There’s Magic in the Ether

Words by Penny Neef.
Images courtesy of Virginia Arts Festival.

The holiday season is upon us. Only, not so much this year. I have not seen my Michigan daughter in person since Christmas last year, when we traveled to snowy Ann Arbor and gathered with friends and family. The thought of staying home makes me sad, but it also makes me and those I love safe.

If you are feeling the same way, and are looking for a distraction, a way to travel without traveling, a connection to other people, even for an hour, some joy and wonder, then get on the device of your choice and purchase tickets now for Scott Silven’s The Journey, presented by Virginia Arts Festival from December 8 – 13.

There is a maximum of 30 guests for each virtual show so that each guest has a chance to participate in this live “immersive and intimate” experience. Do not hesitate with your clicking finger. Tickets will sell out quickly.

Scott is sitting in a dark box. The outside of the box, and a box next to him, have mirrors that reflect the surrounding landscape. The resulting photo is very interesting in a way that makes you a little uneasy.

Scott Silven has traveled from his native Scotland to Norfolk twice, in 2018 and 2019. Silven is an illusionist, a mentalist, a storyteller and a performance artist like nothing I have ever seen before. I sat at his right hand in a darkened room last year at Leone’s Italian Restaurant on Granby Street. I sat with 16 strangers and was mesmerized by his Scottish accent, his stories of his childhood in Scotland and his magic. I have no idea of how he did what he did. People overuse the word “magical”, but that night was mysterious and magical. 

This year is the year of the devastating pandemic. Silven is stuck in Scotland, and we are stuck in our homes. Virginia Arts Festival has joined with other arts organizations to commission an all new virtual, interactive production from Silven from his home in Scotland. I’m going to say it right now. This is the best virtual show I have attended this year, by far. 

Once you purchase your ticket online, you receive an email with a link to test your camera and your mic. It’s important to log on before the show begins, because you must also gather a few things you’re going to need during the experience. I don’t want to give anything away, but they will be things you have at your home. No trip to the store is required.

Scott Sylvan stands in a field in Scotland

At the designated day and time, you click once, and you are at the Scottish coastline. It is a stunning video. There are green hills, craggy coastline and waves crashing against the rocks. There is Scott Silven. Silven is young, tall, long-haired and very handsome. He is striding along the cliffs. He is all alone in this beautiful setting. Just as the sun is setting, you see the remnants of a small, stone cottage. Without giving anything away, that cottage will come back around to enchant you or perhaps to haunt you.

All of a sudden, you are in a room of Silven’s home, “in the heart of the middle of nowhere in Scotland.” It is dark and mysterious. Light and shadows play on the walls. You see yourself, along with the 29 other people who are going to go on this journey with you. Silven begins by greeting you and speaking about the “mystery of time and the power of our memories”.

This Scotsman sure knows how to tell a story. You need to see it and be there. You are there, on the wall of his room. He speaks to you by name, asks you to recall memories, to share experiences with the others in the room, and then astonishes you with his tricks? Mind-reading? Illusions? Has he hypnotized everyone virtually? I don’t know and I don’t care. I escaped to a magical place in Scotland for an hour and had so much fun without leaving my living room. 

Silven seems younger than his years and at the same time, much older than his years. He connects his story, your story, and the other people in the room’s stories with his illusions. It seems like everyone in that virtual room was moving in and out and through a journey together. 

I am being deliberately vague about the details of Scott Silven’s The Journey. Trust me, you need to experience it for yourself. Tickets and more information for The Journey can be found right here

This is a perfect gift for someone you love that you can’t be with this holiday season. Perhaps you can meet up with your loved one in Silven’s home in Scotland for a highly unusual, but fascinating experience together.

The Great Christmas Carol Escape: Interactive Virtual Student Escape Room

Words and Images courtesy of the
Virginia Stage Company.

Virginia Stage Company presents The Great Christmas Carol Escape.  This virtual escape room is a live, interactive learning experience for students, middle school and up.

Each class joins Jacob Marley, played by VSC’s own Ryan Clemens, in rescuing Scrooge from a life of eternal chains in this hour-long gamified performance via Zoom. This fun and interactive virtual event brings the characters of A Christmas Carol to life while reinforcing literary themes and holiday fun! 

