Production Blog

A behind the scenes peek at rehearsals, artistic choices, artist interviews, and the daily business of running a theatre.

A chat with Djoré Nance about portraying “the Poet Laureate of Harlem”

Q: In this show, you are portraying one of America’s most important writers, Langston Hughes. There must be a different element of preparation that goes into portraying a real person. What has been similar and different in your preparation process for this show and this role in regards to playing such an iconic figure?

A: Preparing to be Langston Hughes in ‘Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been” has been truly the most rewarding experience of my life as an actor thus far. The preparation has been a noteworthy process, mostly because I’ve never played a historical figure before! There is a bevy of information on Langston Hughes, and many many still-living people who have intimate first-hand experience with the genius himself. Another welcome surprise has been some of the eerie similarities between us, even down to our looks! The way he speaks, his love and passion for music and art, his political leanings, his commitment to freedom and justice for all people, his solidarity with black people, are all deeply resonant for me. However, because of our similarities, it has created challenges as well. As actors, we must always serve the story and the piece, and the character within that framework. Carlyle Brown has created a richly hued and brilliantly nuanced character in Langston Hughes. It has been a challenge for me to get “Djoré” out of the way because Langston Hughes and I bear so many similarities. Being true to Langston for me begins with the voice, one of the places where words are made manifest. His voice and being as clear with my vocal choices as an actor ground me in Langston being Langston. I have enjoyed this work so much, I am absolutely over the moon to be back at Stage West and to be working with my FAVORITE director, the inimitable Mommy, otherwise known as vickie washington. She is a brilliant artist and I am thrilled to be birthing this iteration of “Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been” with her at the helm of a wonderful team!

A chat with Megan Haratine about playing Everybody and everyone

Q: For this show, a handful of the cast (including you) discover which roles they will be playing at any given performance during the show - what a thrill!! How do you prepare for a process like that, where you must know all of the roles, but only learn which role you will be playing each night during the show?

A: During the course of our rehearsals for Everybody, I have had to begin considering this show almost as a one person show in order to prepare for any possibility. In developing each character, I have leaned heavily into physical centers and differing vocal qualities and speech patterns, much of which is inherent in Jacobs-Jenkins’s vivid text and in each character’s actions. In doing so, I am hoping to be able to tap in more quickly not only to each character but also to the unique aspect of the story that they each represent.

In addition, we are working to build a strong foundation of trust among the “Somebodies” since we will need to have one another’s backs during the production no matter what configuration we may be in. Unlike some runs of shows, I will not be focusing as much on coining it fresh each time – since most likely, it will already be fresh based on a new set of who is play who – but rather I will need to stay grounded and flexible to ride whatever wave of possibility comes my way. 

I think this show is the epitome of what is exciting about live theatre – and also life itself! Anything can happen. All I can do is my best to prepare for anything and then live fully in the moment as it is handed to me.  

 

Show:

A moment with EVERYBODY Director Jake Nice

photo Robert W. Hart/Special Contributor

Q: Everybody is a contemporary adaptation of the medieval morality play entitled Everyman. In your interpretation of the script, what about this adaptation is timeless in regards to its source material, and what do you think is “right-now” about it?

A: Everybody and Everyman explore some of life’s biggest questions--why are we here, what happens after death, how ought we to live our lives, etcetera. Those themes are timeless and apply to all people, past and present. Both plays also portray universal concepts like Death, Strength, Beauty, and Knowledge/Understanding as personified figures who interact with their namesake characters as if they were human. Although our relationships with those concepts may change over time, they too are timeless and immortal.

The major difference between the plays is in their delivery. When writing Everybody, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins completely contemporised the antiquated language of Everyman by incorporating phrases like “homey,” “Society and the Media,” and “various streaming accounts.” He also made slight adjustments to the original play’s structure, making it more relatable for a modern audience while simultaneously challenging our 21st century expectations of the theatre. 

