Ingrid Griffith is a writer and solo show artist of Guyanese heritage living in the US. She has written a one-woman show, Unbossed & Unbowed, about Shirley Chisholm, the political icon who in the 1960s and ‘70s was the first black woman to win a seat in the U.S. Congress and the first to run for President of the United States.
Griffith has since performed The Unbossed & Unbowed at the Southampton Arts Center in Southampton, New York; the Triad Theatre in New York City; the Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville, Georgia earlier this year; and most recently in Guyana and Barbados.
The reviews have been overwhelming positive from the audience and press. CEM took a few minutes to speak with her about her success as an actress.
Why did I want this role?
I felt a strong connection between me and Shirley Chisholm. I had a great aunt who was feisty, wiry, and dark-skinned like Shirley Chisholm. My great aunt taught at a primary school she created in a remote village in Guyana, where I’m from. This was before I was born. My parents left for the U.S. when I was 7 years old, and for five years I lived with my paternal grandmother and her two sisters. Shirley Chisholm reminded me of one of them. I knew the type.
What is the main message of the show?
The main message of Shirley Chisholm’s story is to own your voice, know your worth, and strive towards your highest potential. Also, to use that voice, that potential, not just for your own gratification but to make a difference in the world— to leave the world a fairer, safer, and more peaceful place than you found it… one love.
In what ways can I relate to Shirley?
I was born in Guyana. I joined my parents in the U.S. when I was 12 years old. Shirley was born in the U.S. She lived with her maternal grandmother in Barbados from the age of 3. In my research, Shirley said when she returned to the U.S. at age 10, she remembered feeling like an outsider. Shirley recalls hating the cold weather (the family lived in Brooklyn, NY), being teased for having a Barbadian accent and for the way she dressed. I remember feeling the exact same way when I arrived in the U.S. I’m also driven like Shirley in some ways. I’m not satisfied with the everyday things of life. I’m willing to sacrifice the simple pleasures for my version of achievement and contribution.
How do I prepare for a one-woman show, this acting marathon?
There is a specific method of preparation that actors learn in their training. I spent time with the script. I pick specific scenes and work on each for a couple of hours at a time. I look over my notes about each of the characters... their objectives, their back story (I play Shirley as a 10-year-old through adulthood and 14 other characters). I work on the voices, physicality, and mannerisms of the characters. I usually do breathing exercises, relaxation exercises, and voice exercises before I begin. I run lines over and over—out loud, in my head when I’m on the train, when I’m working out. I have to put the time in.
What will audiences like about this show?
I think the audience will appreciate the fact that I play all the characters — the younger and older Shirley, her parents and the mostly male characters who were local and national figures of that time. Unbossed & Unbowed addresses racism, sexism, and the patriarchal system. The show is poignant, but it’s also funny and resonates with current events. Plus, it’s multimedia. There's uplifting music and powerful visuals. There’s a lot to take away.
Who is your biggest influence in the industry?
People who are speaking up They are actors and writers of color who are creating their own work, telling stories that we don't usually see outside of Hollywood or on Broadway stages, telling stories that aren't white-washed, writing nuanced characters, and highlighting the Black experience from African, African American, and Caribbean perspectives. Our experiences are different, rich in their varied ways. Mainstream America tends to lump us together. But we’re owning our power more than ever. Especially women. It’s exciting. It’s like women in politics—their presence and perspective are making our world a better place.
Is there a role you are dying to play?
Lady MacBeth, Blanche Dubois, or a comedic role. I like comedy.
Is there anything that you’d like to add that you want people to know about you?
Adversity is pushing me towards my highest self.
I’m thinking of another story that I want to tell... But first I’m ready to share Shirley Chisholm’s inspiring and empowering message. That’s what Unbossed & Unbowed will do.
To buy tickets or to see show dates visit unbossedunbowed.com