Tuesday, January 31, 2012
One of the definite highlights of my career was producing a reading of Nathan Ross Freeman's HANNAH ELIAS at The Players Club on Gramercy Park in June 2008.
Another highlight was watching Stu Richel mesmerize an audience in the role of John Platt, the New York Senator whose affair with the African American enchantress Hannah Elias triggered murder and scandal in turn of the century NYC.
So you can imagine how thrilled I am that HANNAH ELIAS made it into the hands of George Ferencz at La MaMa and will be included in SHADOW - readings of new works of African American history - and that Stu will be continuing in his role.
Monday, January 30, 2012
Regina Taylor’s gospel musical opened Off-Broadway in 2002. It was inspired by the 2000 book “Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats” with photographs by Michael Cunningham and text by Craig Marberry. And that book in turn was inspired by African-American women whose hats speak to so much more than fashion – the triumphs and tragedies that beget the strength and dignity they possess and pass down to succeeding generations.
To continue reading, please click the post's title.
Friday, January 27, 2012
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
What role did theatre and the arts play in your childhood and upbringing?
Very little, actually. I was a percussionist, athlete (Track Scholarship to St. Joseph’s University, Philly) revolutionary, Political Scientist up 'til I was 22, in that order.
Tell us about your own evolution as an artist.
I was hired as a paraprofessional right out of college, to teach remedial reading in an alternative school in Philly. I discovered theatre as a way to address remedial reading and behavioral modification for, then termed, Socially, Emotionally Disturbed Adolescents. Wrote my first play "Where Is Momma" for a class of pregnant teens who were both single parents and living in single parent house holds. Temple University celebrated the work at Walk Auditorium under the dramaturgy of the renowned Rudy Wallace. I also directed the play. It was horribly staged, but the content brought the audience to tears and effectively created a new department at the alternative school. I remember sitting the last of 3 nights after everyone was gone from the theatre and staring at the ghost light and feeling the melancholic rush that is theatre. I remember the very moment in that empty theatre falling deeply, deeply in love.
More, though, I recognized theatre in its live presentation as the most effective medium for art to do something. The potential to affect immediate and systemic change. So, Theatre and Teen Education became my calling. I forsook any and all previous ambitions for the love of theatre, and later, film.
What inspired you to write HANNAH ELIAS and what are some of the adventures you have had in researching and writing the play?
A close, close friend and colleague, actor and partner in the development of Hannah Elias, Johnnie “Blue” Gardner, a revolutionary historian, loved the hidden legends published in J. A. Roger’s books. He found Roger’s account of Hannah Elias in Sex And Race: Volume II. In 1991 Blue brought me the story. To paraphrase Blue in his attack, “Hey, Nate, you have got to check out this story about a black woman, Hannah Elias. It is the most incredible story I have ever discovered.” I said great. I will get around to it. This went on for 3 years. Finally he cornered me, sat me down and we examined the account. I have yet to forgive myself for waiting so long. I immediately took all projects off the board and we began convincing Larry Leon Hamlin of the NC Black Rep (producer of the National Black Theatre Festival) to create a Hannah Elias development workshop, working with professional actors.
For various and sundry reasons the workshops didn’t pan out and Blue and I decided to develop Hannah Elias ourselves. I wrote the script. Blue co-starred as Cornelius Williams in a showcase production at Winston Salem State University. Were it not for Johnnie “Blue” Gardner, we would not be having this interview. Make sure you get Blue’s take on our trek with Hannah Elias. He has veritably lived with her.
The adventure in researching the script was amazing. It was like a whodunit. We hired an intern from NC School of the Arts to travel to DC and NYC to research the facts. She was blocked and turned away at every pass, including the Tilden Trust which Andrew Haswell Green founded to create NYC Libraries. Eventually her father, a DC lawyer, took her off the project telling her it was not a subject to be snooping around about. We’re talking about the death of Andrew Haswell Green, after all, the Father of Greater New York.
So we scrounged every newspaper article from October 1904 to 1906 that followed the enormous truly, truly stranger that fiction accounts of Hannah Elias. The most extraordinary gift the play offers is the standing mystery of Whatever happened to Hannah Elias. It’s as if, after the ruling by the Supreme Court on the law suits brought against her, she disappeared into thin air. So the audiences that will experience Hannah will have more than a post cocktail discussion. The play will create a compulsive journey for buffs to find Hannah’s legacy, offspring and heritage. And every poetic license scene is carefully crafted to reflect the facts. Yet, it still stands to reveal even more details that we are eager discover. Many, many New Yorkers don’t even know who Hannah Elias or Andrew Haswell Green are.
If you got on your"theatre soapbox" today, what is the one thing you would rant about?
