On a ablaze winter afternoon, beautician Isaac Genty cuts his son’s bristles at Headlines, a atramentous endemic barbershop in Cambridge. He’s cogent a adventure about his father, who was a beautician for added than 50 years. Genty’s son, sitting patiently in the armchair as his ancestor gives him a lineup, says he will be the third bearing of men in their ancestors to accompany a career as a barber.
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Listening in is Inua Ellams, the author of “Barber Boutique Chronicles,” now arena at the American Repertory Theater. This is the Nigerian playwright’s aboriginal time in an American barbershop but over the aftermost few years, Ellams has visited a aggregation of barbershops in several African countries and the United Kingdom, allegory how men collaborate with anniversary other.
“Barbershops are artlessly affected places,” Ellams says as he watches the men in Headlines talk. “They aloof accessible up to chat — for men to authority cloister and allocution at breadth about the best ridiculous, crazy stories.”
Ellams feels that spaces like Headlines are basic to the accumulation of advantageous relationships amid men. He believes barbershops angle as a abode area men can affectation vulnerability and seek advice. “There aren’t abounding added safe spaces area men, accurately atramentous men, can accumulate in ample numbers afterwards criticisms or the analytical eye,” Ellams acicular out.
The abstraction for “Barber Boutique Chronicles” began to blossom a decade ago, afterwards Ellams saw an advertisement in London, announcement a affairs training barbers in counseling. “I was afraid that conversations and barbershops could get so affectionate that audience could be safe [discussing] abeyant brainy bloom problems,” Ellams says.
The author catholic to several African countries and the United Kingdom to apprentice added about the atypical relationships amid barbers and clients, armed with alone a articulation recorder to abduction conversations and experiences. What he begin was that admitting differences in ability and language, all of the barbershops had one affair in common: The men were speaking accessible and candidly about their realities.
“Barber Boutique Chronicles” draws from these recorded conversations and weaves calm the abutting belief of 30 atramentous men active in assorted African countries and the United Kingdom.
Showing these men in the barbershop, area they are accessible and accessible with anniversary other, highlights the nuances of atramentous masculinity, which is riddled with abounding alarming stereotypes. “The comedy array of goes [on] to acquire [the actuality of] all of those stereotypes,” Ellams says. “And again deconstructs them and demystifies them in the best acceptable and simple of ways, which is by aloof seeing these men on stage, talking, bedlam and eating.”
Ellams uses music in the comedy to announce changes in arena and location. Afrobeat indicates a arena change to Nigeria, Grimes a about-face to a barbershop in England.
Performer Ekow Quartey, an amateur in the play, demonstrates at Headlines by singing one of the songs from the assembly in a clear, abysmal voice. For Quartey, the intergenerational chat alloyed throughout the comedy is somewhat cogitating of his own adventures with his father.
“My dad is my best friend,” Quartey says. “But he never batten about how he acquainted back he absent his mum, back he absent his sister … now he opens up. The actuality that barbershops are this amplitude area adolescent men can go and see earlier men bedlam … but additionally talking about difficult things is actual important.”
Lance Woodson, the buyer of Headlines, additionally angry to barbershops in his adolescence to affix with and apprentice from earlier atramentous men. “When I was about 12 years old, I began acquaintance the barbershop my asperse owned,” Woodson tells me. “My grandfathering acclimated to accomplish me go but the conversations that would appear in the boutique were consistently captivating.” Decades later, Woodson opened up his own boutique area these conversations appear daily. “It’s a association based abode for adolescent men to get accomplished about who they’re activity to become,” Woodson says.
Woodson hopes that “Barber Boutique Chronicles” encourages bodies to go into barbershops and anatomy these important access with anniversary other. For Ellams and Quartey, the access formed advice us to absolutely see anniversary other. “Human beings are far added complicated than the covers and the caricatures we put on them,” Quartey says. “Given space, there is a lot to be abstruse from anniversary other.”
In the end, there is no “brilliant abracadabra to the play,” says Ellams but there is a abracadabra in witnessing how barbershops animate accessible chat amid atramentous men.
Perhaps the apple can be changed, one crew at a time.
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