Show:

Director Garret Storms on the world of the Jacob Marley

Q: This script has very little to offer in terms of suggestions for staging and scenic elements, leaving much of that up to the director’s vision. What influenced you to stage this production of Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol the way that you have?

A: Much of what influenced my vision for the show stemmed from the wonderful Emily Scott Banks. She is a magical and enchanting artist and actress, and allowing her to inhabit a space that she could literally bring to life felt like the right move. We have kept things relatively simple - wooden platforms, exposed practical lights, suspended fabrics, and a odd collection of objects, all coming together to create a space that looks a bit like it has been lost to time. Something about it might resemble a cluttered old attic that hasn’t been touched in a good long while. But when inhabited by Emily, it comes to life as she creates new and imaginative functions for everyday objects. There is an element of imagination and childlike magic that permeates the production, similar to the imagination and childlike magic that tends to well up in us around this time of year - an air of possibility, of hope, of reflection as we stand in the present looking at both the past and the future. It was important to me that Emily be able to bring the space to life and allow it to breathe, making both the story and the storyteller the featured aspects of the production.

For those who saw the 2015 production at Stage West, you can anticipate many of the same elements that made that production so wonderful and well received. However, now that the Studio is in quite a different shape, there is a little something new and fresh about the production. Magic, mischief, memories, and more await you this holiday season at Stage West!

A chat with Emily Scott Banks about the adaptation and the solo journey

Q: A Christmas Carol is probably one of the most iconic stories ever written. In taking on this script again this holiday season, what are the most exciting aspects of this adaptation of the story and also the challenges of doing a one-person show?

A: As when we first did Marley three years ago, the most exciting aspects of this show for me are still how Garret has envisioned the magical world of this production from just objects found in the attic of Stage West (on nearly no budget), and how the Narrator, a female (and I have been told by the playwright the only one to do a one-actor version so far) has her own reasons for going on this journey telling the story of these men and spirits. The meta-layers in these two elements, both personally and theatrically, I adore.

As for the challenges of doing a one-person show, well, it’s more tiring in the rehearsal process! Since there aren’t any other actors the five hours can feel like a marathon, but at full-speed. I’m so lucky, both this time and the last, to share the show with a stage manager who is also an actor – this makes it feel as if I actually have a scene partner (beyond a pocket flash light!) and one who helps tell the story in their own Behind-the-Curtain, Oz-like way. When the audience shows up, however, it always feels like we’re all kind of discovering the story together each time, so it never really feels like it’s just me – because it definitely isn’t. There’s an amazing team that’s gone into making this Marley journey magical.

A chat with actor Shannon McGrann about the rebirth of an icon

Q: Nora Helmer may well be one of the most important characters ever written. In taking on this new incarnation of her, how do you think she is different from the original play, and how to you think that affects how A Doll’s House, Part 2 is different from A Doll’s House?

 

A: Nora in A Doll’s House, Part 2 has evolved into an individual with agency and her own means, as opposed to Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House who is merely being an extension of her domestic situation. By Part 2, she has realized she has the power to make her own choices and knows she has to and can live with the consequences of those choices, whatever they may be. 

Here we are, over 100 years later, and we’re still holding men and women to different standards, even when they make similar sacrifices, similar transgressions, and have similar aspirations. Right now, the subject of equality is one of the most talked about things in our culture. We’re talking about it more frequently and openly. 

A moment with A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 Director Clare Shaffer

Tom Fox/DMN Staff Photographer

Q: Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is probably one of the most important and iconic pieces of literature in the world canon. In what ways do you think that this new sequel is in dialogue with the original? And what do you think this sequel has to say that is different from the original?

