Review: Trustus Theatre Presents Marcus, or the Secret of Sweet -- a Play for our Times

Marcus or The Secret of Sweet is the third installment of The Brother/Sister Plays by noted playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney whose work inspired the now Golden Globe-winning and Oscar-nominated film Moonlight. Marcus is a coming-of-age story for the title character Marcus Eshu who is haunted by dreams and memories of his father Elegba that lead Marcus on a path to discovering his secret of sweetness, or key to his sexuality.

 

The play begins with two powerful images. The first occurs when Marcus’ dreams are dramatized by the full cast and narrated by cast member Chris Jackson while he is showered upon symbolizing a storm soon to come either within Marcus or the impending Hurricane Katrina to his town in Louisiana. The second occurs at the dynamic funeral procession for Marcus’ father where the cast marches around the theatre singing a Negro spiritual to honor Elegba’s death.

 

The play takes risks as the characters themselves verbalize their own asides, stage instructions and emotions, to the audience. At times in the play, this is helpful and even humorous, and at other times, it can appear condescending. The play also narrates the history of homophobia within the African American community all the way back to slavery, purporting that homosexuality would have been unprofitable for plantation owners, thereby eventually unaccepted and discouraged by black people. There is, finally, the running motif of Marcus’ sexuality perhaps being inherited from his father, embracing the theory of the so-called gay gene.

 

Marcus’ mother played by Celeste Moore declares in the play, “Ain’t nothing sweet about having a soft son.” The word sweet is a colloquialism used in the town for gay. Marcus labors intensely to unearth his father’s sweetness leading him to long for the affection of his uncle played by Jabar Hankins. Marcus’ dreams intensify the closer he gets to this secret that somehow everyone knows but him.

 

The cast complements each other well. Katrina Blanding nails her performance as Aunt Elegua with the candor and humor of Tyler Perry’s Madea character. John Floyd as Marcus Eshu is believable and engaging.

 

Marcus or The Secret of Sweet at Trustus is an education in drama and black culture. The play teaches the process of weathering the storms of internal and external conflict within the paradigms of family and community. 

-- Len Lawson

Len Lawson is the co-editor of the poetry anthology, Hand in Hand: Poets Respond to Race, releasing on February 19th from Muddy Ford Press. https://www.facebook.com/events/398977450447357/

Trustus Theatre Executive Director Resigns

exit In what most people who follow the Columbia theatre community has seen coming for months, the Board of Directors of Trustus Theatre has announced that the Executive Director, Leila Ibrahim, has resigned, effective immediately.

Ibrahim was hired for the Trustus position after less than one year serving as the Florence Little Theatre's executive director. She applied for the Trustus position a little over 6 months after assuming her post in Florence.

In their official statement, the Trustus board states, "Ibrahim worked closely with the staff of Trustus to further develop business oversight, event execution and sponsorship support. Ibrahim specifically aided in overseeing the launch of a new website and implementing a revenue generating ticketing software platform."

Ibrahim's tenure at Trustus was rocky. Word quickly spread throughout the tight-knit theatre community that there were issues involving missed grant applications, and alienation of patrons, company members, and fellow staffers. Speculation on her departure started as early as last spring.

“We are very appreciative of Leila’s efforts while at Trustus,” states President of the Board of Directors, Harrison Saunders. “She has made great contributions to the organization during her time here and has brought fresh ideas grounded in her deep knowledge of the theatre industry. On behalf of the Board, we all wish her the best in her future endeavors."

The Board plans to explore a full range of options as it considers Ibrahim’s successor. “I'm thankful for my time working with Trustus Theatre and am glad I was able to further develop their operations to support the mission of the theatre,” states Ibrahim.

REVIEW: Anatomy of a Hug at Trustus Theatre

96782e2e6608539536c186e458b4b0f1 By Jon Tuttle

You know how this will end.  You know when you meet her that Amelia, a thirty-something emotional shut-in, will journey from estrangement to engagement.   And still, in the closing moments of Anatomy of a Hug, when all of the obvious signs have directed you to that inevitable conclusion, you are thrilled.   Kat Ramsburg’s original script is the most engaging Trustus Playwrights’ Festival winner in recent memory and makes for a powerful evening of theatre.

The play ends, as it must, of course it must, with an embrace. But not the one you think, and not the one on the playbill, where Dewey Scott-Wiley, as Sonia, a dying ex-con, hugs daughter Amelia, played by Rebecca Herring. The play begins as these two are reunited through a Compassionate Release program, owing to the former’s late-stage ovarian cancer. Sonia functions through the rest of the play as an hourglass: we sense, as her condition diminishes, the denouement quickly approaching.

And so there is an urgency to the action: the play, you feel, must hurry up to solve the riddle of Amelia.  But it doesn’t. Instead, Ramsburg exploits that urgency by patiently and methodically assembling her characters, and Herring quite marvelously inhabits a young woman suffering from technology-induced autism. Her mother having spent twenty-six years in prison for killing her father, Amelia has been shunted from one foster home to another. Along the way, she has counted on television to provide her with a social circle and a recognizable (or at least predictable) plotline. Her extensive DVD collection is full of friends she can “check in with” and who are “always there when you need them.” In a particular touching revelation, we learn that it was TV’s Roseann who told her about menstruation and that Sex and The City’s Aidan was her first boyfriend.

As a Save The Children-style telemarketer, Amelia is quite adept at constructing compelling narratives that convince strangers to “adopt” children in Burundi for only $35 a month. She is so earnest and knows so little of real emotional intimacy that she can, without the slightest sense of irony, peddle children half-a-world away.   It’s only when a co-worker, Ben, begins courting her that we see how lost she is. Her problem is not that she has walls; she has nothing to build them with.  She simply doesn’t know how to be. As she tells Ben, “I don’t have any other stories” than the ones she lives through on TV.

Ben is played here by Patrick Michael Kelly in an affecting return to Trustus’ stage after several years in New York, and in Ben’s trajectory we sense the underpinnings of the production itself. In the early going, he bumbles onstage like The Honeymooners’ Ed Norton. He is, well, cartoonish—or as Amelia calls him, “like someone in a sitcom—there’s something not quite real about you.”  And that’s because there’s nothing quite real about the staging.

Director Chad Henderson, along with some inventive scene, sound, and lighting design by Baxter Engle and Marc Hurst, plays Brecht for us. The backdrop is a test-pattern, the lights are exposed, and we assume the role of a studio audience even to the extent that we are instructed (by electronic light boards) when to applaud and laugh. At first, that conceit doesn’t work.  It pushes us—Brecht would say alienates us—out of the play itself. We are asked to laugh at lines that aren’t that funny, to applaud beats that don’t deserve it. We are placed, that is, in an emotionally-manufactured setting where we simply don’t know if our responses are appropriate.

Just like Amelia.

Along the way, though, the production changes just as Ben does. Kelly plays Ben as two people: an irritating, schmaltzy showman protecting someone much more wounded and sincere.  About the time we discover ourselves warming up to him, we notice also that our responses aren’t being coached anymore: all the studio trappings have fallen away, and we have been allowed into the world of the play.

Sure there are problems, there must always be problems. Some may find the television studio elements too intrusive. While Brecht insisted that we must always be shown that we are being shown something, his best plays often ignored that advice. As Sonia, the catalyst for Amelia’s ultimate emotional re-integration, Scott-Wiley’s not given much to do except break the damned TV and die (which she does quite movingly. The woman sitting next to me was downright weepy.) And the story she tells about the murder charge that landed her a life-sentence doesn’t quite add up; it sounds more like vehicular manslaughter, the sort of thing you could plea-bargain out of, particularly if you have a daughter who needs you.

And there are times when Ramsburg forgets the thing she does best: knowing what to leave out. She is very good at minimizing exposition and keeping us Here In This Moment, but through the latter third of the play—as Amelia finds her voice—I felt I was once again being coached on how to feel and respond.   Still, the writing here is very assured, and Ramsburg’s play is a threnody for those like Amelia crippled by a culture that artificializes family and belonging and what Arthur Miller called the congealments of warmth.

If the opening night standing ovation is any indication, Trustus’ production has done it considerable justice. Herring’s Amelia is someone we know better than she knows herself, and that’s some trick.  As a woman destroyed by disease and hallucinating on painkillers and flashbacks, Sonia is lucky to have Scott-Wiley. Kelly’s Ben shows us a broken man trying hard to be someone more charming and charismatic than he really is.  And Iris—well, Iris is difficult in that she is a primarily just a functionary, equal parts social worker, DOC case manager, and hospice nurse.  But Annette Grevious ably humanizes her and establishes a presence that quilts these torn pieces together.

At bottom, Anatomy of a Hug is a boy meets/gets/loses/gets girl story.  Like many modern plays, this play gives us two quirky lovers fighting through the obstacles within and without and arriving at last in each other’s arms. And yet it feels new. It allows us to identify with that part of our psyche that is permanently awkward or stunted or doesn’t know what to do with its hands, and, in the end, it grants us compassionate release.

Jon Tuttle is Professor of English at Francis Marion University and former Literary Manager at Trustus Theatre, which has produced five of his plays.  

THEATRE REVIEW: Trustus Theatre production of Green Day's American Idiot, by Kyle Petersen

TrustusAmericanIdiot (1) I was 17 years old when Green Day released American Idiot, their politically-tinged punk rock opera that at the time felt like the most lively and visceral protest music response to the Bush years and the Iraq War. So I was basically who the record was about, with all the buddings of political awareness tied up elegantly with suburban disaffection and adolescent angst. The surge of three chord rock songs and overwrought punk snarl mimicked the adrenaline coursing through my veins, and its rock opera ambition made the music seem as grandiose and important as my emotions felt.

While the album was well-received at the time as a sharp, of-the-moment critique of its time, something which felt mostly absent from the younger generation of artists, looking back on the album now, particularly in its guise as a Broadway musical, which debuted in 2010 and now serves as the finale to Trustus Theatre’s 2015-2016 season, lessens some of that temporality.

