Six time Grammy©-nominated jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon is taking on the huge task of mounting her first play – a play about a most unlikely subject, the clothesline. Freelon’s journey, along with interviews from the last living generation of African American washerwomen, is the subject of filmmaker Lana Garland’s documentary film, Living Off the Line: Stories From The Clothesline Muse, which is currently crowdfunding on Indiegogo here.
The project was originally conceived as a five-minute dance piece choreographed by Guggenheim and Fulbright dance scholar Dr. Kariamu Welsh. The audience response and feedback to that performance included an outpouring of stories and memories related to the clothesline culture in the African-American community. This sparked Welsh’s desire to further expand and develop the work through collaboration with Freelon, and visual artist Maya Freelon Asante, into an evening-length theatrical work of live music, dance, video, and visual arts.
Garland became involved while visiting Freelon at her home. She heard stories such as the 1881 Washerwomen’s Strike, which was pivotal in America’s labor movement. Twenty African-American women joined to form The Washing Society to strike for higher wages, which threatened to shut the City of Atlanta down. One thing was clear to Garland, the clothesline was a place in America where poor people could communicate, unionize before unions existed, invent (a black woman named Ellen Elgin invented the clothes wringer), live, and die.
“I’ve started finding families who had unique stories to tell about family members who had survived by doing domestic work and taking in the wash.” These stories, according to Garland, have not been told and she feels that it is necessary to do so for the collective healing of the shame many black families feel for having done this kind of work. Prior to this project, even her own mother had not shared the fact that she had to iron clothes for the Quakers in Philadelphia when she was 12 years old.
The Indiegogo campaign ends on October 25th. See the video pitch and trailer for the film below, and donate by visiting the campaign page, or click within the widget below: