Tuesday, March 22, 2011

AAPEX's RAP April 4th at The Players' Club (NYC)

Please Click Images To Enlarge.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

AAPEX Interview: Terrance Epps

Terrance Epps

In October, 2008, the African American Playwrights Exchange (AAPEX) produced a reading of Merrill Jones' wonderful family drama, MRS. STREETER,  at Pearl Studios in NYC. In February, 2010, there was a second reading of the play at The Dramatists Guild. It was a tribute to the power of Jones' script that the cast from the first reading were all available and enthusiastic participants in the second reading.

Among them was a very fine young actor named Terrance Epps, whose work I greatly admired.

I am delighted that Terrance is now on board for our upcoming  reading of Alan Aymie's award winning play RAP at The Players Club on April 4th.

As a testimony to Terrance's passion and dedication to not only his career and talent but that of his colleagues, in addition to his role as an actor, he also stepped up to provide the rehearsal space for this project.

I asked Terrance to tell us something about himself and his journey. Here is what he has to say.

Jaz Dorsey
AAPEX Dramaturge

1) What role did theatre and the arts play in your childhood and upbringing?

Well to be quite honest, I'm what you would consider, "a late bloomer".  Aside from a couple of high school theatre projects, I wasn't too focused on making a career out of acting.  At that time, I was more of a young musician with ambition and ideas that would soon drive my mother crazy.  When I was eleven years old, I developed a passion for music.  I began writing my own material at the age of 12 with dreams of solidifying a career within the music industry.  To this day, I still enjoy writing new material and putting tracks together.  As the years progressed and my mothers' patience began to dwindle, I had to find an alternative hobby/art form.  I started listening to folks who were telling me that my persona was very unique and I needed to be in a position where I could just be myself.  I'm a huge t.v. buff so quite naturally I immediately thought about the wonderful world of acting.

2) Tell us about your own evolution as an artist.
My evolution process began when I was 16 or 17 years old.  My personality started to flourish, and with the maturation of my character I felt like this was my coming out party into the world.  No longer was I too timid to embrace some of lifes' obstacles.  A year after I graduated high school I found an ad in the paper for an acting/modeling company.  I was relatively raw with very little experience and knowledge on what to expect and how to conduct myself as a professional.  This was considered stepping outside of my comfort zone because, I was already used to the brandish lifestyle of an upcoming hip-hop artist.  The transition wasn't as difficult as I thought because I quickly began booking various projects which kept me satisfied and my focal point had slightly shifted.  After a few background roles I decided to take a leap of faith.  I invested in my career in order to hone in on my skills.  It was during my stint as an extra on an episode of "Law and Order", where I met Mr. Daryl Sledge (founder of the Sledge Project).  He then introduced me to my acting coach/mentor, Mr. Ward Nixon.  Great teacher/director/actor, who taught me how to work PROPERLY from day one.

3) What is the day to day life of the New York City actor like - from your perspective?
 Wow........the day to day life of a New York City actor.  I can tell you this much, it's a constant uphill fight.  There are no off days for those who consider themselves actors.

Now me personally, I prefer resting in my afterlife.  There is so much to do and so little time that you cannot afford to be lazy or a procrastinator.  I try to put myself in the middle of the action quite often.  Sometimes I attend certain industry parties and events when available, I'm constantly browsing and submitting for compatible roles, and I have a huge appetite for perfection.  That means, I usually upgrade audition monologues whenever I feel change is needed.  Its also a great way to keep your acting muscle working. 

4) What is your dream?
MY DREAM..........well actually, I have a little "Inception" going on right now because I have a dream within a dream.  My first and most pertinent of the dreams would be to secure the lives and future of my family, friends and loved ones.  The second part is to help try to end world poverty and homelessness.  I truly believe that some day, my hard work, dedication and love for this craft will give me an opportunity to accomplish such feats.

Friday, March 4, 2011

AAPEX Interview: Courtney McClellan

Courtney McClellan

I saw Courtney McClellan onstage for the first time in the recent Circle Players production of A RAISIN IN THE SUN. Her hysterical portrayal of the Youngers' meddlesome neighbor, Wilhemina Othella Johnson, brought down the house. I also learned that Courtney sits on the board of Circle Players and is also responsible for the classy, Broadway style playbills for their shows. 

I then had the privilege of working with Courtney on the AAPEX Black History month show at Vanderbilt, where she gave another outstanding comic turn as Eslanda Goode Robeson, wife of the legendary Paul Robeson, who is trying to keep her superstar husband in check as he rises to international stardom.

Here's what Courtney has to say for herself.

