Photo by David DeVine
Cox DiGiovanni, an award-winning actor, producer, playwright, educator, and activist, was on campus performing as part of Naropa’s annual Bayard & John Cobb Peace Lecture. She wrote her show as her MFA thesis. In answer to the question, “How long did it take you to create this beautiful piece?” she laughed and said, “Oh, about 48 years!”It is my belief that the real magic in art arises in the space where the personal masterfully meets the universal. And mastery is what Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni brought to us in April over our lunch hour at Naropa University with her one-woman show, One Drop of Love.
Using pieces from her father’s memoir and real images and recordings of conversations with family members, Cox DiGiovanni created a masterpiece. She has performed the show across the country over the past five years. One Drop of Love is an interactive multimedia show that explores the intersections of race, class, and gender in pursuit of truth, justice, and love.
What felt most evocative (and provocative) for me was the way that Cox DiGiovanni shone light on the contrast between the questions of, “Who am I?” as traced out through her own personal history versus the oppressive identities assigned by the “What are you?” box forced by the U.S. Census from 1790 forward. The creative juxtaposition of the historical (and ongoing) census against a very personal and moving story served to highlight the stark difference between these two approaches to who a person is in a very powerful way.
I felt involved as an audience member, which could explain the fact that tears were streaming down my cheeks, that at other moments my skin was crawling, that I burst out laughing, and that as the show wrapped up, I raced back to my desk to write about it.
The show, produced by Cox DiGiovanni, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon, is an absolute must-see. It was awarded Best Non-Fiction Script by the United Solo Theatre Festival, and the film version won Best Documentary Feature at the Roxbury International Film Festival. It is also an official selection of the San Francisco Black Film Festival and the Black International Film Festival.
“I have been doing this performance for five years, and have been in a lot of different communities—some certainly more receptive to the themes around race and racism and class and gender than others,” said Cox DiGiovanni on Naropa’s podcast, Mindful U. “Sometimes I think people feel uncomfortable with it, or maybe they’re shy because of the stigma of being in a theater. But I got the sense after being here at Naropa for about a day that this might be a very embracing community—and that’s exactly what it was. Still, something that I really appreciate about this community was its natural interaction, a kind of vocal interaction, which I don’t always get. Naropa was just right there along with me, laughing out loud, saying ‘Hmmm …,’ and just offering both a wise and calming response.”
It was clear the Naropa community appreciated Cox DiGiovanni’s presence as well; her show was met with a standing ovation from a sold-out house. This is appropriate for every reason, not least of which is the name ‘Fanshen’ comes from a term from the Chinese Revolution that means, “to stand up,” or “to enter a new world.” With art like this and the mastery of activists and artists like Cox DiGiovanni, we are poised to enter a new world. And it is up to the rest of us to make sure that we do just that.
A version of this article originally appeared as a post on Naropa’s Pilot Light Blog:
“A Standing Ovation for One Drop of Love”