How theatre is nowhere near dead. How technology and electronic media will not only NOT bury theatre, but, indeed, in the end, lead everyone inexorably to view theatre as the ultimate visual-audio sensory experience. You can only get so virtual before our brains want to smell, taste, touch, see and hear in the Now. It is my firm knowing that we are headed for a Theatre Renaissance. There is nothing, nothing
like the close encounter stare that possesses a person after the Curtain falls on the first play they have witnessed. Nothing! Remember yours?
Saturday, January 21, 2012
There will be a talkback with the author
following the reading
74A East 4th St 212-475-7710
Funding for this program provided in part by
The John Golden Fund, The Ford Foundation,
New York State Council on the Arts and the
New York City Department of Cultural Affairs
in partnership with the City Council.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Tell us about your own evolution as an artist.
I had always wanted to act, so I took an acting class and there was no turning back . I came to New York after graduating from Howard University with a degree in acting. I had studied with Owen Dodson among others and I was immediately drawn to the Negro Ensemble Company, where I took classes and was in one of their productions; Leslie Lee’s “First Breeze of Summer," which was my first Broadway show, and also at The Public Theater where I did Ed Bullins’ “The Corner” and Ntozake Shange’s “A Photograph” and that was the beginning of my career. At some point, I got an agent, and she was the one who got me into daytime television, getting me under-fives at that time. Daytime was my professional training ground. It taught me to be disciplined, focused, yet flexible, to spin on a dime. It taught me the value of preparedness and the virtue of working fast. It taught me humility, to accept what life gives and takes with equanimity. It taught me how to move forward when I wanted to stay still. It taught me that I was more than my job, that it’s easy to think you are what you do and to accept the illusion of 'celebrity' as who you are. Because of depression, I knew actors who had to seek therapy to help them (get through) life after the soap. I certainly had to deal with the loss of my job on Another World, but when I left, I wrote my first full-length play. Perhaps writing was my therapy.
What inspired TIMBUKTU and what is it about?
On The Way to Timbuktu tells the story of Dr. Selene Slater-Bernaud, a professor whose passion for Shakespeare’s sonnets lead to an obsession with “The Dark Lady”. She is also in a troubled interracial marriage but she finds herself in love with a young female student and grappling with personal demons that threaten to destroy her and leave her on the verge of a psychic breakdown. She becomes so possessed with the sonnets that she begins to live them. Having gone through family drama and relationship trauma, she struggles to find a way to reconnect to her own authenticity, her identity and her strength. I created On The Way to Timbuktu because I needed to speak in my own voice as an artist. Creating this play has given me the opportunity to perform a role unlike any I have ever been offered or played.
What are your thoughts on acting as a profession in our country at this time?
I teach now and I tell my students all the time that they have to create their own work, which is of course much harder. They have to create their own shows, they have to create their own films and webisodes. When I first came to New York I think there were about 13 soaps and that whole market, it's all gone, it's horrible. And I see that as a terrible thing for the young actors. It's very sad. I just hope and pray that there's work for them. I see them in my classes and I wonder, “Where are they going to work?" I teach them that they have to be more pro-active in their careers. It's terrible, it's hard, but that's what they have to do. I tell them to continue to develop themselves, don't give up. Just keep developing all the things you want to do. When I was on all the those programs, The Doctors, Another World, Guiding Light, if I had asked the director if I could shadow him to learn more about directing for camera perhaps... But then being a woman and one of color at that time, perhaps the request would not have been encouraged. Better not to ask, "What if?' but resolve to move forward with fearlessness.
Founder & CEO I the Actor
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Saturday, January 14, 2012
A "Tip o' the Hat" to Owa again for these eye-opening stats. Owa suggests we form a Political Action Group (PAC)to address these discrepancies: "This other theater is providing jobs and careers for their own; while we hang about like beggars on the streets. How many of political representatives in NY City Council and others on state and federal levels have demonstrated an active interest in the career issues involved here? This could perhaps become a nation-wide effort. If its true in New York, then its true everywhere else."
The festival begins February 3, 2012 and this year, it's all about - LOVE !
Towne Street's 5th Annual Ten-Minute Play Festival will open Friday, February 3, 2012 and continue through Sunday, February 19, 2012. There will be one half-price preview on Thursday, February 2, 2012. All performances are at the Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Boulevard, (corner of Hollywood & Highland), Los Angeles, CA 90028. Show times are 8:00 PM on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 3:00 PM on Sundays. All seats are $12.00 and to purchase tickets for the festival, please visit www.townestreet.org.
For additional information, contact Towne Street Theatre via email at info@townestreet. org or call (213) 712-6944.