Jaz Dorsey
AAPEX Dramaturge

What role did theatre and the arts play in your childhood and upbringing?
My first performance experiences, like many I imagine, were in church and school. I sang in the church choir and did all the Easter plays and Christmas pageants, played flute in the school band, and performed with my elementary and junior high chorus groups. I also did the occasional youth performance workshop and theatre camp during the summer months. I received great vocal training and lots of exposure, but my formal introduction to theatre and the arts came in high school. I attended a private, Catholic, all-girls, largely-based arts high school here in Nashville where I began learning to read music, participated in forensics, took an interest in visual art (some of my work even went up for sale!), held membership in the theatre guild and dance ensemble, and had my first theatrical stage experiences. The arts were always a large part of my life and that came from the exposure in the arts my parents allowed me. They have always been huge supporters and proponents of me trying many things. "You can't" weren't words I heard a lot in my household when it came to my interest in the arts. Thus, the theatre became a consistent comfort to me. Walking toward the stage was like coming home, and in fact I spent much of my time there. I lived in the theatre in high school and college, and went to my house or dormitory to sleep (sometimes). This type of art became a release for me and has absolutely made me a more intelligent, well-rounded, and cultured individual.

Tell us about your own evolution as an artist.
I began in the arts thinking I wanted to be a professional singer. My dream was to one day sing the national anthem at a nationally televised major sporting event. (After watching Christina Aguilera (and countless other vocalists, for that matter,) fumble over the words during the most recent Super Bowl, I laugh at myself.) In preschool, when it was song-sharing time and the other kids got up and sang "Old McDonald Had A Farm," my song of choice was "It Cuts Like A Knife." My teachers had some awkward conversations with my parents, I'm sure. Actually, as I got older my confidence as a singer diminished drastically, but I developed a passion for drama, acting, and speaking, and found the confidence to sing and dance in the context of those things. I think that's when the realization set in, that part of why I love theatre so much is that in order to properly execute it, you have to throw yourself, head first, into the role and completely assume another personage for it. Hence, when I'm singing as a character, it's not really me singing. It's me acting like someone who's singing. Much easier! I'm not embarrassing myself onstage anymore when I sing, because the character I'm playing is the one that's singing. A bit convoluted I know, but it's the difference between my anxiety overcoming me on stage, which, if you're a performer, you know means EVERYTHING in the world, and being able to deliver in the moment. I now consider myself in the ranking of "triple-threatness" to be an actor-singer- dancer, with singer-dancer being a FAR second and third. I've also directed a bit, which is an entirely different art form as well. The bottom line is that, as an artist, I am still evolving daily and enjoying the ride, ups and downs withal. 

Tell us about Circle Players and why you are so committed to this company.
I graduated with a Bachelor of the Arts degree from Hampton University in Virginia in 2008 and returned home to Nashville shortly after. I came off of some not-so-great theatrical experiences in Nashville (imagine that: type casting...in the south? Gasp!?) before attending my beloved HBU (historically black university) where the doors of the theatre opened up countless opportunities and solidified my love for the art. Upon returning home, I prepared to be greeted with the same challenges and hurdles I experienced in theatre before I left. Instead, I reconnected to the arts community with Circle Players, for which LaTonya Turner should receive lots of credit. Not only did the organization welcome me home (to Nashville AND to theatre) with open arms, after a short time overcoming the "new kid" feeling, Circle members were excited to use my professional skills to serve the organization as well as my onstage contributions. I felt valued in Nashville's theatrical community for a change. This coming year will be my third year serving on Circle's Board and, involvement with A Raisin in the Sun (January 2011) and "13" The Musical (coming April 2011) make my eighth and ninth shows with the organization. See! I can barely talk about Circle without shameless organizational promotion. I love the people with whom I've made connections and I know I've gained lasting and meaningful friendships from my participation. I also love what the organization is about, and its commitment to providing open opportunities to ALL types of people who have a passion and interest in theatre. Its board and artist members are dedicated and hardworking and deserve many more accolades for the purely volunteer work they do than I can possibly fit into this interview. I'll continue my involvement with Circle as long as the organization will have me.

What are your thoughts on Nashville as a theatre town?

Nashville has great potential to be a mecca for all kinds of theatre in Tennessee and the South, for that matter. I find its albeit misguided efforts toward popularization as a "celebrity hub" for country music to be a bit inhibiting when visiting other cities known for theatre in the United States. In fact many Nashville natives aren't even aware where the term "Music City" comes from. Some historical references attribute England's Queen Victoria with the term after she heard a performance by the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1873. In the 1950s, a local radio DJ used the term and it stuck. There is a diverse artistic community in Nashville that begs for appropriate physical spaces and funding to be its absolute best. I hope more attention can be diverted towards our city nationally for the theatrical work that it so beautifully provides each season. When the business and commerce behind the city's front back the artistic community as an invaluable part of the city's thriving, as opposed to solely its occasional entertainment source, then can we hope to make Nashville a true theatre town, because the talent is most assuredly present.

