Writing about Josephine Baker - The Chatelaine - episode 2 in our Persons of Interest audio drama series
Amanda Huxtable, Co-Director of Vanitas Arts, reflects on co-writing The Chatelaine with Shirley Harris.
Josephine Baker is a well-loved artist and respected activist who lived her life freely and as she saw fit. She used her talent and tenacity to break free from the constraints placed on many of her fellow Black citizens of the world and fought racism and prejudice throughout her life, using her intelligence and privilege of fame.
As writers at Vanitas Arts, our Persons of Interest audio drama gave us the opportunity to reimagine another part of Josephine’s life, away from the feathers and the iconic banana dance that made her so famous.
Chérie Taylor Battiste shared an idea about Josephine Baker’s life, and from there we developed the idea as a writing team and worked intensely with the characters.
Devising late into the night, we found the heart and peril of the story and built from there. Our primary focus, to delve deeper, navigating aspects of a life often neglected and possibly forgotten. We reimagined conversations that might have taken place between Josephine’s guests, admirers and those who knew who her best. Breathing life into a story, culminating in The Chatelaine, which shows Josephine using every ounce of talent she possesses to distract the unwelcome guests in her home.
Throughout The Chatelaine, Sharon Ballard’s musical rendition of Josephine evokes the power of Josephine’s voice and belief in herself, despite the obstacles put in her way, whilst in the direct face of adversity.
The story is set at the time of refugees having to flee to safety as Nazi soldiers occupy France. It is a question of what happens when safe havens are breached and how each individual must choose a pathway to survival if they can.
Josephine didn’t walk this path alone, and in the episode we hear from her maid Etta, played by Anita Franklin. Etta’s character is written in honour of women who worked in the hidden spaces, sometimes putting their own lives at risk in order to save others.
But what is risk? Josephine took a calculated risk in the audio drama that we share with you, our audiences. You will hear for yourself questions asked by Etta and Josephine’s companion, Jacques Abtey, on the risks worth taking.
Life continued even in the thick of war, young lives being born in the midst of horror are now our elders, My own father was born in 1944 with the middle name of ‘Gladstone’ to show for it. That same year, women in France were granted the right to vote. The impact of this worldwide war was felt globally, with many fighting for a more fair and just future for all.
Years later, Josephine Baker was recognised for her bravery by the French Government who recognised her contribution as a member of the French resistance awarding Josephine the legion of honour, The Croix de Guerre.
Josephine one of the most famous Black artists of our time.
Josephine, with heartfelt gratitude, we salute you.
Josephine Baker - Sharon Ballard
Etta – Anita Franklin
Jacques Abtey – Karl Haynes
Francois – Dave McClelland
Madeleine - Yasmine Plews