Towne Street Theatre 5th Annual Ten-Minute Play Festival Information
Twisted Dance by Porcha Evans / Paper Swan by Amina Henry / A Line of Malarky by Larry Parr -
directed by Nancy Cheryll Davis
Way Home by Leah Halper / Fat Dumb White Girl by Asher Wyndham -
directed by Veronica Thompson
The Anniversary by Cliff Gober / V Day by Ashford J. Thomas -
directed by Tony Robinson
First To The Egg by Colette Freedman / Out In The Open by Irene Ziegler -
directed by Mark V. Jones
Higher ED by Karla Sorenson -
directed by Dan Martin
An Idle Fancy by Libba Beaucham -
directed by Raf Mauro
Venus And Mars by Angela Batravil -
directed by Angela Batravil
February 3, 2012 - February 19, 2012 (preview night February 2nd)
Thursday, Friday, Saturday @ 8:00 PM and Sunday @ 3:00 PM
Stella Adler Theatre
6773 Hollywood Boulevard (corner of Hollywood & Highland)
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(near Metro Red Line)
Hollywood & Highland Center
$2.00 parking for 2 hours
(w/Validation @ Hollywood & Highland Center)
All tickets $12.00 (preview tickets $6.00)
(for ticket purchase & information)
info@townestreet. org or call (213) 712-6944
Written and performed by
February 1st through the 12th, 2012
Thursday through Saturday 7:30 PM
and Saturday and Sunday, 3pm
A play about a woman's search for meaning
in a world of madness and betrayal.
Please click the post's title for more information and tickets.
Or call 866-811-4111
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
CROWNS: The Gospel Musical, by Regina Taylor, is in rehearsal for it's Nashville premiere, Thursday, January 26th at Christ Church Cathedral as part of the Church's Sacred Space for the City series. For full details and tickets, visit
I had a chance to converse with the playwright and learn a bit more about her career and the history of CROWNS.
As a child of 5, Regina Taylor remembers sitting on the floor with her mother creating childrens' books out of construction paper. It was from her mother that Taylor gained her appreciation for the power of words, especially as a young African American girl growing up in Dallas, Texas. Words give you the ability to create your own world. Taylor's mother worked for Social Security for over 25 years, but her passion was the arts. She took her daughter to art museums, symphonies and to
the theater and instilled in Taylor a sense of creativity as a survival tool. Taylor became an avid reader, reading everything from The Bronte Sisters to James Baldwin. "There is" she says "a wonderful feeling of transport in reading. You can see the world through other people's eyes and come back feeling that you have expanded yourself."
Going to college, Taylor started out as a writer, studying journalism with the goal of writing for newspapers. She took her first acting class in college thinking it would be an easy credit and fell into a career. Her first professional acting role at AGE 19 was in the film CRISIS AT CENTRAL HIGH, in which she portrayed Minnijean Brown, a member of the Little Rock Nine, a group of African American students who braved violence and armed guards to integrate Little Rock Central High School in 1957. The movie was filmed in Dallas and Little Rock and the flight to Arkansas gave Taylor her first trip on an airplane.
After graduating, Taylor moved to New York, where she lived during the 80s. NYC, she found, was the portal to the world - and there was theatre everywhere. She continued acting and supported herself with odd jobs - dog walker, house restorer and poster plasterer. She eventually found herself working at The Public Theatre under Joe Papp. Starting out as an understudy she ultimately found herself on Broadway, the first African American actress to play Juliet in a Broadway production. Over the years, Taylor has won great acclaim for her work as a Shakespearean actress.
Moving to New York also triggered her work as a playwright. One of her first plays, WATERMELON RINDS, received a production at the Humana Festival in Louisville, Ky. and through this festival experience she was introduced to theatres around the country.
Taylor's musical phenomenon CROWNS came about after she was contacted by Emily Mann with the McCarter Theatre, who sent her the book with an offer to write and direct a musical version. That was over 10 years ago and this year Taylor will direct the 10th anniversary production at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago. For more information on this anniversary
celebration, go to www.crownsthegospelmusical.com and follow/like CROWNSthegospelmusical on Facebook. Those who have "hat stories" of their own are invited to share them via Facebook.
"CROWNS", Taylor says, "is a play about life, about looking back, looking at the present, looking at the future. CROWNS is about the individuality of the human spirit, about how we present ourselves to the world and what we pass down to the next generation."
When Taylor started working on CROWNS, she herself didn't own a decent hat, but she grew up among hat queens - if you owned 100 hats or more, you qualified for "hat queen" status. Taylor's mother didn't own 100 hats, but she did have an impressive collection and she took her daughter on a journey of her hats - each hat had it's own story, it's own history. Mother illuminated the play as Regina wrote it.
Yolanda, the pivotal character, is a young girl from NYC who is sent South to live with relatives after her brother dies in a senseless shooting. Yolanda enters the world of Southern church going ladies and their hats, and as they share their stories with her, Yolanda sees her own future.
Over the past 10 years, CROWNS has established itself as one of the most popular and successful plays in the American cannon and has received productions across the country. In fact, if you go to the CROWNS website, there is a map that shows the locations of all productions of CROWNS. Nashville isn't on that map yet, but it's about to be.
By an interesting twist of fate, Nashville 2012 will offer our city another opportunity to commune with Regina Taylor, as she has been commissioned to write a new play for the Tennessee Women's Theatre Project.
Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre!