One of four Maine women who are making space for performers, artists, storytellers and filmmakers.
René Goddess Johnson isn’t trying to make her audience comfortable. As the executive and artistic director and choreographer of Portland’s Theater Ensemble of Color (TEoC), Johnson and her performers work hard to expose the complex—and often ugly—truths about racism as it exists in Maine. “A person of color is uncomfortable literally all of the time,” says Johnson, “and white people refuse to be uncomfortable.” Her performances are an invitation to join an uncomfortable but immeasurably valuable discussion about race. “We live in a mechanism that has done a lot to destroy us as people. How do you change it without talking about it? That’s the hard part,” she says.
Johnson launched TEoC in 2015 “to provide artistic, professional and leadership development for people of color.” Motivated largely by racism embroiled in current events, Johnson’s work allows people of color to tell their stories and be represented on stage. “It is impossible to know something you haven’t been taught,” she says. TEoC works to “provide a space for people of color to see their stories, to see themselves matter. Over and over [as a person of color], you’re told you don’t matter, that you don’t have worth. TEoC helps people understand their power.”
“It is impossible to know
something you haven’t been taught.”
—René Goddess Johnson
The first step toward this understanding is to perform plays written by people of color about their authentic experiences in America. TEoC’s last show, “Rachel,” pushed the performers and Johnson herself to process “all of the emotional baggage that comes from people seeing your life on stage,” she says. “I’m most proud of the performers’ ability to take on these roles knowing how close to home they’re going to hit, asking the deep questions and pushing themselves even further to help white people see these roles more clearly.”
TEoC’s summer mainstage performance of “A Meal for Malaga” will tell a horrifically true story about Maine’s own racist past. The island Malaga, tucked away in midcoast Maine, “was one of the largest mixed-race communities in the early 1900s until white people evicted an entire POC community to make the island more appealing for tourism,” says Johnson. Audiences should expect to be uncomfortable.
More information about Theater Ensemble of Color, including upcoming performance dates, can be found at teoc-maine.weebly.com.