In his program notes, director Chad Henderson notes how thrilling it is to “work with this cast and production team to tell this story that, at times, feels like it’s been taken from our collective diaries” while also comparing to the 1967 counterculture musical Hair. That strikes me as particularly apt--as much as Billie Joe Armstrong might have been responding to his frustrations over new millenia Republican nonsense, he’s really working through some very archetypal coming of age themes that have been a part of American culture since the invention of the teenager in the post-World War II era: rebellion, shiftlessness, love, loss, and resignation. And it’s the timelessness of those themes, and how readily and ably Armstrong invokes them in his songs, that really give the album-turned-musical legs.

The Green Day frontman collaborated with director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, Hedwig & the Angry Itch) on the book that sketched out just a bit more narrative from the original album, adding minimal lines of dialogue and additional songs to make the three main characters--Johnny (Garrett Bright), Tunny (Patrick Dodds), and Will (Cody Lovell)--more distinct, but other than that it’s the staging and performances themselves that are the real draw here. Utilizing a large cast and an industrial-punk set (designed by Baxter Engle) marked by television screens flickering through images of war, news, politics, and pop culture (both from the 9/11 era and our current Kardashian/Trump moment), this is a jukebox musical at its best. The technical achievement here, given the number of mobile microphones, screens, staging levels, and musicians required, is stunning, borrowing elements from both a live concert and a music video as the show dictates, something absolutely necessary given the relative thinness of the plot.  

Bright owns his aspiring rock star-turned-junkie leading role, conveying just the right notes of youthful earnestness and foolhardy brashness that Green Day celebrates. As one of the central deliverers of Armstrong’s signature vocals, he also distinguishes himself by shifting from the rough adenoidal bray the frontman sometimes uses to a sweeter, more melancholy style that better fits the narrative, particularly on a couple of the crucial acoustic numbers. Both Dodds and Lovell also acquit themselves nicely, turning in great performances as the punk-goes-military recruit dude and (too)-early blue collar father archetype, respectively, as does Michael Hazin as St. Jimmy, Johnny’s devilish alter-ego. The presence of St. Jimmy as a character and Hazin as a performer also provides a necessary counterweight of rock star swagger to the waves of emo-ness that the play at some points almost drowns in. And while the women characters are mostly relegated to the backseat of this boy-centric story, Katie Leitner as Heather gets some quality time in the spotlight as Tunny’s pregnant girlfriend and hits some quality high notes to give the show some diva pizazz, while Devin Anderson plays Whatshername with a magnetic power that absolutely rescues the part from its tertiary role. Avery Bateman also sparkles in limited use as the Extraordinary Girl.

For all the great individual performances, though, this show hits its high points when the large cast is all out on stage together reveling in these songs. The two big medleys from the album, “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Homecoming,” shine particularly bright, as the large house band rockets through them with glee from their perch above the stage (led by music director Chris Cockrell) and the young chorus gets to holler the closest things to anthems produced in their own teenage years. “Nobody likes you/ everyone left you/they’re all out without you having fun” they sing with earnest abandon. We’re coming home again, indeed.

In those moments, I was often surprised by how well most of the songs translated so deftly to the stage, even for folks who aren’t necessarily fans of the band and familiar with the album, thanks to how electrifying it is to see them brought to life. In fact, I would say the more familiar numbers, like the opening "American Idiot," might have suffered a bit more than the theatrical album cuts which already has quite a bit of dramatic flare even before adaptation.

As for those that are or were fans of the album, like much of the cast obviously is, there’s a level of catharsis to living through them that can’t be denied. Seeing them all come out in a long line at the end of the night to take their bow, smiling as much in their eyes as their faces, in all of their rock ‘n’ roll sweat and glory, is to witness something a bit more than just another musical. They’ve really celebrated the power of music as rebellion, as salve, and as salvation, itself. And that's really something.

Green Day's American Idiot runs through July 30th. For ticket information go to trustus.org 

More from Tess DeMint -- TOO MOTHER-OF-THE-BRIDE: ON SHOPPING

This is the second in a series of blogs written by Tess DeMint (aka Professor Ed Madden), a contestant in the 18th annual Vista Queen Pageant, a fundraiser for our beloved Trustus Theatre.

Please support Tess by visiting Trustus Theatre. Each vote costs $10 and all money goes to Trustus Theatre.

ed dress

 

Last weekend we decided to go shopping.

 

At that first consultation with T.O., I had tried on things from the theatre wardrobe, and settled, I think, on a couple of possibilities.  But no shoes there, and still in need of at least one more getup.  T.O. suggested visiting thrift stores, if only to get a sense of what I liked, what might work.

 

When we were in Arkansas during spring break, we ran across a booth of formal dresses in an antiques mall, all the dresses marked down to $30 and $40.  Maybe a formalwear shop closing up.  Some crazy things, mostly prom dresses.  We decided to check it out.  I slid a big jacket on: too small.  I found a chart for size translation on my phone: it included waist and jacket sizes for men and the corresponding women sizes.  We looked through all the sizes.  Nothing for me there.

 

That was, of course, before the consultation, before I’d even settled on a name or a persona.  Now I have a better sense of who I could be, what I might look like.

 

Goodwill, where we started shopping, was full of many things, but not much that seemed useful.  Way too many outfits that looked like tired professional women at work.  I did find a choir robe for $6, which seemed maybe worth buying.  The shoe rack had some scary-cool things, but nothing in my size, nothing in an interesting color.  I noticed my own shoes were dusted yellow—pollen, that film of yellow coating everything right now, the air filled with the sexual life of plants.

 

At one consignment shop, somewhat high-end, filled with furniture and bric-a-brac, as well as racks and racks of clothes, we had a little more luck.  There was a ruffled pink thing that looked promising.  (I texted Tio a photo. “Drama,” he wrote back approvingly.)  A large woman in orange seemed annoyed we were in her section, and practically pushed me aside with her cart.  She was perhaps unamused by two men giggling over the options on the plus-size dress racks, which could mostly be dismissed as (as Bert put it) “too mother-of-the-bride.”  Not the look for a Vista Queen.

 

At another consignment store, Second Chances, when we mentioned Vista Queen, the woman behind the counter brightened up, walked us through the store, determined to help us find the right thing.  When I told her what I thought my size should be (based on that internet research and the things I pulled on at the first consult, encased in my fake hips and bosom), she laughed, oh honey you don’t need something that big.  She pulled out a lovely beaded black size 16.  Just pull it on over your clothes, she said, to get a sense of how it fit, how it looked.  It was breathtaking—and breath-taking, too tight.

 

We checked our watches.  We had dinner plans.  It was our wedding anniversary—eleven years after being unlawfully wed, as I like to say, that long-ago ceremony filled with family and friends, but unacknowledged at the time by state law. While we searched the consignment shop, our minister, who now lives in the Upstate, sent a text of well-wishes from himself and his wife.

 

One more.  Behind the desk was a flouncy white ruffled dress that slid maybe too easily over my head.  Bert suggested a slit up the side to make it a little less matronly.  We texted a pic to T.O., me in the middle of the shop, the dress pulled over my jeans and green shirt.

 

He agreed with Bert: too mother-of-the-bride.

 

I hope T.O. deleted that picture.

Ed Madden is Tess DeMint in the 2016 Vista Queen Pageant

VistaQueenWeb It's the 18th annual Vista Queen pageant at Trustus Theatre and, this year, Jasper will be bringing readers a behind-the-scenes look at the tucking and taping and general mayhem that accompanies the only kind of pageant we could ever support - a mockery!

Meet Tess DeMint, (aka Ed Madden).

You'll be learning more about Tess in the weeks to come.

In the meantime, Tess and Ed have started doing the work that it takes to be a woman. As Simone De Beauvoir  says, "One is not born a woman, but becomes one." Here's a bit of what that involves -- 

Ed's shoe

 

I’m wearing high heels as I write this.

I’ve been wearing them the past hour or so as I move about the hotel room, putting away things, washing my face, answering emails.  I’m trying to get used to them, used to how I walk in them, used to how I should walk in them.  On Monday, when I met with Tio for my first drag consultation, he told me I walked like a gorilla, told me that I needed to let my hips and arms move.  He had helped me into hip pads and a dress, after I’d pulled on the obligatory three sets of stockings and tights, after I’d tucked myself best I could.  When he asked me if I knew about “tucking,” I said that I had read about it.  I’m an academic: it’s what I do.  He laughed.  I was the first person, he said, who had ever told him they read about tucking.  It was actually a little scary to read—especially when you see, “This may cause damage to the genitalia.”  Tio assured me that I didn’t have to use tape.

 

I walked around the room, best I could.  A gorilla.  He said I seemed to be getting better every time he turned around.  Bert said it was a little scary.  Tio told me to wear the heels around the house, to practice walking in them.

 

A video I found online tells me to look up and straight ahead, not at my feet.  Yes, I have been watching videos on how to walk.  I also watched some Yanis Marshall videos—more inspiration than aspiration, nothing I could imagine doing myself.  (I also think Arnaud Boursain—the tall bearded one—is sexy.)

 

So I’m sitting in a hotel room in Spartanburg, after attending Bodies of Knowledge, a gender studies conference at USC Upstate, in a pair of very black and very shiny high heels, about two inches high.  (Wishful thinking? Maybe I exaggerate?)  The rest of me looks like the rest of me: khaki pants, a green button-down shirt, some green striped socks.

 

I’m thinking about gender and heels and movement.  At the conference, I participated in a “queer movement” workshop with the enthusiastic performance artist Leigh Hendrix.  I hadn’t intended to stay for that last session, but I asked Leigh if it would help me be a better Vista Queen.  She assured me it would, if only to think about how my body moves.  We curled on the floor in fetal position.  We moved through the room with our six limbs (arms, legs, head, tail).  We did what felt comfortable; we stopped if it didn’t.  Make a heroic shape, she said.  I stood like the statue of an orator.  Make a male shape, she said.  Arms crossed, legs spread, aggressive stare.  Someone else sat on the floor, manspreading.  Make a female shape.  I stood legs slightly crossed, my hip out, one arm loosely crossing my chest, the other lifted, my wrist bent, my hand curled loosely back, a finger pensive against my chin, a downcast but withering gaze.  Honestly, I felt more Tim Gunn than female.  Leigh looked at me, laughed: you’re ready.

 

But we weren’t wearing heels.

