Heart on a Sleeve, A Performance

Video still of "heart on a sleeve."



A black woman sits in the audience with a handsome young man.
He is wearing a pair of reflector sunglasses.
She is wearing a salmon pink chiffon skirt and a matching top with a knot on the right.
An epic overture plays [music from Twentieth Century Fox]


Two flashlights strobe the darkness for 10-15 seconds.
           MUSIC CUE: Track 1 (a remix of “My Romance”)
An orchestra swells.The beams of the two flashlights come together.
           LIGHT CUE: Light starts to rise on the stage.
They start warm, then get cooler, underwater blue.

Fucked Up Swim

The black woman rises from her seat. Her head and the front of her body are covered
in an ocean blue cloth covered in black graffiti.
She moves down from the stadium style seats into the audience.
She moves in slow motion, the flashlights tucked down into her bra making submarine beams.
The handsome man next to her holds the two ends of the cloth,
creates pressure so that the fabric stretches taut against her movement.
She moves forward against it—looks like something submerged or amniotic.
The music has changed—the sound of the record has slowed way down.
It is starting to mix with something more electronic. The effect is something burbled.
The black woman moves diagonally across the stage to far upstage left.
Once she arrives, she takes out the flashlights, lifts them up under the cloth
and makes a Strong Man pose.
            MUSIC CUE: fade out.
            LIGHT CUE: tight bright light around me like an underwater bubble.

David Blaine Moment

The black woman turns off the flashlights, stops and makes bubble noises.
Glug glug glug glug glug glug glug glug
From the audience, the handsome man pulls the fabric three times.
The black woman falls to the ground. Tries to stand back up.
Upright, she makes a perfect “swim” gesture, falls again.
            LIGHT CUE: underwater, a little more transparent, lighter, softer than before.
            MUSIC CUE: CD Track 2 (“How do I love thee, let me count the ways”-DJ Reggie remix)

Fucked Up Swim

To the sound of my friend Reggie, black man DJ from Chicago,
reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous sonnet,
“How Do I Love They, Let Me Count the Ways,”
the black woman in love does a crazy swim across upstage left to upstage right.
She pulls the blue fabric to her, moves in and through it.
This swim is the attempt and the failure to stay submerged.
By the end of the poem, the black woman is at the wall,
on the ground, gasping for breath
She says (quoting David Blaine): “It’s been a difficult week.
This is a complete and total failure.”

Gettin’ Some

The black woman turns around, so her behind is facing the audience.
            LIGHT CUE: bling bling / commercial interruption
            SOUND CUE 3: CD Track 3 (Shawnna’s Gettin’ Some)
She takes the cloth, pulls it tight against her behind and begins to booty dance across the floor.
(Is this what you want? Is this what waits on the other side?)
The handsome man comes up the stage pulls the sea cloth back toward the audience.
Center stage, the black woman is still shaking her ass with wild abandon,
trying to get the shimmy out of the cloth.
The handsome man walks up and ties a knot with the blue fabric
around the black woman’s foot. He does the same with the other foot.
He pushes her down to the ground and then ties another knot.
The black woman says: “Are you sure you don’t want me for my mind?
            LIGHT CUE: back to the soft transparent underwater—even more intimate perhaps

Language Blur

The handsome man pulls out a text of love.
He reads this language while the black woman listens and responds.
She is moving in and out of the fabric as she hears these words,
until finally, she pulls a piece of paper from his pocket. She reads what is there:
“When one submerges oneself for so long and so deep, one wonders what one is looking for?
            LIGHT CUE: It gets more and more light . . .


The black woman keeps reading about submersion and love.
As she reads, she and the handsome man engage in a battle of push and pull, using bodies and fabric. By the end, he has wrapped her in a sea blue cocoon. She surrenders.
She finds a way to reach inside, pull out a small folded red paper heart.
She unfolds it, hands it over fluttering to the handsome man.

Heart On A Sleeve

The black woman closes her eyes and tries to hold her breath as long as she can.
She does this for five counts.
She doesn’t see what the handsome man does with the heart.
He can do whatever he wants. She won’t look or know until closer to the last moment.
By the third count, he should be done and will just be watching her with his back to the audience.
             LIGHT CUE: By the fourth breath, the lights FADE OUT.

In the darkness, the last thing the audience hears is the black woman,
after vain attempts to hold her breath, finally exhaling.


from Swallow the Fish (Black Feminist Performance Art, 1997-2007)-Gabrielle Civil
An original performance work premiered at Field Trips @ Links Hall Chicago (May 2006)