COURTESY ALEXIS KEENANSan Francisco storyteller Echo Brown investigates online dating from a personal perspective in her new solo show at The Marsh.

Echo Brown aims to challenge with ‘Black Virgins’

An echo is defined as “a close parallel or repetition of an idea, feeling, style or event.” In “Black Virgins Are Not for Hipsters,” San Francisco storyteller Echo Brown creates a theatrical parallel of events in her own life rich with ideas, feelings and more than a bit of style.

How close a parallel? “I would say it is completely autobiographical. All of the events I present actually occurred. I just have changed the dialogue and the order a bit,” says Brown, who opens her solo show this week at the Marsh.

The show originally was intended as a whimsical observation on the complexities of dating from a black female perspective.

“I was going to read some of the ridiculous online messages I received, but when I started writing the show, all of these other personal experiences emerged and I realized that’s where the creative pulse of the show lived. I hadn’t intended it to be this personal, but I didn't stop it,” says Brown, an Ivy League graduate from Ohio whose career has included facilitating workshops on communication.

Ultimately the online dating angle became what she describes as a tool: “a lens to unpack … other significant experiences” including an early childhood trauma and her brother’s entanglement in the legal system.

The focus moved to providing what Brown calls “a multidimensional view of black women and challenge [to] the flat one-dimensional stereotypes of the overly sexualized Jezebel or the ‘strong black woman’ myth.’”

As counterpoint, Brown puts her own vulnerabilities on the line. While she admits there definitely are elements of sexuality in the show, they’re just a smart part of the picture among many views.

Brown sees role models evolving for her peers. She says, “With each generation we amend our stereotypes. We still have the Mammy. We still have the Medea. We also have Kerry Washington now and Michelle Obama, who allow us to see a different kind of black woman. It’s super important to have that dimension and a variety of perspectives.”

In other words, diversity in media and popular culture are critical.

“When I was growing up, I thought I was the most unattractive thing ever because I am dark-skinned with African features. There were very few women who looked like me that were held up on a pedestal of beauty, so I just thought I must not be a beautiful person and I internalized that,” she says.

Her biggest goal with “Hipsters” is to both challenge and move audiences: “People across the races will come up to me after a show and share their own experiences. I want people to have a different view of black womanhood. Based on what I’m hearing so far I feel like I am achieving that,” she says.

IF YOU GO

Black Virgins Are Not for Hipsters

Where: Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; closes June 6

Tickets: $20 to $100

Contact: (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org

artsBlack Virgins Are Not for HipstersEcho Brownstoryteller

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