companies are inundated with February requests, both from within and beyond the African American community itself. As a good friend is fond of saying "All God's children work in February!" Of course our history doesn't suddenly disappear at the beginning of March as some would have us believe, but one responds to the need as it is expressed. As we began to consider what would be the subject of that Little something for our Black History Month program", we began to search for the least-told stories of our past. This gave us a wide range of options.
As the Artistic Director of the company and one of the writers, I was especially interested in finding material that would not simply rehash the same stories. In my search for new materials, I came across a book that I'd been given some time before called The Black West by William Lorenz Katz. As I leafed through the book, I met the eyes of a Black woman who started a conversation with me that lasted for the next two years. When I brought the idea for "Dark Cowgirls" to the company, for the first time in weeks we all agreed, we all were excited, and we all were ready to work.
"Dark Cowgirls", conceived and written by myself, was developed in the company. The original cast researched, reworked, reviewed, improvised, criticized, and put its stamp on each section. Subsequent cast members have embellished it, reshaped it and made it live. Our audiences have shared it with us and have added to its rich wealth of information by giving us new bits of material, making it grow and change and expand. It is difficult to commit this work to the print form. Each time we perform it, we learn some new facet of the history of these women, some new tale that needs to live with us. Twenty years later, it continues to evolve. We thank you all for the contributions you have made and dedicate this first publication of Dark Cowgirls and Prairie Queens to all those who have traveled this journey with us, and all those who have stepped beyond."
Carpetbag Theatre, Inc