Beginning on January 20, 2023 you can see the force of Iron Crew Theatre’s “Hurricane Diane” by Madeleine George at Baltimore Theatre Project. “Hurricane Diane” is an Obie-winning comedy with a twist. George, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, takes us to suburban New Jersey where we meet four housewives. Their lives intertwine with Diane who seems to be a “permaculture gardener” but is really the Greek god of wine, Dionysus. The comedy deals with our denseness about climate change with some surprising twists and turns.
Ben Brantley of The New York Times called it “…a perfect storm of timely tragicomedy.” Sara Holden of New York Magazine wrote “…the play both lifts us up and wrings us out.”
“Hurricane Diane” features Sabriaya Shipley as Diane, Melanie Kurstin as Pam Annunziata, Kayla Leacock as Renee Shapiro-Epps, Melinda Nanovsky as Carol Fleischer, and Hana Clarice as Beth Wann.
The play is directed by Natka Bianchini. Rowen Suder is the Set Designer, Heather Johnston is the Costume Designer, Janine Vreatt is the Lighting Designer, and Jane Schwartz is the Sound Designer.
Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, Sabriaya Shipley is a Philadelphia-based poet, educator, and community ethnographer determined to study, receive, and cultivate nontraditional performance/ art spaces centered around the expressive freedom of Black & Brown youth. Named a 2019 A+ Educator by Philadelphia Family Magazine and a 2021 Black Lives Matter Philly Educator /Fellow, Sabriaya holds a BA in Theatre from Temple University with concentrations in poetry as performance and poetic ethnography and a MA in Social Justice and Community Organizing from Prescott College. Sabriaya has collaborated as an educator, artist, and artistic advisor with several community-based organizations and art spaces such as Theatre Exile, Power Street Theatre, the Painted Bride Art Center, the Colored Girls Museum, Mural Arts Philadelphia, Philadelphia Young Playwrights, New Voices for Reproductive Justice, Residency 11:11 in London, Girls Rock Philly, Griot Girls, and Tree House Books. A recipient of the 2021-2022 Philadelphia Foundation and Forman Art’s Initiative Art Works grant, Sabriaya is a citizen artist determined to represent the intersections of their community.
Can you tell the audience a little bit about your character in the play without giving up too much information?
Diane being called by many godly names such as Bacchus, Bromius, and Dionysus represents a god, ancestor, or spirit seeking to remind human beings of their own divineness as it pertains to the way we take care of the earth and return to nature in honor of indigenous cultures. Diane is on a mission to reawaken the audience and the rest of the humans on earth to their own sensuality and duty to openness in healing the earth before global warming continues to take its toll for the worse. Diane is witty, charming, and I must say very much conceited as they are a human form of the Greek god, Dionysus, known for having a following, i.e., the Bacchae, and being the creator of wine, song, and agriculture. Diane is also extremely fun! However, Diane ‘s arc in “Hurricane Diane” reminds us that some things and people are out of God’s control because their free will can be such a strong pull.
As an actor, what do you want your audience to take away from this play?
Being Black, Queer, and Nonbinary and playing the role of Diane has brought another layer to the role. It represents honoring the Black, Brown, and Indigenous contributions to ecological sustainability for the audience to then reflect on the ways they are—or are not—doing so in their everyday lives. With such varying personalities in characters, I hope the audience will be able to identify with parts of different characters’ stories as a guide to the way they are responding to the global warming crisis. There is so much Queer sensual exploration also in this play as well, and I wonder how that piece will heighten or disengage audience members in going on this journey with Diane and the housewives.
What did you learn about the earth and ecology from this play?
I learned how much I could trust my own ancestral connection to culturally specific practices that respect and take care of the earth. I have spent the last seven years of my life involved with various Black urban gardening collectives centered around ecological art or education such as Philadelphia’s Urban Creators, and Our Mother’s Kitchen. Temple University’s People of Color Environmental Club was started by a group of my college friends and lead us to be invited to lead a workshop at the Black Urban Gardeners Conference in 2018. In addition, playing the role of Diane and doing this play gave a warm hug to not only my Black and Indigenous roots but also where my queerness fits in the conversation of ecology.
Can you explain to our readers what a community ethnographer does?
Ethnography is the study of the customs of individual peoples and cultures. Community Ethnography invites those being studied to be a part of the questioning, the analysis, and the results—the entire process. My work asks communities to participate alongside me in exploring their intersections. I believe that we are all walking contradictions looking for mirrors of how to cite those contradictions to either heal from them or expand them for the benefit of our communities. A great deal of my community ethnography provides room and space for Black youth to learn and teach how to document themselves and their communities. I’ve been blessed to do this through various artistic and social justice spaces. Some examples of my work with community ethnography can be found at sshipley.exposure.co
Do you prefer acting, writing, teaching, or community organizing?
Much like the intersections of my identity, I enjoy being a multidisciplinary artist and one who merges art forms. Acting, writing, teaching, and community organizing all play a part in my everyday navigation and balance. I am determined to study, receive, and cultivate nontraditional performance/art spaces centered around the preservation of generational Black and Brown stories, This is accomplished by using multiple tools of teaching and devising within the mediums of poetry as performance, poetic ethnography, playwriting, improvised movement, and artistic archival work. Both my art and teachings focus on the decolonization of storytelling and the increased inclusion of diasporic language and creative practices. Utilizing multiple tools and methods of creating stimulates a piece that shows up with various access points for audiences to connect in a way that welcomes them into fellowship and a push into the discomfort of witnessing vulnerability from an artist.
“Hurricane Diane” presented by Iron Crow Theatre runs weekends from January 20, 2023 through February 5, 2023 at Baltimore Theatre Project, 45 West Preston Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. For more information and tickets, click this link.