Playwright Hannah Hasan on the creation of 'I am Queen Charlotte'
An original stage show telling the real life stories of Black women in Charlotte opens at the Belk Theater on Sunday night, kicking off a weeklong artistic celebration of local Black women called "Queen Charlotte Week."
The new work mixes together elements of dance, music and performance, and its title, "I am Queen Charlotte," is a nod to the city's namesake, Queen Charlotte, who historians have posited was a Black or mixed-race woman herself.
The show was written and created by local poet and spoken word artist Hannah Hasan, who grew the show out of an idea to create a book featuring the stories of more than 50 Black women around the city.
Ahead of her Sunday night debut, Hasan spoke with WFAE's Nick de la Canal on the creation of her new work and the mark she hopes it will leave on the city.
Nick de la Canal: I understand you based this stage show on the real life stories of present day Black women around Charlotte. How did you get this idea? How did it start out?
Hannah Hasan: Yeah, so the whole project is a collaborative effort between my storytelling collective, Epoch Tribe, and an organization here in Charlotte, AboutFace Charlotte. And essentially, I had a lunch meeting one day with the founder of AboutFace Charlotte, and he brought up the idea of stories of Black women — of gathering stories of Black women for a book. And he's a photographer. He thought it would be nice to do that through photos and written stories, and since that's part of the work that I do in the community, I said yes, of course. And what started out as just a book has now evolved into a stage show and then a full week of programming celebrating the real Black women who live and do life here in Charlotte.
De la Canal: So for this book, I understand you went and did interviews with 50 Black women around Charlotte?
Hasan: Yeah, a little over 50 actually. And because of the pandemic, most of those interviews were phone. A few of them were in person, but absolutely — phone calls where they shared some of the most intimate and important details of their lives, and my goal as a storyteller was just to see them.
De la Canal: What was it like then taking those stories and translating them to a stage show? Because if you talked to over 50 women around Charlotte, you couldn't use all 50 stories for the stage show, so how did you decide like what to focus in on?
Hasan: Sure, so we looked at the body of work, and I said, you know, if we're going to put these stories on one of the biggest stages in Charlotte, we need to make sure that we have variety in the ones that are chosen and say, if we share these eight stories on stage, it will capture the essence of what all of the stories do.
De la Canal: Can you share maybe one or two of the stories that you collected?
Hasan: Yeah absolutely. So there is one performance that will have three stories in one, and it's all stories about women who are organizers in the community and these really poignant moments that they had where it really challenged the work that they do and who they want to be in the world. And then there's another performance that is about a Black woman in love. And that's something I think that is so important, is capturing our stories of being loved on and courted and all of those things. That story is there. It's going to be good.
De la Canal: So the show is only one piece of a week-long series of events you've put together. You're also hosting talk back sessions, a poetry slam, an art walk, a hip hop R&B night. Why did you want to expand this to include those events as well?
Hasan: So all of those events are being run by sponsor organizations. And so for me, it was less about the specific event, and more about saying, this is a community-wide collaborative effort. So hey, CBI, you do all these talks about equity and things of that nature. How do we take what you're already doing and now honor and live the stories of Black women during Women's History Month? It was about how we bring our community together around this concept of our stories and sharing our love for the city and all of the things we hope for it.
De la Canal: Once the show and the "Queen Charlotte Week" events are over, what kind of message do you hope to leave behind for the city?
Hasan: You know, I hope that the city feels inspired. I hope that the city — it feels a sense of something new around what can happen when we, with open hearts and with some of the most vulnerable pieces of ourselves, share our stories. I want for our city to feel like, you know, maybe I am not a Black women, but I see myself in that story, and if this woman could have had this experience and still shows up every day for her family in this way, I can do the same thing. I want there to be those lines of connection, of realization, of the moments of really seeing and honoring each other.