A: A Doll’s House Part 2 is a modern continuation of the conversation about gender roles that Nora began just minutes before she walked out the door in 1879. In the original, Nora had just begun to understand the implications of the patriarchy—in Part 2, her views have matured and expanded beyond a critique of traditional marital values to include thoughts on subjects including polyamory, the epidemic of mansplaining, and gender performativity. She has progressed from discovering gender inequality to understanding and trying to combat it, giving the sequel a bolder and far more grounded protagonist. Ibsen’s Nora left home in search of her voice in a time when women were legally and socially considered inferior to their male counterparts—and in this sequel, we get to hear that strikingly relevant voice loud and clear. 

image: Tom Fox, DMN Staff photographer

A chat with OCTOROON actor Ryan Woods

Q: An Octoroon is a demanding script, while also funny and entertaining. It examines identity and race in a melodramatic style through a contemporary lens. It has a meta-theatrical play-within-a-play structure. What are the most exciting and challenging aspects of working on this script?

A: An Octoroon is definitely a beast of a play. What excites me about working on such a challenging script is the relevancy it has in regards to the current social and political climate. Through its meta-theatrical structure of a ‘play within a play,’ it examines aspects of racism through the lens of melodrama (an adaptation of Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon) which allows Jacobs-Jenkins to utilize broad racial stereotypes and tropes found in melodrama to shine a light on issues of racism. Examining racism in our society through humor and stereotypes is an effective way to get people to think and reconsider their own views.

What I find the most challenging is figuring out how to juggle portraying three different characters within the same story (which I found early on is no easy feat!). There’s the role of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins himself, who we see struggling with the fact that he’s not just a playwright, but a “black” playwright, and what it means to always have the qualifier of race put upon anything he chooses to do. This is something I think every person of color can relate to. Then we have George (the “protagonist”) and M’Closky (the “villain”) who are larger than life with their broad characterizations, but both highlight the complicated image of a racist. Trying to wrap my head around these three roles and their purpose in delivering the message of the story has been truly humbling.

But all of these things are what make working on this play so exciting! The audience is bombarded by a multitude of stereotypes and tropes, and through the lens of humor and melodrama, they are forced to examine how this adaptation of Boucicault’s play alludes to the many racial and societal problems that we struggle with today (especially in our current political climate). People will find themselves laughing, crying, and feeling immensely uncomfortable (sometimes all at the same time) which is what makes An Octoroon such a powerful piece of theatre. Audience members will leave the theatre reeling from the experience, but more importantly, they will leave reexamining their own beliefs concerning racial identity and politics, and what all of that really means in our “progressive” American society right now.

Drinking for Diversity

Nancy Churnin writes "Stage West's 'An Octoroon' underscores how far we've come — and still have to go — with racial equity in theater".  (You should click and read her piece. Lots of good stuff in there, plus it's the only way to keep getting arts reporting funded by our local news media...) We explored diversity on stage at our Happy Hour event the week before opening with artist Christopher Blay.

For each show this season, we had an opening event or happy hour to introduce folks to the show. At our An Octoroon Happy Hour we experienced artist Christopher Blay's relational aesthetics art experience Drinking for Diversity.

Here are the instructions:

And here's the pour chart, illustrating the casting breakdown by ethnicity for New York City theatres.

Some of our written and drawn responses to questions 2 & 3 above. 

We also got to hear director Akin Babatunde and the cast of An Octoroon discuss the show. 

A chat with DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER actor Catherine DuBord about farces

Q: Farces are know for quick rhythms, eccentric characters in extreme situations, and lots of entrances and exits. What do you find to be most exciting and challenging aspects of performing in a farce?

A: As actors in DFW, we don’t get many opportunities to do a full-blown farce. As modern actors, we tend to get grounded in naturalism. A Farce develops its comedy through physical humor and deliberate use of nonsense. The trick is to stay committed to the heightened importance of every single conversation or interaction. All of these characters are larger than life – very Shakespearean even. Each objective must be gone after with extreme vigor and the flexibility to turn on a dime. The fun part is getting comfortable in these people’s shoes, who live every moment larger than life. They love harder, cry louder and get angry more passionately than what contemporary society would deem acceptable. You have to be willing to strap yourself into this obscene roller coaster, keep your eyes open at all costs and take the ride every night. The hardest part is to remember to trust the work that we have put in as a company and know that we have built a fantastic, terrifying ride.

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