"I Love My Hair When It's Good: And Then Again When It Looks Defiant and Impressive" is returning to Manbites Dog Theater in Durham, two years after it originally premiered in the same location. This time, it carries the tag of “The Remix,” after writer and director Chaunesti Webb decided to bring it back in a modified incarnation due to its popularity when it first showed.
The play is about two cousins named Genevieve and Moni who have grown up together in the South and work through forming their own individual identities, frequently defined by the complex relationship each has with her hair. In addition to dramatic acting, the show incorporates original music, movement, video, poetry and interview text to tell the girls’ coming-of-age stories. The cast of five women— Aurelia Belfield, Lakeisha Coffey, Hazel Edmond, Sherida McMullan and Yolanda Rabun—have all been frequently seen throughout the Triangle theater sphere at Manbites Dog, North Carolina Theater and other venues.
A Durham native and Manbites Dog Board of Directors member, Webb began working on the show—her first play—in 2008 when she was earning her MFA at Naropa University in Boulder, Colo. In 2009, she said she began developing material more specifically with a group of women in New York. She was inspired by the things they read, the common experiences they shared and her memories of living in a predominantly white environment throughout her formative years as a student.
“Hair was one of those experiences for me that was very much in contrast to the environment I was in,” Webb said. “Particularly for African-American women in that community in Colorado, my friends and my family, it was very much connected to us.”
Prior to studying at Naropa, Webb earned a B.A. in communication studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She also works as performing arts coordinator for the Health Arts Network at Duke. Described on her website as a “teaching artist-writer-director-actor-mover-lover of language,” Webb said she has identified mostly as an actor and has done “quite a bit of work” at Manbites Dog, which she refers to as her home theater.
“They’ve been incredibly supportive of me and my work over the years,” she said.
The show was co-commissioned by St. Joseph’s Historic Foundation and Naropa University School of the Arts, and received funding through North Carolina Arts Council and Durham Arts Council grants.
Manbites Dog Associate Artistic Director Ed Hunt noted that due to the popularity of the show in 2012, many people who wanted to see it and share in the experience were unable to do so. It completely sold out, resulting eventually in the decision to play it again at Manbites Dog in 2014.
Webb said that at the time of the conclusion of the first showing she had started to move onto a new project, but feedback and interest from community members who did not have a chance to see “I Love My Hair" motivated her to bring it back.
“I was really humbled last year by the response and support,” she said. “It has always been a community piece. Before we moved on and packed it up we wanted to be able to share it again.”
Webb explained that the “remix” designation this year is intended to show people that it is essentially the same play but new details have been incorporated to the original storyline. The cast and crew are composed of the same people and the play's messages and meaning remain.
“We did some trimming up, the script is a bit tighter,” Webb said. “There’s new elements to mix it up and enhance the work that we had already done.”
When people walk away from “I Love My Hair”—some for the first time and some for the second—Webb said she hopes new thought and conversation will be provoked, both from the topics and themes contained but also by the way the show unfolds. She noted that the 2012 show had a very diverse audience, who may have not previously been a part of the intimate experience that “I Love My Hair” provides. This will hopefully allow for people to have the confidence to be able to start conversations, ask questions and walk away with plenty to think about.
“I hope the show will cause people to try to explore some community building in Durham and the Triangle area,” she said.
Once the remix resolves and “I Love My Hair “ends for the second time Feb. 1, Webb will once again turn towards her new projects, which she said include collaborations with other local artists. This year’s version looks to be as popular as the one in 2012, as the first weekend and final show are already sold out.
“We hope everything [at Manbites Dog] is different,” Hunt said. “It is a strong work, a new work. The more theater, the better and the more people involved in it, the better.”
"I Love My Hair When It's Good: And Then Again When It Looks Defiant and Impressive" runs Saturday to Sunday Jan. 17-19, Wednesday to Sunday Jan. 22-26 and Wednesday to Saturday Jan. 29 to Feb. 1. Shows are at 8:15 pm except Sunday shows at 2 pm. Tickets are sold online and by phone and are $18 for weekend shows, $12 for weekdays, $5 for students and $2 discounted for seniors or military.