To learn more about the Circle Players, please click the post's title and the link below.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

AAPEX Interview: Peter Lawson Jones

Peter Lawson Jones

AAPEX writer Peter Lawson Jones is a fascinating fellow. In addition to being a playwright, an actor and a board member of Cleveland's Karamu House, when Peter connected with the AAPEX network back in 2007, he was also serving as County Commissioner of Cuyahoga County, Ohio in a career which has included twenty two elected offices.

Peter's play THE FAMILY LINE was the first play to receive an AAPEX reading in Cincinnati in July 2007, thanks to another AAPEX member, Cincinnati playwright Greg Stahllworth, kicking off a series of over 40 new play readings in other cities including Atlanta, Nashville, DC and NYC over the past three years

For the moment, Peter is putting politics aside to focus on his career as an actor, which, as you will see below, is definitely in "go" mode!

Following is Peter's response to my questions.
Jaz Dorsey
AAPEX Dramaturge

Although both my parents and the public schools I attended provided me great exposure as a child to local cultural institutions, my interest in the arts was quite modest.  Other than a few years of playing the piano and acting, as we all were compelled to do, in the traditional church holiday plays or at school, I was far more interested in sports.

It was actually a constructive envy in college that led me more seriously to theatre.  One of my roommates was an excellent visual artist, poet and performer.  Watching him inspired me to do something creative.  Bereft of drawing ability - I always wished that I could draw a horse - and with no desire to write poetry, I decided to involve myself in theatre, first as an actor and then as a playwright.  (My play, "The Family Line," was first performed at the Loeb Drama Center when I was a senior at Harvard).

My development as an artist was virtually in total arrest for nearly thirty years.  After acting, directing and writing while in college and law school, I did not return to an active engagement in theatre until 2006 when "The Family Line" was staged at the historic Karamu Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio.  Terrence Spivey, the "'Mu's" highly and nationally regarded artistic director, took over from there.

Impressed, he later shared with me, by my conversance with contemporary African-American theatre, he invited me to announce the stage directions in a staged reading, featuring Ruby Dee and Bill Cobb, at the Cleveland Play House.  He has subsequently cast and directed me in four plays and never fails to elicit my best performance.  Obviously, the acting bug has reasserted itself with a vengeance.  Over the past 3+ years, I have performed in six plays, including a staged reading Off-Broadway at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, an episode of  the ABC crime drama, "Detroit 1-8-7,"  a film, "25 Hill," schedule for release this year and in a Nike/LeBron James commercial.  In addition, I narrated a documentary on the Stokes brothers, two pioneering black lawyers and elected officials, which has been aired on public television stations in nearly thirty media markets.  I have done other voice-over projects as well.

As a teen, I thought there were three particularly exciting ways to make a living - as an athlete, actor or politician.  Simply put, I utterly lacked the ability to play professional sports and was short on the chutzpah (at least until now) to pursue an acting career.  Thus, the last occupation standing was that of public service.

I have been privileged to have worked at every level - federal, state, county, local - and in every branch - executive, legislative, judicial - of government, twenty-two as an elected official.  In that capacity I was able to parlay my affinity for and belief in the arts as socially essential by securing state appropriations for and later help lead the successful campaign to establish a consistent, predictable and quite substantial ($15 - 20 million/year) revenue stream for Cleveland-area artists and arts and cultural institutions.  As a result of the effort, Cuyahoga County provides more public per capita support for the arts than virtually any other county in the nation.

Moreover, since returning to the stage a few years ago, balancing my artistic, political and family lives has not proven problematic.  If anything, performing energizes me and sharpens the skills I employ in my other activities.  A person who regularly taps into his or her passion is ultimately far more productive, fulfilled and content.
As regards my current goals as an artist, I am focused in the short-term on my upcoming role at Karamu this May as Christian in Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, "Ruined," and on completing my second play, "The Bloodless Jungle" by year's end.  I am also to play the male lead later this year in the world premiere of "Introducing Jeni LeGon," which is to open in Chicago, move on to Vancouver and, possibly, across Canada and ultimately to London, England.  In the long-term as I continue the process of reinvention perilously close to three score years of age, I simply hope to earn the respect of others as "an actor's actor" and "a playwright's playwright" . . . and I won't turn down any awards or prizes named Tony, Emmy, Academy or Pulitzer should they come my way!  

I absolutely believe that Cleveland is the most underrated, except by true aficionados, theatre town in America.  In Playhouse Square we have the largest theatre district west of Broadway.  In the Cleveland Play House and the Great Lakes Theatre Festival, we have two of the most highly regarded professional regional theatres in the nation.  And, with Karamu House (the country's oldest multicultural theatre), the Beck Center for the Arts, the Cleveland Public Theatre, etc., no region can boast a more lively, progressive and enduring community theatre scene.  The bottom line: if you truly love the stage, come visit and perform at the great theatrical venues on the North Coast!  I'll be there upon your arrival to welcome you.