-- Ed Madden/Tess DeMint

To vote for Tess, um, Ed, please visit Trustus Theatre. Each vote costs $10 and all money goes to Trustus Theatre.

 

 

REVIEW: Trustus Theatre's Peter and the Starcatcher

Paul Kaufmann Trustus Theater’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher, by Rick Elice, based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, is a fantastic voyage through the imagination and it’s absolutely not to be missed.  After a hugely successful run on and off Broadway, the adult prequel to Peter Pan is skillfully brought to the Trustus stage by director Robert Richmond. In the age of sequels, prequels, and reboots, Peter and the Starcatcher truly adds to the ethos of Peter Pan, painting a portrait of a boy that longs for a home, a family, and a chance to enjoy a childhood.

"Johnathon Monk gives us a tender and melancholy orphan in the boy that will become Peter Pan."

The cast of pirates, lost boys, savages, and mermaids is made up of favorite local veteran actors as well as newcomers. Johnathon Monk gives us a tender and melancholy orphan in the boy who will become Peter Pan. Despite being a grown man, Monk is able to convincingly convey a childlike look of innocence and wonder, especially via his evocative eyes. This is a very physical show and whether he is pantomiming running through a jungle or doing the back stroke in the sea, Monk is a delight to watch. Grace Ann Roberts is wonderful as Molly, a plucky 13 year old over-achiever that craves adventure. Roberts gave a very natural and poised performance; I look forward to seeing her onstage again. Hunter Boyle hilariously plays Molly’s nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake. Kevin Bush plays Bumbrake’s love interest, a salty seaman named Alf. Boyle and Bush are both very funny, especially in their scenes together. The standout performance of the night is given by Paul Kaufmann as Black Stache the Pirate. The role seems written for the veteran Columbia actor. Kaufmann’s impeccable comedic timing, voice range, and general joie de vivre are all able to fully shine here. He creates a villain you can’t help but love. The ensemble as a whole is strong and does a great job of creating the world they inhabit.

 

"Grace Ann Roberts is wonderful as Molly, a plucky 13 year old over-achiever that craves adventure."

 

"Hunter Boyle hilariously plays Molly’s nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake. Kevin Bush plays Bumbrake’s love interest, a salty seaman named Alf. Boyle and Bush are both very funny, especially in their scenes together. "

 

"The standout performance of the night is given by Paul Kaufmann as Black Stache the Pirate. "

Much like children at play, the actors create extraordinary places and things with ordinary everyday objects. A rope forms a doorway, a plastic glove becomes a bird. A little imagination goes a very long way here. Richmond proves you don’t need pricey special effects or elaborate costumes to leave your audience dazzled. Though not a musical, we are treated to a few very entertaining numbers under the musical direction of Caroline Weidner. She and Greg Apple provide live accompaniment throughout. The set, designed by Baxter Engle and constructed by Brandon Mclver, opens up the Trustus stage like I’ve never seen before, transforming the space into a massive ship, along with ropes and pulleys that are used to great effect throughout the show. The back wall of the stage looks directly into the dressing room, which I was afraid might be distracting, but wasn’t in the least. In fact it was a nice touch that added to the idea that this show has nothing to hide, that we’re all on this journey together. I enjoyed Matt "Ezra" Pound’s sound design, particularly before the show started where creaking ship and sea noises set the mood nicely. Jean Lomasto’s costumes are reminiscent of children playing dress-up, inventive and interesting to look at.

This is a charming tale, appropriate for children and grownups alike. It tells us an entertaining story of how Neverland became a magical island and why Peter Pan never wants to grow up. It’s sometimes hard to trust people with beloved characters from our childhood for fear we might be let down. I urge you to trust Richmond and his cast, to take their outstretched hand, leave your grownup problems behind you, and go on an adventure. You won’t regret it.

- Jennifer Hill

Photos by Richard Kiraly

Trustus Theatre Announces New Executive Director - Leila Ibrahim, Welcome to Columbia! A Jasper Exclusive --

Leila Ibrahim - Executive Director, Trustus Theatre The new face you see at Trustus Theatre may seem young and enthusiastic, and Leila Ibrahim is both those things and more, but most of all she’s completely confident that she is taking over the job she has always been meant to have—executive director of a ground-breaking regional theatre that is on the verge of making itself known to the greater world of theatre in the southeast and beyond.

Born and raised in Georgia, Ibrahim cut her theatrical teeth working backstage before moving to box office work and then on to theatre administration. After earning an undergraduate degree in business she moved to Philadelphia where she continued to work behind-the-scenes in theatre while earning her master’s degree in Arts Administration. “I went to Philadelphia for the job and the education but I always knew I wanted to come back to the South,” she explains.

Ibrahim took the job of executive director of Florence Little Theatre in February 2015, full of plans and ambitions for what she calls the “robust community theatre” she adored. But when the job came open at Trustus Theatre, she found herself in a conundrum. “I had always heard about Trustus Theatre and what a great reputation they have,” she says. “My plan had been to be at Florence Little Theatre for a while longer and accomplish more. But sometimes when a certain job becomes available you just have to take it. I’m excited to be working with such a progressive repertoire and a board of directors who want to grow this amazing theatre.”

Ibrahim is also excited about working with an artistic director, having worked primarily with a board of directors at Florence Little Theatre who selected the production season themselves. “I have tremendous respect for [artistic director] Chad Henderson,” she says. “Chad and I have strengths in different areas and I think we’re going to work together very well. I’m really good at the business of art, but I’m not an artist myself, like Chad is. I still love being part of it.”

Henderson responds equally enthusiastically. “"I'm looking forward to working with Leila. She comes to Trustus with experience in the areas that, when coupled with the artistic elements, will serve the theatre's goals for the future. I expect we'll have a wonderfully productive relationship as the leaders of this organization. This is truly the start of a new era at Trustus, and there are great opportunities ahead."


 

The Nitty-Gritty on Ibrahim:

She's 31 years old, the same age as Trustus and almost the same age as Henderson  --    "We match!" She says

Her favorite playwright is Tennessee Williams -- "I love the classics!"

"But first and foremost I'm a musical theatre person."   --   Her favorite musicals are Rent, Wicked, and American Idiot (on the Trustus schedule for Summer 2016)

The first play she ever saw -- Of Mice and Men.

"With any kind of performance I want to be fully entertained, made to think deeply, inspired, and pushed."

"New art is imperative for a theatre's health. Look at how opera suffered because it went without significant development for so long. We can't let that happen to theatre and we want let it happen at Trustus."

◊  ◊  ◊

Civil Blood Makes Civil Hands Unclean: Jason Stokes Premiers Original Historical Screenplay, Composure - by Haley Sprankle

composure  

Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Columbia where we lay our scene...

 

The year is 1903. The Tillman family, headed by the Lieutenant Governor for the State of South Carolina, and the Gonzales family, headed by the founder of The State newspaper, are in a known feud. This ancient grudge (that began in the 1880s) broke to new mutiny as Lieutenant Governor James H. Tillman murders NG Gonzales.

 

That’s where local actor, filmmaker, and screenwriter Jason Stokes’ story begins.

 

“I first heard about this story at my ‘real’ work (Media Director for the South Carolina Bar) in 2000 during a presentation on the subject by Donnie Myers. I was fascinated by the story in part because of the sensational nature of the crime, but the more I began to research the story I realized that there was much more to it than just a murder and a murder trial,” Stokes explains.  “The Tillmans and The Gonzaleses were two powerful families in the city of Columbia who did not like each other for various reasons. This feud began in the late 1880’s and continued even after the events of January 15, 1903. During that time one side wielded power and opinion in the public press while the other side railed against the Gonzaleses and The State newspaper with every stump speech.”

 

This Saturday, Stokes presents an original screenplay titled Composure based on this rich piece of Columbia’s history. His cast includes such luminary local talent such as Paul Kaufmann, Eric Bultman, Stann Gwynn, Terrance Henderson, Hunter Boyle, Clint Poston, Katie Leitner, Stan Gardner, G. Scott Wild, Libby Campbell, Kevin Bush, Jonathan Jackson, Nate Herring, and Kendrick Marion.

 

“I’ve been very fortunate not only to have these talented actors lend their craft to this project but they are also valued friends and colleagues. I promise to anyone in attendance, if the story doesn’t impress you the talent certainly will,” Stokes says.

 

While Stokes is certainly no stranger to the Columbia arts community, having been seen in productions ranging from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to Rent, not many know that he is a writer.

 

“I began writing just after my father passed away in 1989. My mother gave me a notebook to write down memories of my father when I had them but, being an adolescent, as I started writing down a memory or story it would veer away from facts to whatever fiction my mind was dreaming up at the time. So I’ve been writing for the last 27 years (to varying degrees of success),” Stokes said.

 

After writing about 30 screenplays, some of which have television spec scripts pitched to shows such as The West Wing and Castle, Stokes has developed his own style and writing process.

 

“Each screenplay is different, but they all seem to start before I really know where they are going. For example, I’ll write a scene that I either have no idea what it’s trying to say in a grand scheme, or I don’t know where it belongs in the story I’m thinking about,” Stokes delineates. “Composure was no different. The surface story was there but to make it interesting and make it build to something that makes people think was the challenge. This being a historical piece I just kept doing more and more research to see if I could find anything new to add to the layers, which took time. I worked off-and-on on the screenplay for about three years, and it wasn’t until I decided to begin with the murder and then bounce back and forth in time during the trial, to add the ‘why’ of the murder, that made it really exciting for me to want to write it.”

 

Being an actor himself adds a particularly interesting dynamic to Stokes’ work and process, as well.

 

“As an actor, it’s always a blessing to work on a well written piece of work, Tennessee Williams, Terrance McNally, Jonathan Larson, you want to chew on it as long as you can because really good, juicy dialogue and lyrics don’t come around all the time. So when I write I like to think of the story and dialogue in the vein; Would this be something I would want to sink my teeth into as an actor and rejoice in the fact that I GET to say these lines and tell this story?” Stokes adds.

 

Don’t miss the two hours’ traffic of the Trustus Side Door Theatre this Saturday, January 16 for free! Doors and bar open at 6:30 with the performance beginning at 7:30.

 

“Opinion reporting is nothing new, as evident by this story, but with the advent of technology and polarizing news outlets only compounding the divisive nature and climate I think we find ourselves in today, this is a true story that still has relevance and meaning,” Stokes says. “No one story, one person, one political ideology can be measured strictly in absolutes. If the audience can be entertained and enlightened in some way through the events of these gentlemen, then maybe the cast and I will have offered a different perspective in which to view our own world.”

REVIEW: The Brothers Size at Trustus Theatre – by Jennifer Hill

brotherssizewebFinal There’s something beautiful happening over in the Trustus Side Door Theater right now, and I’m afraid you’re going to miss it. Director Chad Henderson skillfully brings us The Brothers Size, part two in the Brother/Sister plays by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Part One, In The Red and Brown Water, was performed on the mainstage at Trustus last season and also directed by Henderson. Each play in the trilogy is linked, but can also easily stand on its own. This particular production is a gem, the kind of show that leaves you feeling like you’re a little bit better off for having seen it; your eyes now wider and your heart a little more open. It’s theater at its best and it’s happening in your city.

From the moment I walked into the intimate Side Door Theater, I felt like I was transported to the Louisiana Bayou. The sound of cicadas fill the air, and butterflies in illuminated jars (tap on one and you’ll get a surprise) rest on simple but effective stage pieces designed by Kimi Maeda (a JAY visual artist nominee for 2015). The lighting design by Chet Longley and the sound design by Baxter Engle effectively complete the scene.

The seating is in the round and in this case that means you are part of the stage. There is something magical about being so close to the performers. The energy exchange between the actors and the audience takes things to another level, especially with actors as talented as these. The characters in the play are named after and based off of deities in the Yoruba religion, which originated primarily in southwestern Nigeria. Ogun Size (Jabar K. Hankins) is a hardworking mechanic who shows tough love to his troubled younger brother Oshooi Size (Christopher “Leven” Jackson) who has recently been released from prison.  Oshooi’s friend and ex-cellmate Elegba (Bakari Lebby) is the unknown quantity that sets the play in motion. All three actors are skilled, passionate, and do excellent work here. The raw emotion in Hankins' eyes broke my heart in such a beautiful way, another benefit of being in such an intimate space. The actors tell a highly relevant story to our contemporary moment, examining confinement, freedom, loss of innocence and family.  As I stood to leave I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Henderson has created a very physical, very alive piece of work. He has a unique perspective and a talent for creating moments where music and movement come together harmoniously. He and his cast create a story rich in rhythm and beauty.

I urge you to go see this show, not only because it is good but because if we support it then we can have more things like it. And I, for one, want more things like it. Get your tickets now; the show runs through October 31st.

Five Questions for Chad Henderson - Director of The Brothers Size Opening Friday Night at Trustus

 brothers size

From "The Brothers Size"

The Brother/Sister Plays

OSHOOSI SIZE:

            I know I am still on probation!

            I know Og.

            Damn!

            I know I was once in prison.

            I am out and I am on probation.

            Damnit man.

            I ain’t trying to drive to Fort Knox?

            I ain’t about to scale the capital…

            I want a ride.

            I want to drive out to the bayou…

            Maybe take a lady down there…

            And relax

There's a new play opening at Trustus Theatre on Friday that caught Jasper's attention for a handful of reasons. We know that it's part of the Brother/Sister trilogy written by Tarell Alvin McCraney and set in the Louisiana Bayou  exploring Yoruba mythology -- an African belief system, which some claim to be the oldest practiced religion. We saw In the Red and Brown Water last year and were pretty much overwhelmed by this playwright's ability to merge the worlds of the oldest of old Africa, probably what eventually became Nigeria, with something like a new world Louisiana. McCraney's career has been blowing up over the past 7 or 8 years and he is set to be one of the top playwrights around given that he's only 35 years old and everything he touches seems to turn to gold. We'd heard that The Brothers Size was another example of this phenomenon.

We also learned that this unique and promising play is being presented in Trustus Theatre's intimate Side Door Theatre, one of our favorite places to enjoy live theatre in the state. There is an intimacy that comes from being one member of a small audience in a relatively small theatre space with actors who are at full throttle sharing their art, whether the art is theatre, music, dance, whatever. Audiences always (hopefully) become another player in a live performance as they feed back and respond to the energy being offered on stage. (This is why people old and young continue to go to Phish concerts, I finally understand. Yes, there are drugs and herbal pleasures, but the energy itself acts as a drug, as well.) And being in such close communion with both the actors and the other audience members can be a rush and sometimes even a cathartic experience. To say the energy is palpable when you're locked (not really) in the room with a few dozen friends and three intense actors, as you will be in The Brothers Size, is an understatement. Opportunities like this are precious and yet another example of the quiet and unassuming way in which Columbia is an arts nerve center.

Finally, were also were excited to see what new magic Trustus Artistic Director and interim Managing Director Chad Henderson had up his sleeve. We really like Henderson for obvious reasons. (Full disclosure: Henderson is the son-in-law of this writer.) But long before the first flirtation, Henderson, as an artist, had the eye and growing respect of this writer, the Jasper Magazine staff, and pretty much anyone with a discerning eye in the area. In the past few years he has brought us such stellar theatre opportunities as Spring Awakening, Assassins, Next to Normal, Ragtime, and other shows of the kind of quality that make your Columbia, SC ticket price and not having to leave town a bargain. Henderson studied under Robert Richmond at USC, another Columbia treasure. (Richmond spent fourteen years as the Associate Artistic Director of the Aquila Theatre Company in New York and during his tenure there he directed over 50 productions that toured across the US, Off Broadway and Europe.) Richmond's influence on Henderon can be seen in a number of ways, but probably no greater way than in Henderson's confidence in his own ability to take his productions in innovative directions. Henderson looks only for exceptional scripts to which he knows he can add his own signature touches and, in doing so, improve upon an already excellent play. Given that, like McCraney, Henderson is also young, it's safe to say we haven't seen the best of him yet.

That's why we wanted to pin Henderson down on a few questions we had about this extraordinary theatre experience opening on Friday night at Trustus and running through Thursday, October 29th. Here's what we got.

Jasper:  This play is a little different from other performances at Trustus in that it is part of a series, right? Can you tell us how The Brothers Size fits in as the second in a three part series of plays?

Henderson:  The Brothers Size is the second part of a trilogy called The Brother/Sister Plays by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Trustus produced the first part (In the Red and Brown Water) last season, and because it was such a wonderful success we knew we wanted to commit to the whole trilogy. These shows introduce the audience to a pantheon of characters derived from the Orishas of the Yoruban cosmology that are living in the “distant present” and the fictional projects of San Pere, Louisana. The plays are a brilliant mix of poetry, prose, music and movement that explore the universal truths of modern life filtered through a very specific world that the playwright has gifted to the audience and artists who tell his stories. Truly, Mr. McCraney is a voice all his own in modern theatre – and that’s what Trustus is constantly celebrating: the new powerful voices of American Theatre. These scripts are singular due to Mr. McCraney’s writing style that has won many awards over the years. These plays are here and now. Columbia deserves to have this type of fresh and modern theatre at its doorstep, and Trustus is happy to oblige.

The Brothers Size examines the power of family, the fight for survival, the consequence of circumstance, the contradiction of incarceration and freedom, and the deep roots of brotherhood. This production explores human truths through an imaginative production that will leave audiences spellbound – perfect theatrical fare for the Fall.

There are a host of elements that make this production a continuation of this trilogy. The language play is still very present because of Mr. McCraney's style of writing with these plays. The playwright also continues to celebrate the ritual of theatre with his ceremonial proceedings that give The Brother/Sister Plays so much vigor.We get to tune back in with Ogun Size and Elegba, who were characters in the last production. We're introduced to Ogun's brother Oshoosi. Scenic designer Kimi Maeda is bringing the set of the last production into the intimate Trustus Side Door Theatre - audiences will feel like they're exploring the last set they saw as they sit among the houses of San Pere in this production.

But don't worry - if you didn't see In the Red and Brown Water, you can still enjoy The Brothers Size - the story stands on its own legs just fine.

Jasper:  You also have a smaller cast than typical and you’re performing in the smaller Side Door Theatre. It sounds like a very intimate experience. Is it, and how so?

Henderson:  While the scale of the show is much smaller than the last play, I actually feel like this production feels like a bigger show than the Side Door than our patrons are used to. We're utilizing more sound and lighting equipment than we ever have in the Side Door. There's a broader use of the space with plenty of exciting motion.We're also performing this show in the round. This is nothing new as far as theatre conventions go, but in this circle we're able to become part of the community of San Pere. Much like the traditions of West African dance and drum circles, this circle is a safe place for experience and exploration.

Jasper:  Tell us what special gifts or talents each of the three gentlemen in the play bring to this project.

Henderson:  Jabar Hankins is undeniably genuine - relatable. Bakari Lebby will charm the pants off of folks even though his character is full of mischief. Chris Jackson is effortless in his struggle. Together, they are a powerhouse ensemble that courageously battle each other every night to gain unity.

Jasper:  Do you have a favorite scene or line that we can look for?

Henderson:  I'm particularly fond of the 4th scene of Act II where the phrase "You f**ked up!" Is yelled repeatedly. However, each scene is well sculpted by our playwright -Tarell Alvin McCraney. There are surprises around every corner.

Jasper:  Without giving anything away, tell us what you think will be the most surprising aspect of The Brothers Size for the audience.

Henderson:  I expect the experience of seeing a show in the round in the Side Door will be surprising. This show also gives you plenty of opportunities to engage your imagination. We hope that audiences get a chance to play and use their own creativity as they discover the story of Oshoosi and Ogun. Its truly a rich theatrical experience, and audiences get to live inside of it.

REVIEW: Marie Antoinette at Trustus Theatre - by Jennifer Hill

Eric Bultman and Jennifer Moody Sanchez - photo by Richard Arthur Kiraly

“I was built to be this thing and now they're killing me for it." -- Marie Antoinette

Trustus Theater starts off its 31st season strong with Marie Antoinette by David Adjmi. In the first act, Director Robert Richmond takes the audience down the rabbit hole to a French rave where Marie Antoinette is the Mad Hatter presiding over what appears to be her own opulent, insane tea party, which sets the pace for the evening. This is not a stuffy historical piece by any means. It’s sexy, provocative, humorous, and it eventually takes you to a very dark place.

