On Friday evening, I had the opportunity to attend Carrie Mae Weems’ brand new play, entitled: Grace Notes: Reflections for Now. The sold-out play was most anticipated by the Yale community. What made the evening even more special, was that I was able to accompany 10 Yale college students who had received tickets to the play, from Dwight Hall. I, as the Magee Fellow, had been tasked with the role of both taking in the play for myself, and listening to the students to see how the play resonated with them.
Grace Notes: Reflections For Now left a few statements in the atmosphere that it beckoned its audience to answer. Statements such as, “this is a story within a story,” “we live through a history of violence.” and “we are here for a nanosecond.” Ongoing questions were also posed throughout the evening such as: “how do you measure a life?” “What is grace?” As the play continued; the playwright, Carrie Mae Weems asked the audience to enter into the experience as though they were viewing a performance and not a play. With that framework, Grace Notes took the audience on a journey of experiential moments that lead the audience through poetry, spoken word, song, dance, rhythmic stepping, conversations, music, and more. But in the end, Grace Notes: Reflections for Now lives up to its name. It provides reflections, but solely for the time being. Within the very nature of the title, it is as if Weems is inviting her audience to reflect in pieces and in stages. To process the lived experience of those who have live through a history of violence, and to reflect as time goes on, versus, seeking to reflect all at once. Grace Notes does not ask its audience to rush to resolution, it asks its audience to reflect for now…
With that spirit of reflection, a few of the students gathered at Dwight Hall the afternoon after the play, to participate in a conversation lead by me, inviting them to reflect on what they had just seen. The initial reactions underscored that the performance we had all taken in, was one that we our appetite for discussion, and to process further; but we could not all agree upon the final takeaway that Weems might have desired for us to walk away with. It was in that uncertainty that we sat with the images presented in the play. Students spoke about the non-verbal cues they sensed from the audience. We reflected on the moments within the performance that made people of all races feel uncomfortable. We spoke about the places within the play where we felt most at home in the performance. Which pieces were most familiar to us and what pieces were more distant. The conversations arose about what it felt like to take in the performance alongside people they knew as friends, and people they knew as strangers. The idea that the stories within the story presented, were segmented and different, and yet, somehow intentional, shown through at the forefront of the student’s minds.
What we all sat with, was how there was no resolution presented at the end of the performance. There was no roadmap for how to define or achieve grace. There was no explicit ask of the audience. There was ambiguity in the best of ways. But that ambiguity is what propelled us to reflect. It was the uncertainty of what the playwright intended for us to know, that pushed us to converse about the performance days and days after we had seen it. Seems had accomplished her reflections for now goal, by causing her audience to reflect.
It is my proposition, that our students grew more from this invitation to reflect, than they would have from a performance or play that told them exactly how to think and what to do. The ambiguity of this play, had real world implications. There are not always black and white answers to uncover. One cannot always know the most politically correct way to deal with every situation. But when one doesn’t make assumptions, it leaves room for everyone to have the
opportunity to share their opinion. Grace Notes: Reflections for Now allowed our students to reflect and to consider varying points of view & interpretation. That is truly the start of a semester, filled with the potential for individual and collective growth.