Sippin' on Sea Mink-ettes

Issue Five: The Sensational Sea Mink-ettes
Sidney Williams
February 20, 2024
Sidney Williams

Sidney Monroe Williams (they/them) is a community-based theatre artist whose work is situated at the intersections of race, gender and class. Through creative strategies, Sidney facilitates art-making and conversations with communities to spark dialogue, raise visibility and celebrate marginalized bodies. Sidney holds a BA in International Relations from Hendrix College and a MFA in Drama and Theatre for Youth & Communities from The University of Texas at Austin. Artistically, Sidney is interested in exploring queer theory and performance methodologies as a means to building more inclusive communities within (and outside) the theatre. Sidney carries an extensive background in working with youth spaces & school communities. Not only have they worked as a secondary theatre teacher, they also lead professional development opportunities for educators to include drama-based pedagogy into their classrooms. Sidney is an Assistant Professor of Theatre at George Washington University. IG: @thirst_quench_thirstquench


It’s 11 February 2024 — Super Bowl Sunday — and I’m on the 32 bus headed to Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company to see The Sensational Sea Mink-ettes by Vivian J.O. Barnes. The bus driver just asked a man to exit the bus because he urinated on himself. Something about the volatility of public transportation and pissing just gets me in the mood for theater — you know? I do not know much about this play, but I do know that it follows eight majorettes as they prepare for homecoming. You should probably know that I love majorette dance teams. I have always loved them since witnessing my cousin, NaKesha, step with her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, at the 1995 End of the World Greek Show, to my 6 years in marching band where I sat several bleachers behind the dance team at football games. Many times I wanted to trade my frumpy band uniform and heavy sousaphone for a dance leotard with white satin gloves. It would be another couple of years after my graduation before the Prancing Elites would challenge the perception of dance team gender roles.

I arrive at 6:35 p.m.for the 7 p.m. show. The box office process is easy-peasy and takes no time at all. Rihanna’s “Work” is playing loudly over the lobby speakers, and this decibel level is pleasing to my elder millennial sensibilities. I sashay through Woolly Mammoth’s spacious lobby and stumble upon Urshula Dunn’s collection of paintings, Isolation & Dissection: Perfection is a Lonely Place. I find “The Vase” painting to be Dunn’s most striking of this collection. In the center of the canvas is a headless female figure. Upon first glance, one might perceive it as a lovely vase in need of a floral bouquet flourishing from its neck. A keen eye soon realizes the decapitated figure on the canvas is not a mere vase, rather a wilted body waiting to be filled. Dunn’s collection visually embodies a resonant theme within The Sensational Sea Mink-ettes — how various perceptions of Black women compartmentalize their identity construction and expression. It’s 6:50 p.m. when I transition from Dunn’s collection to the cafe/bar.

The Sensational Sea Mink-ettes at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Photo by Teresa Castracane.


Did you know that Woolly Mammoth had sippy cups for adults? Well, I did not. I order a glass of red wine, and the bartender informs me that I can either buy a sippy cup to take into the theater or chug the entire glass before entering. As a reformed elder millennial, I have retired from my chugging days. The wine, sippy cup, and tip was $14.40. With a brimming sippy cup of red wine and the kindness of the ushers, I make my way into the theater to find my seat. “Booty Me Down,” Kstylis’ seminal 2012 masterpiece, pulsates through the speakers, and I giggle to myself as a wave of nostalgia washes over me to a time when I had good knees. The pre-show playlist is giving EVERYTHING it needs to give.

Paige Hathaway’s scenic design is clearly inspired by Beyoncé’s 2019 Homecoming Netflix film, as the stage is filled almost wing-to-wing with bleachers that ascend just short of the lighting electrics, and framed by floodlights on either side. Whereas it might seem simple in design, it is not simple in scale. It’s kind of a vibe, and I am ready to go on this journey with the Sea Mink-ettes. The lights fade to dark and the curtain speech begins at 7:08 p.m. Tonight is not the official press night, and Usher Raymond is performing the Super Bowl Halftime show. These factors might impact why the house is about half full for this performance.

Even prior to being featured in a brief clip from Beyoncé’s Homecoming, Southern University’s Human Jukebox & Dancing Dolls’ (09 NOV 2014) performance of “Can You Stand the Rain” by New Edition lived in my brain rent-free. I share this example for several reasons: 1) it is a dynamic performance; 2) it illustrates that majorettes are an integral part of a larger creative collective (HBCU marching bands); and, 3) it represents my expectations for The Sensational Sea Mink-ettes. What’s more, as the show progresses, I am becoming aware of a disconnect between my expectations and what is unfolding on stage.

About 60 minutes into the show and three-fourths of the way through my sippy cup, The Sensational Sea Mink-ettes takes a turn when Maya, played by Kimberly Dodson, goes missing. In fact, all of the majorettes slowly start to disappear as the flood lights flicker and spark with each fallen majorette. The latter third of the play transitions into a liminal space that is never specified, but it does have a Little Monsters vibe. Fallen majorettes reappear in this poorly lit space wearing sheep-like hoodies and eating snacks. This is when I decided to finish the wine in my sippy cup. As the curtain literally and figuratively crashes down, The Sensational Sea Mink-ettes leaves me somewhat puzzled.


I noted some unresolved questions as I rode the 32 bus back home such as, how many days do they have until homecoming? The urgency was not specified in the text, and there were multiple costume changes indicating the passing of days. In short, it seemed like there was plenty of time to get the homecoming routine together. Who are these characters outside of their majorette roles? The bulk of the play was spent preparing for homecoming, but the audience received sparse details about their lives off the field. For example, Maya was stressed over an undergraduate thesis/advisor, but the audience did not learn what the thesis was about and/or Maya’s major. Is the play set at an HBCU or PWI? Again, this distinction was not specified, but the play lacked the cultural, historical, and social nuances of the student experience.

In regards to direction and choreography, how might dance/movement be a more integral part of the stage direction and understanding of the complexities of Black majorettes? Whereas Ashleigh King’s choreography captured the essence of majorette dance, and I wondered how it might have expanded upon the play’s themes, as well. Live music is such a vital part of the HBCU marching band aesthetic; hence, how might the quintet/band ensemble be integrated more intentionally throughout the play? I think this could have added another layer to the subtext of the play along with the choreography. This intersectional depth might help audiences bring the play’s message into clearer view.

Did I enjoy the show? Indeed. Does it somewhat clash with my perception of majorettes? For sure. I guess that’s the point; maybe I’m only viewing a piece of the puzzle. The Sensational Sea Mink-ettes joins a growing genre of plays that take audiences inside the lives of athletes and their sports — Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, Ruby Rae Spiegel’s Dry Land, Candrice Jones’ Flex, and Andrew Hinderaker’s Colossal to name a few. I challenge Barnes to make audiences invest in these characters beyond petty squabbles and comedic one—liners. Their legacy demands it.  

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