Jennifer Moody Sanchez is our Marie, the girl who was plucked from Austria at 14 years old to marry wimpy Louis XVI, played by G. Scott Wild, and then went on to become the Queen of France at the tender age of 19. Moody Sanchez is a strong performer, giving us a Marie that is silly and frivolous, but grows strong with backbone as the play goes on, and ultimately descends into madness during her final days.  Moody Sanchez did some of her best work of the night in the second act as Marie grapples with sanity in her prison cell. It’s a series of intense scenes and Moody Sanchez gives a haunting performance. Props to Robert Richmond for being willing to take it so dark. Bold choices are powerful, especially when a director uses them to create a very consistent stylized world, like Richmond has. That said, I would have liked to have seen more vulnerability in Marie at times, something with which we can empathize and connect.

Sanchez is not alone in offering a fine performance. G. Scott Wild gives us a perfect Louis XVI; an awkward, possibly impotent, man-child. Marie’s ladies of the court, Therese De Lomballe, played by Lindsay Rae Taylor, and Yolande de Polignac played by Ellen Rodillo-Fowler are like those two girls at a party who keep pressuring you to take another shot; the kind of women who tell you “go ahead, buy it in both colors” on a shopping trip, the ‘yes’ women to Marie. I especially liked Rodillo-Fowler in her scene as a creepy peasant and Taylor’s scenes as Therese showing true friendship to Marie. Eric Bultman plays the most striking and sexy sheep anyone would ever want to see. That’s right, he plays Marie’s sheep friend, her spirit animal, and he sometimes informs her of the realities of her situation. Bultman physically nails every beat. The terribly handsome Ben Blazer plays Axel Fersen, Marie’s man on the side. Blazer has a nice natural stage presence that is so easy to believe. Paul Kaufmann plays the Revolutionary who imprisons Marie and her family. Kauffman is a strong actor who makes a nice subtle transformation over the second act, in that he starts out with extreme hatred for Marie, but that hatred slowly turns to pity as her execution draws near. Chris Cook plays Joseph, Marie’s brother, come to get answers for why an heir hasn’t been produced in the seven years since Marie and Louis have been married. Cook is a joy to watch: he has impeccable timing and gives some really delightful deliveries that keep the audience laughing. Cade Melnyk, with a face of a cherub, plays the little Dauphin very well. He happens to be in one of my favorite scenes, a carriage ride depicted using only three chairs. The three actors sell it with perfect timing and movement which results in a very believable and entertaining scene.

Costumes by Jean Gonzalaz Lomasto were a joy. Marie’s frocks are one-of-a-kind pieces of art, as were the wigs by Mark Ziegler and the jewelry by Neely Wald. The lighting design by Marc Hearst was on point; I particularly enjoyed a scene where Marie and Axel watch fireworks in the distance. I really enjoyed what Baxter Engle did with the sound during the prison/madness scenes; an echoing treatment that is very effective. The set, designed by Kimi Maeda and constructed by Brandon Mclver is quite impressive as basically a giant reflective guillotine blade, always there, always reminding us where this is all going to end.

And that’s really what it’s all about, right? The falling of a great star. We build them up to burn them down a la 2007's Britney Spears. Marie herself pretty much sums it up toward the end of the second act, “I was built to be this thing and now they're killing me for it”. Overall, it’s a beautiful production, well played and well executed. (Pun intended.) A feast for the eyes. Get your tickets to the disco mad tea party now as shows will be selling out. The show runs through Oct.3rd.

Correction: A previous version of this review omitted the contributions of Neely Wald. 

Preview -- Marie Antoinette at Trustus Theatre by Jessica Blahut

marie Marie Antoinette, a Trustus Theater production, premiers this Friday at 8 p.m.  Though based in history, this modern adaption of the life the last Queen of France promises to be anything but antiquated.

The play takes place during Marie Antoinette’s reign as revolution threatens the monarchy.  As the severity of her circumstances set in, Marie struggles against the lack of leadership from her husband and the end of the lavish, extravagant lifestyle she has come to revel in.

In the title role, Jennifer Moody Sanchez sees the show as being "hip, sexy, and tragic" says the most challenging aspect of preparing for the role has been "charting the emotional, physical, and mental decay of someone that falls from riches to rags. To fall from such a great height is extremely taxing on an actor." The lead in such recent hits as Venus in Fur,  Sanchez believes audiences will be most surprised by "the humanity of a queen, mother and a wife that history only remembers as a celebrity. She was a very giving person. I didn't realize how much she loved children."

Of course we know not to expect a happy ending. “We all know how it ends for her as she walks up to the guillotine, we all know the ending of the show, but the excitement is getting through it,” says Chad Henderson, Artistic Director at Trustus.

Director Robert Richmond, who has earned acclaim for his work at Folger Theater, the Aquila Theater Company, and other productions across the United States and Europe, manages to make history fresh, sexy, and sassy.  Audiences watch a revolution all to the sound track of modern, French hip-hop.

“It’s something really fresh for Columbia, some people think theater is supposed to be straight laced … but not Trustus and not this show in particular.  It’s fabulous, colorful, sexy,” says Henderson

Audiences are encouraged to buy tickets early, as they tend to sell out.  The production will run for three weeks, from Friday, September 18th at 8 p.m. – Saturday, October 3rd at 8 p.m. at Trustus Theater on 520 Lady St. in Columbia.

Darling Dilettante—Discussing the Art of Fear By Haley Sprankle

dreamgirls2 “Do you ever get nervous up there?”

The age-old question for performers—the question of fear.

In just about every production I’ve been fortunate to be a part of, whether I’m the lead or the third white girl from the left, I’m asked this question by a person outside of the performance realm. They ensure me that they don’t understand how actors memorize each element of the show from lines to choreography to even just remembering to smile every now and then. I normally reply with “I used to when I first started, but now it just seems like second nature.”

Most recently, that question of fear prompted me to question myself and the things others around me do, though, and how we do them.

Every day, a banker goes to work. Every day a stay-at-home parent wakes up and takes care of their family. Every day a waiter or a writer or a bus driver or even the President of the United States gets up and fulfills their necessary requirements for the day. These could be things they’ve always done. These could be things they’ve just started doing. These could be things they love, or they could be things they don’t like.

dreamgirls

But they get up and they do them, and like most people feel about performing, I couldn’t even imagine doing these things.

With most things people do for the first time, there was probably an initial fear or nervousness.

What if they don’t like my work? What if I mess up? What if?

We can sit back and ask ourselves “What if?” all day long, but we will never know what WILL happen if we don’t try. Sometimes, it will be a little messy. Sometimes, it will be hard. Sometimes, you will do all right. Sometimes, you will do it all wrong.

One thing, however, is common among all these instances—you learn something new about yourself.

I recently came across a Japanese term: Wabi-Sabi. It translates to “A way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting, peacefully, the natural cycle of growth and decay.”

In every new or old thing you do, there are endless possibilities, but in the end, the best opportunity you have is to take each outcome and turn it into something beautiful.

So why let fear hold you back from trying something new?

dreamgirls3

Last Friday, Dreamgirls opened at Trustus Theatre and will run through August 1st. The cast includes veterans to the stage and newcomers alike, all representing a long process of hard work, fun, and love that we have put into this show. For some of us, each night may just be another performance, but for others, one or more performances may be among the most nerve-wracking things they’ve ever done. At the end of each night, though, all we can do is do what we do best—put on a show. Things may not go exactly as planned, but that’s live theatre.

In live theatre, we support each other. In live theatre, we help each other. In live theatre, we build each other up.

In live theatre, we find the beauty within our fear and imperfections, and we turn it into art.

I won’t be afraid or nervous. I will be excited and proud.

Wabi-Sabi.

(Dreamgirls runs June 26-August 1. Go to trustus.org for tickets!)

Photos by Richard Kiraly

Diving a little deeper … In the Red and Brown Water at Trustus Theatre: A Preview by Rosalind Graverson

red and brown  

When Columbia starts trusting the arts programs and supporting them more, the organizations can start taking more risks and exploring. Trustus Theatre has reached a point where they can start sharing unique theatre experiences with their audiences. That's exactly what their production of In the Red and Brown Water is.

 

First in The Brother/Sister Plays trilogy, written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the series blends Yoruba mythology with a modern day story set in the Louisiana projects. The trilogy is described as a choreopoem, combining poetry, movement, music, and song. The language throughout the show is beautifully lyrical, but it's not what you expect to hear from the average citizen of Louisiana.  Along with the poetry, the actors are also called to say their stage directions, reminiscent of Shakespeare's asides.

 

The cast features some familiar faces: Avery Bateman, Kendrick Marion, Katrina Blanding, Kevin Bush, Annette Dees Grevious, and Jabar Hankins; and some new ones as well: Bakari Lebby, LaTrell Brennan, Felicia Meyers, and Leroy Kelly.

 

Not only does the audience get to experience something new, but the production team and cast do as well. We asked Avery Bateman to share some of her experiences getting to know her character, Oya, and Kendrick Marion to explain some of the differences in the rehearsal process between this production and a more typical play or musical.

 

Avery Bateman - photo by Jonathan Sharpe

Avery: “Oya is a completely different character in comparison to the others I've portrayed throughout the years. She delves deep into a part of my spirit that I have not returned to in a while. She is both regal and vulnerable. Her regal persona is that of her Orisha/Goddess name. "Oya" known as "The Mother of Nine" is the orisha or storms, wind, change, magic, death and the cemetery, and the guardian between worlds. She is the bringer of death and new life (hope). Oya's orisha persona has every right to stand high and tall with pride. However, her vulnerable persona, her humane side is a type of soul that is complex and broken. Oya's broken spirit gives her a complexity that I as an actress must sit and think about every now and then so that I give her the correct amount of balance when on stage. I must say that I am extremely blessed to not have experienced all that "Oya the human" has experienced in my youth. Everything that she loves deeply is taken from her against her will. I've not had the privilege of portraying a person of this definition in all my years of theatre. I've only ever portrayed the comic-relief character or the misunderstood villian or the obliviously happy sunshine. All of them had great dimension but none of them reached into my chest and broke my heart as much as Oya. I love this character; she has helped me understand love and life in a way I don't think I would have ever understood fully if not for this show.”

