The ‘chronicles’ of a Black barbershop come to Brooklyn

Stephon Johnson | 11/27/2019, 10:41 a.m.
The culture and legacy of the Black barber shop isn’t just an American thing. At the Brooklyn Academy of Music ...
"Barber Shop Chronicles" Marc Brenner photo

The culture and legacy of the Black barber shop isn’t just an American thing. At the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), one playwright wants to show the world how global that culture is.

“Barber Shop Chronicles” makes its New York debut at BAM Dec. 3 to Dec. 8. The show tackles the diversity of Black male identity via the community of the barbershop. You might think you’ve already seen the definitive document on the barbershop via the Ice Cube movies, but this play chronicles men all across the African diaspora who’ve all experienced Blackness in a spectrum.

Inua Ellams and director Bijan Shelbani have collaborated to create a play that explores Black men across generations explaining the world according to their experiences. Ellams wrote the play based on his experiences as an immigrant.

The play consists of an all-male, 12-person cast that discusses fatherhood, sports, race relations, masculinity, immigration and identity. It incorporates dance, music and Ellams brought a tape recorder with him to visit barber shops around Africa and recorded 60 hours of men’s conversations. He then used his precision with language to scrub things down and make it palatable for an audience. “Barber Shop Chronicles” takes place on a single day in different places breaking down stereotypes of Black men.

The play is a part of Next Wave 2019 in its first season under Artistic Director David Binder. Running through all of December, Next Wave is a part of the year where every artist is making their BAM debut in the dance, film, theater and music worlds.

“Barber Shop Chronicles” has received praise all around the world for being a source of entertainment with Black men that isn’t misogynist or homophobic and shows pride in being Black with a focus on injustice. It’s a play that amplifies the voice of a group that rarely gets heard through the lens of humanity, demonstrates the impact of colonialism, jumps across the line between performance (via music) and drama (via dialogue) and centers African people.

But that’s not all.

In collaboration with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, BAM will co-present Schomburg’s barber shop talk “A Ballad for Harlem Conversation: Making Community” with local barbers Kamal Nuru (of Levels Barbershop) and Polo Greene (of Harlem Masters). The event will be a conversation about the power of the barber shop and beauty salons in Harlem and Black communities throughout the world. It’s a one-night only event taking place on Dec. 2 at the Schomburg.

You can buy tickets to one of the shows at www.bam.org/barbershopchronicles.