 

Kendrick Marion, photo by Rob Sprankle

Kendrick: “This production differs from your normal straight play because there are so many other elements and textures involved with this piece. The text itself reads like poetry, and McCraney challenges the actors to portray it as such, while still making it feel natural and conversational. Both the music (most of which we arranged) and the stylized movement help to tell the story in an almost ethereal way. This has been an incredibly challenging piece, but an amazing experience, and I cannot wait for Columbia to take the journey to San Pere, Louisiana with us!”

 

Also, in the gallery at Trustus, Ernest Lee , The Chicken Man, will have his art showing and for sale. Wednesday, February 4th at 7:30, he will have a meet and greet and give a talk, "The Life and Art of Ernest Lee, The 'Chicken Man.'"

 

Be sure to get your tickets for In The Red and Brown Water, opening Friday, January 23rd and running through February 7th.

REVIEW: The Velvet Weapon, or The Importance of Being Barney - by Jasper Literary Arts editor Ed Madden

  Cast of The Velvet Weapon with playwright Deborah Brevoort seated in center

 

History repeats itself, according to Karl Marx, first as tragedy then as farce.  I couldn’t help but think of this observation while watching The Velvet Weapon, a self-proclaimed farce purportedly inspired by the Velvet Revolution in former Czechoslovakia.  I say purportedly because beyond a broadly construed theme of populism versus power, the play is philosophically incoherent, and it seems to trivialize the very historical moment to which it pays homage.  I left the theatre still giggling at the performance (it was, at times, quite funny), but wondering why this play was the winner of the 2013 Trustus Playwrights’ Festival.

 

Premiering at Trustus last weekend, The Velvet Weapon is a new comedy by Deborah Brevoort.  (For more about the playwright and the play, see the previous Jasper blog..)  In the play, the audience at the National Theatre in an unnamed country protest a play being performed onstage and demand the performance of something different, “The Velvet Weapon,” a play by an unproduced playwright of questionable talent.  According to pre-performance publicity, this play is supposed to be “a metaphorical examination of the Velvet Revolution,” the 1989 non-violent transition of power in Czechoslovakia led by students, political dissidents, and artists, which ended Communist rule.  It is supposed to be about populist democracy.  In the Free Times preview, Brevoort said some audiences had compared her play to the Occupy Movement. That’s a lot of heavy lifting for a really light play.

 

First, let me say that I love the Trustus commitment to new work.  Let me say, too, that there was much to admire about this performance.  The acting was mostly superb, and the actors did their heroic best to save the script. G. Scott Wild, in particular, was spectacular as Monsieur Le Directeur (aka Charlie), the pompous playwright, director, and dramaturg of the National Theatre.  In one early scene he is backstage, wildly acting out his own play as it’s being performed onstage—histrionic, hilarious, perfect.  Scott Herr as the amateur playwright Winston, Katie Mixon as usher and would-be actress Geraldine, and Libby Campbell-Turner as Winston’s mother also stood out, and Katrina Blanding and Hunter Boyle were hysterical stereotypes of backstage bitchiness.  And John Taylor Kearns, with his series of broadly comic accents and absurd physical humor, was a goofy delight.  Also, in a farce filled with slamming doors and rushed entrances and exits, the comic timing of the ensemble cast was spot on.

 

Scott Herr, standing, with G. Scott Wild, supine

That said, I was surprised by some of the staging.  The movement from first to second act is smart, the stage transformed over intermission from a backstage set to a stage-upon-the-stage, a set change that transformed us, the Trustus audience, into the dissatisfied audience in the fictional National Theatre.  However, in a play that puts a proscenium stage onstage, that makes the audience part of the cast, and that stages two plays within the play, you really expect more interesting experiment with theatricality and staging.  Only one entrance came through the audience—Kearns as Governor, at the end of the play.  The lost opportunity here may be more a fault of script than direction, but in a play that claims to be about the power of art to blur the boundaries between theatre and life, that final weak attempt to break the fourth wall seemed (yawn) an empty gesture.

Herr, Wild, with Hunter Boyle and Katrina Blanding

 

Further, when there was supposed to be crowd noise—or keys jingling (more about that in a moment)—I wanted more noise.  Whether we were supposed to be hearing the rebellious audience on the other side of the stage in the first act or the rebellious citizenry outside the theatre, it sounded like maybe five people backstage.  (The downpour Saturday night made more noise than that fictional roaring crowd.)  I wanted the political uproar outside to more obviously impinge on the inside of the theatre.  In a play in which the stage and the street are transforming each other, isn’t that the point?

 

Mostly, though, I just wanted a better play.

 

The problem isn’t that the play’s a farce, all mad pacing and hasty exits and someone caught with his (or her) pants down.  There are moments of delightful silliness, and I laughed helplessly when a woman in a horse costume—a gag set up well in advance—galloped across the stage.  With the mishmash of accents, plot non sequiturs, and that kitchen sink thrown onstage (a poke at theatrical realism?), there’s more than a little of the theatre of the absurd in this as well—perhaps Brevoort’s nod to the absurdist playwright Vaclav Havel, one of the leaders of the Velvet Revolution and the first democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia.  Nor is the problem that it tries to do something serious.  A good farce can make us laugh at serious things.  I’m thinking here of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, or Brendan Behan’s The Hostage (a mad farce about deadly politics), or Nicky Silver’s wicked dark AIDS farce Pterodactyls (Trustus staged a smart production of this several years ago).

 

No, the problem isn’t that it makes the serious trivial or makes the trivial serious, but that it trivializes the very things it asks us to take seriously: art and revolution.  Consider, for example, the jingling of keys.  This was the symbol of the November 1989 demonstrations in Prague, crowds of people jingling their keys to ring out the old regime and signify the opening of locked doors.  At the 20th anniversary in 2009, it became the emblem of the Revolution, and the gesture was revived by the crowds of mourners at Havel's funeralin 2011.

 

In the play, keys jingle weakly soon after Winston announces that he is “taking a stand for a different kind of theatre,” theatre as “an instrument of human liberty.”  When the keys started tinkling beyond the stage doors in the play, I recognized the signature gesture of the revolution, but by the time I thought to pull out my keys and add some noise and solidarity, the moment had passed, the keys were gone, and we were into some incoherent interpretive blather from Winston about truth.  That signature emblem was just a weak and passing gesture, a tossed-off reference—about as meaningful as a later allusion to Oz (“Josef, I don’t think we’re in the theatre any more!”)  With all that heavy lifting in pre-performance publicity (we’re reminded, for example, that Brevoort traveled to Prague in 2005 and interviewed 43 leaders of the revolution), we’re asked to believe that the historical context matters.  Instead we get the unbearable slightness of keys.

 

For Havel, we get Winston, that “playwright of questionable talent.”  Winston says the national theatre is a “factory” for the production of plays that are filled with incoherence, obscurity, and “intellectual masturbation.”  Pleasure, he says, has been replaced by seriousness—or pseudo-seriousness.  He says the audience needs meaning—though his mother explains that that means his play is very entertaining.  Winston’s play, “The Velvet Weapon,” has a cast of 700, an evil king and evil queen, a dragon—and hey, if someone wants to be a horse, then there’s a horse, too.  After all, auditions are merely “rituals of the old power structure,” and his stand is more about opportunity than art.  “I get to stand upon this stage,” he says to the audience, “and soon you will get to stand upon this stage, too”—both “the talented and the untalented.”

 

Winston’s nemesis is Monsieur Le Directeur, an elitist and snob who has written a Beckettian play about a hole in the stage.  He thinks art should be protected from the masses.  He complains about the “busload of housewives from the suburbs” that shows up for the matinee.  He wants to win awards from the government (mostly to make his colleagues feel bad).  His plays are filled with metaphors and syllogisms (a very very bad thing, we are led to believe); indeed, he himself spouts bad syllogistic logic.  “The best works of art only appeal to the few,” he claims, so that the fact that the audience doesn’t like his play is proof that it is good.

velvet weapon 6

 

Skewering pretention is funny.  I love Beckett, but I rarely teach Waiting for Godot without first disarming my students by showing the Monsterpiece Theatre version of Waiting for Elmo.  The central conflict here, however, is all stereotype and cliché—artists versus amateurs, elitism versus opportunity—language that reminds me of the hyperbolic and vitriolic discourse that surrounded the recent controversy over the North Carolina governor’s appointment of a self-published poet as the state’s poet laureate.

 

So bad art is good for the body politic, and good art is bad.  And that play by Monsieur about the hole in the stage that we never get to see?  Two people on a bare stage sounds like Beckett, but two people with a shovel standing over a hole is surely Shakepeare—Hamlet, to be precise, the gravedigger scene, one of the most important moments of syllogistic logic in English drama.  (All men turn to dust, Hamlet says.  Even Alexander the Great was a man, so he too turns to dust, nothing but a bit of clay to plug a beer barrel.)  It’s surely no accident that Winston says when that play is performed, “the gravedigger wins.”  Ironically, this aborted play is likely more akin to Havel’s absurdist drama than Winston’s heartwarming dragon epic.

 

To make things more confusing, despite the rhetoric of populism, the play never really knows where its politics lie.  When the audience storms the stage Monsieur shouts, “You have to have talent to be up here.”  The stage manager adds, “ You have to have a union card to come up there.”  So, sure, this is about storming the barricades for access, but the audience that storms the stage really never insists that Winston’s questionable play go on.  No, it’s foisted on us by his haranguing mother and ultimately by the Governor, who wants the play performed, then cancels it, then puts it back on.  At the end, Winston’s play is finally and sketchily acted out as an allegory for the transfer of political power.  The dragon lies down, the princess marries the prince, and everyone pledges to be nice to everyone else.  Convicted by this play, the Governor gives up his crown, and Winston qua Havel is crowned Governor by the Governor (not elected president).  The end.

 

So there’s bad art and good art, and good art is a tool of the totalitarian state, and bad art is the velvet weapon of the people, but the state demands the production of bad art in order to reinstate a different version of the state.  This is a message play with a very confused message.

 

The fundamental problem in this fundamentally confused play is the insistent and incoherent transposition of the political and aesthetic, a mash-up of ideas that does a disservice to both.  We are supposed to think that a clichéd and exaggerated battle between low art and high art is, in some important and meaningful way, analogous to the battle between populist democracy and totalitarian government.  Historical emblems like the keys are reduced to empty gestures.  For samizdat, we get a script thrown out the door.  And for the Velvet Revolution, we get “The Velvet Weapon,” a play about a dragon—also a metaphor for revolution, also a metaphor for genitalia (when the embarrassed Winston holds his script in front of his crotch, the scantily clad Geraldine touches it, asking, “Is that the velvet weapon?”), and ultimately “a pledge to be nice to everybody.”  So for a history of massive nonviolent political resistance we get the pledge to be nice, policemen smothered in kisses and a man who gives up his seat on the bus for an old woman.  Honestly, if we’re in a world in which those in power are “struck down by sweetness,” that dragon onstage at the end really should be purple, not green.  He is Barney..

 

I want to commend Trustus on the commitment to new work.  Arts organizations need to take chances on new work and new artists.  But give us a little credit as an audience.  Just because it’s slapstick doesn’t mean we’ll like it.  We are like that restless audience in the National Theatre: we want to be entertained, but really we’re hungry for meaning too.  Trust us.

- Ed Madden

Photos courtesy of Rob Sprankle

Ed

Ed Madden is the literary arts editor of Jasper Magazine and the author of Nest.

Giving Voice to Terrance Henderson - Guest blog by Larry Hembree, Managing Director of Trustus Theatre

Terrance Henderson

Years ago when I was working for the SC Arts Commission in the performing arts arena, I had a strong understanding of theatre and a basic one of music  but I always struggled with dance, especially my ability to articulate what contemporary dance performances are about, what they mean and how they made me feel.  I came to realize that I simply wanted more context before I saw a contemporary dance performance. 

Over the next three weeks, I am going to tackle the challenge of explaining who Jasper Dance Artist of the Year, Terrance Henderson, is and what you should know about the upcoming premiere of his contemporary performance piece, “The Black Man… Complex” as part of the new Trustus Theatre and Jasper Magazine’s “Premieres” series. His performances are at 8 p.m. August 20 and 22 in the Thigpen Main Stage at Trustus Theatre.  For those who don’t know Terrance, among other things he was the winner of the 2009 Bronze Leo Award for Outstanding Jazz Dance Choreography at the Jazz Dance World Congress in Chicago and the only South Carolinian to ever win the award. 

Early Terrance

Terrance grew up in Newberry SC and took part in an after school theatre program there, eventually spending some time in Minneapolis at age 15 (when he didn’t get into the SC Governor’s School for the Arts) working  in a program produced by the Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis.  It was in Minneapolis when he learned about public transit, i.e. how to ride a city bus. He also realized that being Southern was “something different.”  He always thought he would become an actor and eventually enrolled at the University of South Carolina as an undergraduate in the theatre department.  He also decided to take some dance classes there and dance instructors saw that he had potential.  And the ability to do both theatre and dance started somewhat of a struggle.  At USC, the theatre department thought he was more of a dancer and the dance department thought he was more of an actor.  Obvious to Terrance, however, was that he would never make a living in ballet with a body that just didn’t fit in to that world.

I am hoping that people who do know Terrance’s work locally, and who have him pegged as a choreographer of musicals and dance pieces, a dancer and an actor/singer and a uniquely innate dance and movement teacher, see this work and think of him in a new way.   Terrance says he sometimes has a difficult time maintaining his own artistic identity because as a choreographer he often works under a director and is part of that dream, not necessarily being able to affirm his own dream.  But in this dream he is the sole creator.

The Voice and early snippets of this premiere

Ten years ago Terrance was participating in a text to movement class at the Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, Maine where he had a profound out of body experience brought on by his grief from the death of his grandmother. Through this experience, it became clear to him that as an artist he had permission, the responsibility and the talent to be a catalyst for change. In about 2006, he began to keep a journal where he wrote down his private thoughts about the world around him, specifically tied to who he was and how his role in society was manifested.  Much of the text of the premiere comes from this journal. In 2011 the initial concepts of The Black Man…Complex began sparked by Terrance’s invitation to be a guest artist with a repertory company at the Rogue Festival in Fresno, California. Here, he presented a ten-minute duet called “Two Brothers.”  The following year he applied to be a part of the festival and created another short piece called “A Hole in My Bucket.”  These were the initial works that became part of this larger Columbia premiere.

I am always intrigued by why artists choose to create the work they do and the process of creation, how things begin and when an artist knows when to put the brakes on the initial creation process and just present their work.

The Work

Since this work is his own personal journey capturing his thoughts about his identity and how he participates in the acceptance of that identity, he calls upon all of his skills as a singer, actor, dancer, writer and poet to create “the voice” that drives the piece. The entire work is actually ten separate pieces but he most likely will not present all of them …yet.   As far as the actual production (which is one act without an intermission) Terrance formally describes it as “A tapestry of movement, sound and images incorporating original text and choreography with a wide variety of music.”   The performers are Mario McLean, Jabar Hankins, Kendrick Marion, Jonathan Smith, Sam McWhite and Henderson.  With sections of the piece including titles like “A Farewell to Obligation,” “We Are The Sons of Misunderstanding" and “Naked Soul and My Feet,” it might seem driven by an episodic narrative but Terrance insists that in order to work audiences must be moved by the whole tapestry and that its success will lie in its feeling inherently organic, never like a “show.”

I am somewhat guilty in trying to assign meaning and motivation to everything artistic and creative and I beg Terrance to tell me whether this work is a tension filled angst ridden work informed by his being a black man growing up in the South but he simply won’t go there and says it’s not about black or white or color.  I am curious and excited to see how his voice interprets inequality, racism, homophobia and the struggle of the black man … on some level, things that are part of my own understanding of being a Southerner.

The Experience for Me

The original audiences who saw the first shorter incarnations of the work in California were audiences used to understanding avant garde performances and original works.   Terrance hopes that the content of this first Southern premiere will be even more meaningful to the audience who should identify with that aspect of the work that West Coast audience may not have understood. But I ask him if I going to feel uncomfortable watching the performance.  Without missing a beat, he says that because he embraces and respects the power of art, he takes his responsibility as a human and creator very serious and that “comfortable” or “uncomfortable” are not concepts that enter the creative process.  In this instance, it’s not his job to entertain but to awaken.

Original work is something that I have always been interested in and have participated in as a writer, director and actor.  One of the major reasons for presenting this work is that Trustus wants to become more aggressive in presenting new live work eventually branding it as part of the Trustus identity.  The challenges are many from engaging an audience to participate to figuring out what the next steps are once a piece is performed or executed. 

Where do we go from here?

After each performance there will be a facilitated discussion with the audience about the work so that Terrance can get constructive feedback to help mold the next performance.  He does not see this performance as the end of the work but hopes to get some great footage and submit it to other places to allow him to continue to grow the piece.

terrance dancing 2

There is nothing more fun than to sit in a room of artists and talk about who has influenced their work the most. Terrance remembers seeing Alvin Ailey who he saw on the Phil Donahue show as a kid which was the first time he saw black dancers. He also gives the utmost respect to Cindy Flack of the USC Department of Theatre and Dance;  Marc Joseph Bamuthi of The Living Word Project; choreographer, dancer, theater director and writer Bill T. Jones and Kris Cangelosi, Artistic Director of the Cangelosi Dance Project, who he says made it a possible for him to have a career in dance. But he does admit that his spiritual guru is Nina Simone, the high priestess of soul. My gut feeling is that we will hear her voice in this show alongside his. I hope so.

Part II - coming soon

Larry Hembree - Managing Director, Trustus Theatre

 

OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO -- A look at the technical theatre of See Rock City & Other Destinations - A guest blog by Chad Henderson

see rock city See Rock City & Other Destinations opens on the Thigpen Main Stage this Friday at Trustus Theatre. This uplifting musical charts the journeys of various characters as they become risk-takers in order to find connection and answers to life’s questions through visits to various American tourist locales. This award-winning script takes audiences to Rock City Gardens, The Alamo, Roswell, Niagara Falls, Glacier Bay, and Coney Island all in the course of two hours. One might question how these tourist sites could manifest in a theatrical setting before the audience’s eyes, but the bold visions of director Dewey Scott-Wiley and designer Baxter Engle proposed the answer: projection mapping.

 

Projection mapping is a projection technology used to turn facades into display surfaces for video projection. Often times the surfaces used are unexpected such as a building or a room that is painted uniformly to accept projections.  By using specialized software, a two or three dimensional object is spatially “mapped” on a virtual program which mimics the real environment it is to be projected on. The software can communicate with a projector to fit desired images onto the surface of that object. This technique is often used by artists, advertisers, and promoters alike who can add extra dimensions, optical illusions, and notions of movement onto static objects. See Rock City & Other Destinations will mark the inaugural use of this type of technological design on this scale for the 29 year old theatre company that is constantly striving to bring current productions to Columbia.

 

Director Dewey Scott-Wiley assembled a talented cast for this moving production, but she knew that the technical theatre aspects of the show would have to match the thrilling performances of the actors. Many theatres have the privilege of fly systems and off-stage storage space for large scene changes – but Trustus simply doesn’t have those abilities. So the question remained: “How do we transport across America in a time efficient and visually appealing way?”

 

Baxter Engle, a Trustus Company member since 2007, suggested the first-time use of projection mapping on the Main Stage to take audiences on this journey. Engle has designed many creative projection designs for various productions in Columbia including Town Theatre’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Trustus’ Assassins, A Christmas Carol, and Henderson Bros. Burlesque. He also had the opportunity to design large-scale projections for internationally known designer Nic Ularu when he worked on Ularu’s original production Fusions, which premiered at the World Stage Design conference in Cardiff, Wales last summer. Naturally director Dewey Scott-Wiley, who is in her second year as artistic director at Trustus, jumped at the chance to bring something innovative to the Thigpen Main Stage.

 

Through the use of two projectors, a program called QLab (not usually associated with projection mapping), and various surfaces created for projections in the scenic design (designed by this humble blogger) – Engle is able to transition from Rock City Gardens, a journey down the highway, Glacier Bay, and Coney Island all with the click of the spacebar on the computer that’s running the program.

 

Modern theatre is certainly trending towards the use of projection technology in productions. It is cost efficient because it keeps scenic material costs low and allows for less backstage crew work in scene changes. In many cases it can add a mood or image into an audience’s experience that would be expensive or impossible to create live on stage. Some productions are even using holograms for scenic elements or characters in modern productions. See Rock City & Other Destinations will mark a technological advancement for the Trustus, but the goal is creating the sense of travel that the script asks for.

 

Audiences craving “new” can be rest-assured that See Rock City & Other Destinations will deliver. The show may not come with popular name recognition, but Trustus’ production comes with a talented cast, the music and book delivers in a big way, and the spirit of the production is steeped in innovation. This show is about risk-taking and the creative team of this production is striving for just that.

 

“You have brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You'll Go!

 

SEE ROCK CITY & OTHER DESTINATIONS  runs at Trustus Theatre March 14 – April 5, 2014. Tickets may be purchased online at www.trustus.org or by calling the box office at (803) 254-9732.

The Man That Got Away -- Remembering Andrew Quattlebaum by Alex Smith

Andrew Quattlebaum -- from the film Summer Knowledge The ice and snow started falling late Tuesday afternoon, February 11, 2014. By Wednesday afternoon, the ground was covered in thick, white sheets of frozen, fallen precipitation, as unlikely (in late winter in Columbia) as the news I received in an e-mail that same Wednesday evening that my friend and long-time collaborator Andrew Quattlebaum had died the day before.

I met Andrew when he was a boy, a student at Heathwood Hall, and a member of the Trustus Theatre Apprentice Company. I helped my friend Tamra Stevenson direct a production of LINE by Israel Horowitz for a state high school drama competition that year, and Andrew was among the students we cast. I paid especially close attention to his work in this production as he was playing the role of Fleming, one which I had played in a previous production.

I became very close with the kids in the Apprentice Company that year. I felt a deep affinity with many of them for many reasons, and the one I felt for Andrew was especially strong. I was almost ten years older, but the similarities of our personal experiences made it especially easy to open up to him with regard to my shyness, my issues with having been “the fat kid” when I was young, my sadness over my parents’ divorce when I was young…we shared so many experiences that our ability to communicate developed into something of a shorthand.

This is not to say that our shorthand was limited to the negative. Far from it, we were both voracious readers and unapologetic autodidacts. We were both rabid for information, for knowledge, for that mental spark that came from putting it all together and making it make sense, even if only to ourselves, but often to and with each other. We shared a passion for music, and Andrew always had some new music he wanted to know if I’d heard, turning me on to a lot, especially in the last few years when I, admittedly, had reached a point where it was becoming harder and harder to seek such things out. Of course, we lost each other on certain topics: I was never nearly smart enough to engage with him in discussion of quantum physics, and I never could convince him of the fact that Barry Gibb is one of the greatest songwriters of the twentieth century. C’est la vie…

The point is, like many of the other relationships I cultivated as a result of meeting that amazing group of kids that were in the Apprentice Company the same year Andrew was, he and I became friends in life and contemporaries in the world of acting, film and the theatre. When I wasn’t working directly with him, I was marveling at his work…but I was one of the lucky ones who got to work with him a great deal, and there is not a moment of that time that I would trade for the world.

I said it in an essay I wrote about the first film we worked on together, SUMMER KNOWLEDGE, but it bears repeating: The thing that always amazed me about Andrew as an actor was that no matter how outlandish a direction or line you threw at him, he always made you believe it. In that very film I required of him delivery of a complete non-sequiter of a line as the culmination of a scene full of dialogue on the page: “To crush the earth until it curses requires strength.” His delivery of that line was so jarringly right that I ended up cutting all but one other line of dialogue in the scene for the film’s final edit. He believed so earnestly in the line itself, and in the elusiveness of there necessarily being meaning within every thought or function that made up the dramatic structure of a piece of art, that all you needed to know about his character, aside from his name (which we had just been told), were those very words, and everything that occurred with and about the character of Paul (who he also played in the next film we worked on together, INSIDE) from that point forward made perfect sense. This was, for me, the unique mark of his already outrageous talent that hovered just below the surface of every choice he made, but which ultimately made the performances that those choices added up to unforgettable.

I said in the same essay that I would get him to play that same character forever, and, at least in INSIDE and, for a brief moment, in the production of THE GRADUATE I directed at Trustus in 2006 (which remains one of my favorite casts from any show I’ve directed), I did. In one scene, late in the play, Andrew was playing a quackish family counselor to Benjamin Braddock and his confused parents. As the session devolved at its end into a generational argument between son and parents, complete with yelling, I asked Andrew to make the counselor’s exit out the office window instead of a nearby door, which he did, close on the heels of laughing hysterically in response to Mrs. Braddock saying, “Doctor, I think we…”, and then, once he had the Braddock’s and the audience’s full attention, suddenly stating with deadly seriousness, “I’m not a doctor.” What the “doctor” was in that moment, as was the character of Paul in both films, was the man that got away.

I didn’t expect life to imitate art. I simply took for granted that there would always be the next thing we worked on together. I think a lot now about the work we didn’t get to do together…the fact that, among many other things, after two films as a supporting player, I had an outline for a film that would focus on the character of Paul…I think about the production I wanted to direct someday of WAITING FOR GODOT with Patrick Kelly as Vladmir and Andrew as Estragon, or the dream production of OTHELLO which Darion McCloud and I have been talking about for years, and the fact that, to both our minds, there really was no one other than Andrew to play Roderigo to Darion’s Othello and my Iago…Christ, I’m getting so old now that I can’t help but imagine how amazing Andrew’s Iago would be However empty his leaving us has rendered those dreams, though, I remind myself that those of us who were fortunate enough to have shared in his immense well of talent were indescribably lucky to have witnessed Andrew’s (far too) short career.

I’ve been trying to balance the personal and the professional as I wrote what I have here about Andrew, and I see that I’ve failed. It’s mainly because the two intertwined between us, and a great deal of our time spent together was working, but it’s also a lot easier to forget to cry when you’re composing hyperbole about your friend’s talent and not just saying what you feel.

I will always wish that we had a little more time to work together, a little more time to create, but, ultimately, what I really am wishing for is just a little more time with my friend.

Andrew was a beautiful, beautiful person, and I am lucky to have counted him among those I hold dear to and deep in my heart. I loved him, I love him still, and I will miss him for the rest of my days.

 

 

 

 

Henderson Bros. Are At It Again

Terrance Henderson of the Henderson Bros. -- photo by James Quantz Henderson Bros. Burlesque returns to the Capital City this February for another round of teases, bawdiness, and skin. Last year’s premiere performance saw over 600 patrons at the one-night-only event, and co-creators Chad and Terrance Henderson have crafted another night of naughty fun with new acts, dances, and teases. Henderson Bros. Burlesque will run February 13th through the 15th, with show times at 8:00pm every night. There will be a special late night performance at 10:00pm on February 14th. Reserved seating may be purchased online at www.trustus.org, and standing room tickets may be purchased by calling the Trustus Box Office only: (803) 254-9732. Seated tickets are $30, and standing tickets are $20.

 History of Henderson Bros. Burlesque

 Last year over 600 patrons attended the one-night-only performance of Henderson Bros. Burlesque at 2013’s What’s Love at 701 Whaley. With the success of the first show, Trustus decided to bring the show to the Thigpen Main Stage this February. Since Trustus offers less seating than 701, the show will be performed over the course of three nights – but seating will still be limited.

Henderson Bros. Burlesque co-creators Chad and Terrance Henderson are not actual relatives, but they certainly see a union in their creative approaches to entertainment. The two have collaborated on many shows at Trustus Theatre since 2009, and they’ve been brainstorming a burlesque show for the past two years. “Doing a burlesque show was one of those ideas that come up over a couple of drinks,” said co-creator and director Chad Henderson. “I had been reading a lot about the history of burlesque, and felt like Columbia was way overdue for a big theatrical burlesque show. I went to Terrance because I knew I wanted his choreography involved in the show, and he said he’d been wanting to produce a Burly-Q show as well. We kept brainstorming and sharing ideas because we were planning on producing it ourselves.”

The end result was a rocking evening that had patrons dancing in the aisles and begging for more.

 

 What’s The Show Like?

 Henderson Bros. Burlesque is one part burlesque teases, one part dance show, and one part rock concert. It’s a variety show that’s a professionally thrown party.

Henderson Bros. Burlesque, boasts over 20 performers. Chad Henderson, the 2012 Jasper Magazine Artist of the Year in Theatre, will be directing the production. Co-creator Terrance Henderson the 2013 Jasper Magazine Artist of the Year in Dance will be singing his heart out as the Emcee Nauti Boogie, as well as choreographing the ensemble pieces in the show. He’ll be backed vocally by Kendrick Marion and Katrina Blanding.

Music Director Jeremy Polley (Alter Ego) will be directing a 7-piece band featuring guitar, drums, bass, piano, trumpet, trombone, and saxophone. The music in the show, hand-picked by the Hendersons, ranges from jazz standards, funk, hip-hop, club music, and rock. Songs from Beyonce, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Christina Aquilera, and more will be reverberating through the Main Stage. Patrons can count on needing their dancing shoes.

Local actor Hunter Boyle will be returning as Vaudeville clown Bumbleclap McGee, the resident funny-man of the Henderson Bros. Burlesque. Bumbleclap will be bringing back jokes from the days of Vaudeville, with a lot of wit, winks, and nudges. Rumor is that he’ll be bringing a live version of “What Does the Fox Say?” to the performance this year.

The burlesque performers in the show range in age, sex, race, build, and character – providing a little something for everyone who attends. Performer Sugar St. Germaine will be teasing with a fan dance, Burgundy Brown will be driving the crowd crazy with her beaded New Orleans inspired act, and Latte Love will be drive the audience wild with her trademark dressing screen act. Other performers will be performing ensemble Crazy-Horse inspired group teases – including a male dancer feature where the only thing they’ll be wearing by the end is a wash cloth. We suggest patrons bring handkerchiefs to wipe the sweat from their brow.