Educators can book this live event for their classes November 12 – December 22.  The cost is $150 per session and there is a maximum capacity of 32 students per session.  Length of each session is 50 minutes.  To register a class, click here

“While we may not be able to greet students live in the Wells Theatre this winter, this actor-driven adventure keeps theatre alive, even in virtual spaces like Zoom! I’m excited by the interactive performance that our team has created!” says Patrick Mullins, Director of Public Works.

Cast Includes:
RYAN CLEMENS (Jacob Marley/host) is proud to work with VSC on the main stage and in the Education Department’s touring shows, classes, and workshops. Patrons may remember Ryan from various VSC productions: Mr. Wormwood in Matilda; Trinculo in The Tempest; Lieutenant Brannigan in Guys & Dolls; Vinnie in The Odd Couple; Mortimer in The Fantasticks; Jacob Marley, Bob Cratchit, Old Joe, Charity Man or Fezziwig in previous years’ versions of A Christmas Carol; or as his famous relative Sam Clemens in his one-man show Meet Mark Twain. Originally from Wyoming, Ryan began his career in a travelling Wild West show. He has worked at theaters around the country, including several seasons locally with the Virginia Shakespeare Festival and Tidewater Stage Company, and he regularly performs with Plan B Comedy at Zeiders American Dream Theatre. Ryan holds a BA in Theatre from Western Washington University and an MFA in Acting from Regent University. He also teaches at ODU. (Many thanks and a huge heap of love to his wonderful wife.) www.clemensistwain.com.

Virginia Stage Company is southeastern Virginia’s leading theatre destination, normally serving an audience of over 58,000 annually both at the Wells Theatre and throughout the community. Since the shutdown in March, 2020, the Stage Company has pivoted to online content and has shared over 7,000 hours of free virtual content that has served more than 13,000 participants across the country.  Virginia Stage Company’s mission is to “enrich, educate, and entertain the region by creating and producing theatrical art of the highest quality.”

Facebook: /vastage | Twitter: vastage | Instagram: vastage

###

Williamsburg Players Presents “Fall Into Broadway – An Outdoor Cabaret”

Words by Frank Connelly.
Images courtesy of the Williamsburg Players.

Williamsburg Players is ready to take the stage again after eight months of inactivity due to the pandemic. “Fall Into Broadway – An Outdoor Cabaret” will be performed Saturday, November 14, 2020 at 11:00 AM, 1:30 PM and 3:30 PM with a rain date of Saturday, November 21. All performances will be held on a stage placed on the back-parking lot of the Williamsburg Players theatre.

Jennifer Lent, the director of “Fall Into Broadway”, and Neil Hollands, President of Williamsburg Players, met with me using Zoom to talk about the upcoming show.

Fall into Broadway, An Outdoor Cabaret, Cast Matthew Bradley Ashley Carter Emma Clauberg Marcia Dadds Jessi DiPette Taylor Garram Angela Harrivel Neil Hollands Stephanie Horvath Hanna Hyer Jamie LaFever Katherine Lenahan Sarah Lennahan Jennifer Lent Ross Milam Donna Rendely Peeler Charity Robinson Michelle Ruggieri Amelia Russell Deborah Soderholm Amy Stallings Allison Stover Del Sykes  Director: Jennifer Lent Music Director: Rachel Bradley Band: Rachel Bradley, Jeffrey Sherman, John Trindle, Thomas Ullom

The idea of producing a Cabaret Show first occurred to Neil Hollands. He wanted a show that could meet CDC guidelines and keep everyone safe. The outside parking lot behind the theatre is large and can facilitate safety needs especially if everyone wears a mask and practices social distancing. He believes that everyone is clamoring for safe live performances.

Jennifer Lent expressed that the theatre is doing everything possible to keep cast and crew safe. She gives a lot of credit to Rachel Bradley, musical director, for instituting safety guidelines. They make sure that not everyone is in the same room at the same time. Performers are given individual time slots for each rehearsal. Masks are worn by everyone, especially the staff. The performers can take off their mask while performing. Microphones get mic covers and are labeled for each singer.

A socially distanced rehearsal

Neil also mentioned that they keep a 12-foot gap between the stage and the audience. No one will have the option to remove their mask. The audience can watch from their cars if they feel safer there, or from chairs that they bring themselves. The sound system is capable of allowing everyone to hear the performers. 

All of the auditions were conducted using online submissions. There were very few instances in the process where there was more than one person in a room, when it did happen, they were really spread out. Performers were also given a code of conduct; if someone were to get sick then they must pull themselves out of the show. “Fall Into Broadway” is not a normal performance situation where you struggle through it. Performers were assured that if they were forced to drop out of the show, they would still be included in a future performance. 

Performers were also asked to be cognizant on how much time they were spending around groups or unsafe situations. They were asked to try to minimize those contacts during the rehearsal period. There were a few performers who were not sick, but did encounter others who were exposed to the virus. Williamsburg Players then updated their rehearsal schedule so that those performers were quarantined until the risk subsided. 

Lent wanted it to be known how proud she is of the cast. “We have so much talent that we added a dance routine,” she said, “It should add a lot of fun and energy to the show.” Four dancers were added to the show, fully masked and in front of the stage. They will be performing with Deborah Soderholm’s song “No Business Like Show Business” and at the very end of Hollands’ song “You’ll Be Back”. 

Hollands described their group number as having “a couple of soloists on opposite ends of the stage,” everyone else will surround the audience at a distance and be masked. The song was rehearsed entirely on Zoom, with the biggest challenge being that the platform only allows one person to be singing or speaking at any one time. Imagine rehearsing a musical where everyone has to muted except for one singer. The music director gave everyone tracks for each choral part of the song. “It will be an interesting experience,” Bradley said, “because we haven’t sung it all together.” Their first time singing all in the same space will be a run-thru just before their first show, which will occur in the parking lot where they can create safe conditions. 

two performers wearing masks at rehearsal

Lent talked about the unique challenges of directing a Cabaret show during a pandemic. She said that normally they would meet five nights a week to rehearse. With this show they are meeting two days a week, but not with a full cast- essentially half the cast rehearses each night. There has been very little direct interaction between her and the performers. That is why Zoom and emails have become very important. “When we are in-person then the focus is on the music because it is a Cabaret,” Lent said. When the idea of having a MC came to Lent, she chose Kevin Clauberg to fill that role. Clauberg will introduce each performer comedically. “We are also incorporating some pandemic parody.” Songs such as Marcia Dadds’ “I am Still here”, Lent’s “I am Breaking Down from Falsettos”, and Hollands’ “We’ll Be Back” will have pandemic parodies.

Hollands offered that they tried hard to choose songs that were upbeat, laughable and not depressing. “You can find humor in our everyday life. We think that people will be able to relate, [and are] hopeful as an organization that we can withstand this calamity and be back for our audiences.” The group song is “Seasons of Love” from RENT that has the mantra about how you measure a year. “This is certainly a time when we are trying to figure out how we measure this year. Is it a year when we measure it in the lives lost, connections blocked, or something positive?”

To pick a highlight of the show is very difficult for Lent and Hollands as everyone is so talented. But she did mention that there are two twin sisters who have huge belt voices. 

There is a great mix with performers that Williamburg Players audiences will be familiar with, along with new talent. Charity Robinson is doing the solo in “Seasons of Love”, reprising her performance from RENT. “It is a great diverse cast that is packed tight into a 1 hour and twenty-minute show,” Hollands mentioned.

Lent wants everyone to see “Fall Into Broadway”. She is very excited that live theatre is back with Williamsburg Players. “A show that is live, socially distant, masked, and safe for the audience, is something that I would love to see.”

Hollands had the final word on the state of theatre and “Fall Into Broadway” with this gem. 

 “I think of it as a way for you to experience other lives that you are not going to be able to experience in your regular life. That is probably why so many of us are passionate about acting and singing character parts. The audience can go along with us, and we truly need those experiences now. This is a safe way to do it.”

Williamsburg Players “Fall Into Broadway – An Outdoor Cabaret” .  Performances take place at Williamsburg Players (outdoor parking lot), on Nov 14, rain date Nov 21.   Get more info, prices, and purchase tickets here or by calling 757.229.0431

Meet the Genius Behind the Space Race in the Little Theatre of Norfolk production of Red Moon Rising in the East by Dwayne Yancey

Words and Images courtesy of the
Little Theatre of Norfolk.

The Halloween night “Blue Moon” full moon turns a different color in November in the Little Theatre of Norfolk video-on-demand production of Red Moon Rising in the East by Roanoke playwright Dwayne Yancey. This one act, one-man play introduces us to the father of the space race, who is an unknown by most Americans.

Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, played by actor Brian Cebrian, was the engineering mastermind behind many of the world’s space firsts. He launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, and the first dog, man and woman into space. Soyuz spacecraft today use a design that’s a direct descendent of his R-7 rocket design. 

Brian Cebrian on stage next to a model of Sputnik

While Cebrian has been active with Little Theatre of Norfolk since 2013, this is his first opportunity to perform a one-man play. “It’s intimidating at first when you first see that script and it has page after page of text, and you realize it’s all you with no one else to bail you out,” said Cebrian. “On top of the large block of text, I also had to learn a Russian accent. That wasn’t in my acting tool box previously.”

Director Bill Armstrong can relate. He has played Korolev in four separate runs over the years. “I have known Dwayne since shortly after I first read his original two act version of the play. I was the script reader for original plays being sent to the 40th Street Stage here in Norfolk. Two pages in, I was reading it with a Russian accent. Through emails and phone calls, we explored the viability of performing the play here in Norfolk. I ended up premiering the play at 40th Street Stage,” said Armstrong. “I also performed the play in Roanoke where I got to finally meet Dwayne in person.”

Much like Korolev and the vast unknown of space, Armstrong was dealing with a bit of the unknown himself. While the production was fully staged— complete with a set, props, costumes, lights, and sound, it had to be filmed and edited for the virtual offering. “We are sailing uncharted waters during these uncertain times. The volunteers at LTN are an amazing group of people with a diverse talent set, who were able to jump in and assist on any aspect of the production. This will be the theatre’s ‘dress rehearsal’ for a new way to entertain our audiences. It is my hope that our streaming performance can help keep revenue coming into the theatre,” explained Armstrong. 

In a typical season, subscriptions and ticket sales contribute about 70% of the theatre’s annual revenue. The COVID-19 pandemic closure forced Little Theatre of Norfolk to scrap the lineup originally planned for their 94th season. The theatre’s virtual offerings have been free to date, with donations welcomed. Red Moon Rising in the East will be the first ticketed show. Tickets are on sale now at ltnonline.org for the November 6 – 15 run. The cost is $20, plus a $2.67 fee per ticket to rent the video-on-demand performance for 48 hours.

About Little Theatre of Norfolk
Little Theatre of Norfolk is a volunteer led, non-profit community theatre, continually operating since 1926. It is located at 801 Claremont Avenue in the Chelsea neighborhood of Norfolk. Information about upcoming performances, auditions, workshops, and volunteer opportunities can be found at www.ltnonline.org.

###

Little Theatre of Norfolk Presents #WhileBlack by Award-Winning Virginia Playwright Kayla Scott

Words and images courtesy of the Little Theatre of Norfolk.

Little Theatre of Norfolk kicks off their Season 94 educational workshop series with a virtual performance of #WhileBlack from a young Virginia talent, Kayla Scott. The Charlottesville, Monticello High School graduate won a statewide competition for her work which she wrote two years ago at only 17 years old. Even at a young age, Scott wanted to turn her personal experience dealing with racial profiling and gentrification into something positive to help bring the community together and encourage change.

Scott says as a young black female living in a predominately white environment, and suffering a severe skin condition, she felt judged almost her entire life. She found theatre was a way to escape reality, and writing the play enable her to speak her truth without judgement. “#WhileBlack is my heart, all of my tears and pain poured into a form of artwork,” she explains. “I, like many other people of color, live the story #WhileBlack, on a daily basis. What I want people to understand is that we are more than just the complexion of our skin and the texture of our hair. We are intelligent, dedicated, go-getters, and more. We are so much more than what you may see on the outside.” 

The play focuses on three black teens who experience racial profiling within an upscale café shop. Towards the end, a secret is revealed about the true identity of one of the black teens. “This play is to inform and educate people to see past the first layer and begin to see what’s truly inside, said Scott. “Also, this play is to explain how careless, ignorant actions, such as making false police reports, can be deadly for a person of color.”

Chesapeake resident Brielle Farrow plays one of the teens, Heather. She says, “This topic may be difficult for some, but it is necessary to be discussed in bringing forth the message that indeed, black lives matter.” 

This will be only the fifth time #WhileBlack has been performed in Virginia. Scott’s goal is to have groups perform it across the United States and internationally because racial inequality and gentrification does not just occur in Virginia. “The true purpose of #WhileBlack is to spark a conversation, leading to a change,” said Scott. “If you are willing to watch this play, you have to come with an open mindset. This play is real, authentic, and it’s the truth of what people of color experience. It may hit a nerve with some, however, when nerve is struck, a conversation is sparked.” Little Theatre of Norfolk will facilitate such discussion in a talkback with Scott immediately following the performance.

The #WhileBlack performance and talkback is only on Saturday, October 24 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. It is offered free with registration available at ltnonline.org. Registrants will receive a Zoom link to watch both the show and the talkback. The program is presented by the Little Theatre of Norfolk education committee in partnership with Booker T. Washington High School.

About Little Theatre of Norfolk

Little Theatre of Norfolk is a volunteer led, non-profit community theatre, continually operating since 1926. It is located at 801 Claremont Avenue in the Chelsea neighborhood of Norfolk. Free parking is available in the lots behind the building and across the street. Information about upcoming performances, auditions, workshops, and volunteer opportunities can be found at www.ltnonline.org.

###

VSC and NSU Theatre Company Present Virtual Performance of The Parchman Hour: Songs & Stories of the ’61 Freedom Riders

Information courtesy of Virginia Stage Company.

Virginia Stage Company launches a virtual presentation of The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the ’61 Freedom Riders, a collaboration with Norfolk State University Theatre Company.  After its triumphant run as part of Virginia Stage Company’s 39th Season, The Parchman Hour journeys through the Deep South with the pioneers who fought discrimination and paved the way for the future. Written and directed by Mike Wiley, this play is adapted from real life accounts of the 1961 Freedom Rides and shares these struggles through music that ranges from spirituals to Bob Dylan.  This production will include recorded Zoom performances from the original VSC cast, as well as archival production footage from the 2017 production.

With history deeply rooted in racial tension, The Parchman Hour is produced in Norfolk, Virginia at a critical time. “This play is about a time in our recent past when men and women of all backgrounds came together to fight racial injustice,” says Tom Quaintance, Producing Artistic Director of Virginia Stage Company. “It was a country divided, with widespread protests gripping the nation. It is a play that speaks directly to our time’” Through song and storytelling, The Parchman Hour shadows our country’s past while sparking conversation about the present.

The Parchman Hour has streaming performances starting Thursday, October 8th through Saturday, October 10th at 7:30pm and a Sunday matinee on October 11th at 2pm.  Tickets are $15 per household and can be purchased online.

This play contains racially charged language and scenes of violence and is recommended for ages 13 and older.

A Community Conversation will kick off the week of performances as part of Virginia Stage Company’s Wells-ness Wednesday series On October 7th at 7:30pm, Barbara Hamm Lee will lead a virtual panel: Theatre as Society’s Mirror. Freedom Rider Joan Trumpauer Mulholland joins playwright Mike Wiley, Norfolk Chief of Police Larry Boone and panelists engaged in contemporary racial justice protests to discuss the resonance The Parchman Hour has to our country today. This panel discussion is free but registration is required.  To learn more about this event and other Wells-ness Wednesday series, visit: https://www.vastage.org/virtual

Virginia Stage Company is southeastern Virginia’s leading theatre destination, normally serving an audience of over 58,000 annually both at the Wells Theatre and throughout the community. Since the shutdown in March, 2020, the Stage Company has pivoted to online content and has shared over 7,000 hours of free virtual content that has served more than 13,000 participants across the country.  Virginia Stage Company’s mission is to “enrich, educate, and entertain the region by creating and producing theatrical art of the highest quality.”

Mike Wiley headshot

Mike Wiley (Writer and Director) is a North Carolina-based actor & playwright whose compelling works of documentary theatre yield powerful journeys through milestones and turning points of a shared American history. With a remarkable ability to inspire dialog, his creative vision and talents are broad and magnetic, leading audiences and communities to begin to peel layers and barriers to true “community.” When a curtain comes down on a Mike Wiley performance, the experience has far from “ended.” It’s more likely that light may have seeped through, that a stubborn door may have just nudged open.

His ensemble and solo-actor plays include The Parchman HourDownrange: Stories From The HomefrontDar He: The Story Of Emmett Till, the theatrical adaptation of Tim Tyson’s Blood Done Sign My Name, the epic Leaving EdenBreach Of Peace and more. The film adaptation of Wiley’s Dar He, in which he portrays 30+ roles, received more than 40 major film festival awards around the globe. The Parchman Hour was selected as the closing event of the official 50th year anniversary commemoration of the Freedom Riders in Jackson, MS and his plays have been selected for showcase by juries at a majority of performing arts conferences across America. His ensemble plays have been produced by major regional theatres in the US including Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, Hatiloo Theatre in Memphis, Playmakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, NC, Virginia Stage in Norfolk and Cape Fear Regional Theatre in Fayetteville, NC.

Wiley has more than fifteen years’ credits in documentary theatre for young audiences plus film, television and regional theatre. An Upward Bound alum and Trio Achiever Award recipient, he is an M.F.A. graduate of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and is a former Lehman-Brady Visiting Joint Chair Professor at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies. He has conducted numerous educational residencies funded through grant programs of the North Carolina Arts Council and has performed across the US and in Canada. He is a 2017 recipient of the University of North Carolina’s Distinguished Alumni Award. His most recent large-scale ensemble-cast plays are Leaving Eden and Peace Of Clay (co-written with Howard Craft.) Wiley’s overriding goal is expanding cultural awareness for audiences of all ages through dynamic portrayals based on pivotal moments in African American history and, in doing so, helping to unveil a richer picture of the total American experience.  

Cast members include: 

Benjamin Curns^*Bill Savanoe/Forsyth
Jonathan Cooper^Freddie
Samantha Fabiani^Joan Mulholland/Mrs. Forsyth
Daniel S. Hines^*Stephen Green/Elwood
Teddy Holmes^James Farmer
Christopher Lindsay^Stokely Carmichael
Zonya Love*Lucretia Collins/Pearl Green
Phillip Martin^Deputy Tyson/Bull Connor
Reed Miller^Janie
Jeremy Morris^John Lewis
Meredith Noël^Mimi Real
Isaiah Roper^Hank Thomas
Anthony Mark Stockard^*Pee Wee
Wallis Quaintance^Carol Silver
Ja’Keetrius Woods^Pauline Knight
*Members of Actors’ Equity Association the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States
^2017 VSC production cast member

Facebook: /vastage | Twitter: vastage | Instagram: vastage
###

BLACK BROADWAY MEN

Creating a New Safe Space for All Black Men of Both the Broadway and Theatre Community

Words and images courtesy of Anthony Wayne and Black Broadway Men.

BLACK BROADWAY MEN is a new and exciting non-profit organization which utilizes social and educational opportunities to strengthen the bond of healing and unity for ALL Black men in both the Broadway and theatre community. 

Headshots of the Black Broadway Men Founding Committee Anthony Wayne James T. Lane Terence Archie Ahmad Simmons Sir Brock Warren Isaiah Josiah
The Black Broadway Men Founding Committee Anthony Wayne, James T. Lane, Terence Archie, Ahmad Simmons, Sir Brock Warren, Isaiah Josiah

From creator/founder Anthony Wayne (TOOTSIE, Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical,  PIPPIN) and founding committee members James T. Lane (Kiss Me Kate, Scottsboro Boys, A Chorus Line), Terence Archie (COMPANY, Kiss Me Kate, ROCKY), Ahmad Simmons (West Side Story, Hadestown, CAROUSEL), Sir Brock Warren (SUMMER: The Donna Summer Musical, Paradise Square) and newcomer Isaiah Josiah (AMDA), this organization will include men (and those who identify as such) who are actors, singers, dancers, directors, writers, lighting designers, costume designers, set designers, makeup artist, producers, choreographers, any crew members who give their time and attention in front or behind the stage. 

“Our motto is “EVERY BLACK MAN IN THEATRE IS A BLACK BROADWAY MAN” because we believe the situations we go through as Black men in the Broadway community are not just limited to our experience.” says Wayne. “It expands outside and beyond New York City. To the young Black boy who’s dancing in his living room with a dream, to the man who man who hasn’t had the chance to grace a Broadway stage as of yet; we are all connected through the possibilities of what we can do and the impact we can make in this world if we just believe in ourselves.. “BROADWAY” is a state of mind so we believe it’s time for us ALL to find UNITY within each other, STRENGTH from the knowledge we receive to combat the world as well as the chance to embrace the LEGACY of the shoulders we stand upon to become the Legacy for those that are to come behind us.”

Black Broadway Men poster, a yellow shield with a handshake, a helmet, a scroll and a torch. Creating unity, finding strength, embracing legacy. www.blackbraodwaymen.org and @BlackBroadwayMen

The initial Virtual event THE BLACK BROADWAY MEN: SOCIAL SERIES LIVE launched August 22nd with the founding members and a guest specialist. Each of these full, live conversations will equip each man with additional tools to handle the many facets of issues that arise as a result of being a Black man in a theatrical society. All Black men in the theatre community are invited to visit www.BLACKBROADWAYMEN.org and click the JOIN link for entry. For all allies who would like to support, please visit the website, sign up on the page and follow us at @BLACKBROADWAYMEN on Facebook and Instagram. All donations can be made on the website which will go directly towards educational events, scholarship opportunities and operational expenses for the organization.

###

A man of many sides as an actor, producer and creator, Anthony Wayne has been blessed to do what he’s been born to do. Originally from Norfolk, Virginia, Mr. Wayne has been seen on Broadway in “ANYTHING GOES”, “ONCE ON THIS ISLAND”, “PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT”,”PIPPIN” & recently completed the BROADWAY run of “TOOTSIE – The Musical”.. His touring credits include “A CHORUS LINE” as Richie, “THE COLOR PURPLE” and “FAME-THE MUSICAL” as Tyrone Jackson.

Anthony Wayne Headshot

Currently, he is working on bringing his show “MIGHTY REAL: A FABULOUS SYLVESTER MUSICAL” to BROADWAY. In MIGHTY REAL, Mr. Wayne stars as the Disco Legend SYLVESTER and has co-written the show with his creative partner, Kendrell Bowman. With Bowman, together they have created their own company called ANTHONYKEN, LLC. which has spawned their own shows which include “AN EVENING WITH PHYLLIS HYMAN”, “A SOULFUL CHRISTMAS” and, recently, “KINGS & QUEENS OF SOUL”.

Mr. Wayne resides in New York City and contributes his time to inspiring youth and those in need to find the greatness within themselves to be great daily. He is the Founder of an Non-Profit Organization called “BLACK BROADWAY MEN” which galvanizes black men of the Broadway & theatre community to create unity within each other, find strength for each other and embrace the legacy from each other; mentoring the way for the young black men to come.  He is a firm believer of creating moments and memories with those he truly cares about and makes time with his family a priority. He believes that the stage is his platform to use to allow his light to shine bright. That inspiration drives him daily and he plans to shine that light no matter what.

Anthony Wayne:
Instagram/Twitter: @MRAWAYNE / Website: www.AWAYNE.com
BLACK BROADWAY MEN:
Instagram/Facebook @BLACKBROADWAYMEN Twitter @BlackBwayMen
Website: www.BlackBroadwayMen.org

W&M Theatre and Dance Opens Digital Fall Season with “Citizen: An American Lyric”

Words and Image courtesy of W&M Theatre.

William & Mary’s Department of Theatre, Speech and Dance opens “Citizen: An American Lyric”, their first virtual performance of the Fall 2020 season September 17-20. 

Written by Claudia Rankin, the piece is based on a series of essays exploring the daily slights of racism on both a personal and national level. Hailed as an always relevant and engaging piece, the department has chosen it as an answer to the student body’s call for a diverse season. 

The piece will be presented entirely online, as an edited feature film that ticket holders can access On-Demand for the performance weekend. 

Despite distancing restrictions and the inability to perform for a live audience, Director Alise Larder feels that this new format is an opportunity to find new audiences and redefine what theatre can be. 

“Going digital allows me to shoot ‘Citizen’ as a short film. It will be shot on location on and around campus,” said Alise Larder, guest director for “Citizen”, “The digital platform completely opened a new creative box for me. My hope is that it will feel more intimate and tangible.”

Larder added that she feels the digital platform will allow the performances to be more accessible to viewers in and out of the Williamsburg area. All performances will be available for viewing at home, at the viewer’s leisure. 

Adaptability is the key for Larder, who begins filming this week.

“Acting as a film director will be a first for me. I am thrilled and excited to see what happens. I have a vision for Citizen, however, as we all know things happen…some good and some bad,” she said, “I am a roll with the punches kind of woman so adjusting my scope could turn this project into something even better than I had planned.”

Citizen begins streaming September 17-20. Digital Tickets are $7, and can be purchased online at wm.edu/boxoffice, by phone at 757-221-2674, or in person at the Kimball Theatre, 428 Duke of Gloucester Street, Tuesday-Friday from 2-6pm. 

###

Spotlight: The Attucks Theater

Words by Penny Neef.
Images as credited. Feature image by Mike Penello.

In the early 20th century, segregation was a fact of life for African Americans in the South. It became a matter of law in 1926.

In 1919, a group of African Americans from Norfolk and Portsmouth met to develop a cultural/business center in Norfolk where the black community “could be treated with dignity and respect.”

The “Twin Cities Amusement Corporation” envisioned something like a modern-day town center. The businessmen obtained funding from black owned financial institutions in Hampton Roads. Twin Cities designed and built a movie theater/ retail/ office complex at the corner of Church Street and Virginia Beach Boulevard in Norfolk.

A black and white portrait of Harvey Johnson. He is older, wearing glasses, and looking at the camera with a serious but kind expression.
Photo courtesy of the family of Harvey Johnson

The businessmen chose 25-year-old architect Harvey Johnson to design a 600-seat “state of the art” theater with balconies and an orchestra pit. The Attucks Theatre is the only surviving theater in the United States that was designed, financed and built by African Americans.

The Attucks was named after Crispus Attucks, a stevedore of African and Native American descent. He was the first patriot killed in the Revolutionary War at the Boston Massacre of 1770. The theatre featured a stage curtain with a dramatic depiction of the death of Crispus Attucks.

A photo of the restored fire curtain, painted with a beautiful picture of a revolutionary war battle.
Photo by Scott Wertz.

The Attucks was an immediate success. It was known as the “Apollo Theatre of the South.” Legendary performers Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Nat King Cole, and B.B. King performed at the Attucks. Opera star Marian Anderson and blues icon Bessie Smith graced the stage. Smokey Robinson, Sam Cooke, Norfolk’s own Gary U.S. Bonds and Portsmouth’s own Ruth Brown made appearances. Great black comedians Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley and Slappy White brought down the house. Friday nights were reserved for local talent to be booed off the stage or to be cheered to greater glory.

The Attucks also served as a stage for local events, from church services to poetry readings to graduation ceremonies. After 34 years of being the “cultural heart and soul of Church Street’s African American community”, the Attucks lowered its curtains as an entertainment venue.

A photo of the restored fire curtain, painted with a beautiful picture of a revolutionary war battle.
Photo by Scott Wertz.

By 1952, the theater was a furniture store, Stark & Legum. Most of the surrounding retail and offices were demolished. In 1982, a group of citizens worked to add the theatre to the National Register of Historic Places. The Crispus Attucks Cultural Center was formed to raise the millions of dollars it would take to restore the Attucks Theatre.

The Attucks Theatre reopened in 2004. It is a gem of theater, carefully restored to its former glory. The original fire curtain, depicting the dramatic death of Crispus Attucks, has been meticulously restored. The stained-glass skylight, plaster ornamentation and other ornate features of the Attucks make it unique.

There is not a bad seat in the house. Legends like Wynton Marsalis and Preservation Hall Jazz Band are back on the stage. Leslie Jones from Saturday Night Live appeared last year in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Attucks Theatre. The Attucks also hosts cutting edge performances like the world premiere of the opera “Kept: A Ghost Story”.

 “Norfolk is proud to celebrate the rich history of this landmark theatre and the cultural impact it has had on the city for the last 100 years,” said Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Cooper Alexander. 

WHRO and the City of Norfolk produced a documentary to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Attucks Theatre. You can learn more about the Attucks Theatre and its history here.

It’s pretty quiet at the Attucks today, just like every other entertainment venue. The ghosts have the place to themselves. The hundreds of performers who were on stage at the Attucks decorated the walls of the dressing rooms and hallways with their signatures, an old theater tradition. Many of those have been preserved and are on display on the second floor. I’d like to think Dizzy Gillespie or Bessie Smith stop by once in a while, especially now that the theatre is quiet. Might be some great shows going on that we can’t witness right now. Who knows?

Act II: Returning to the Classroom

Words by Louise Casini Hollis.
Photos courtesy of Sally Shedd.

As colleges across the nation prepare to go back to school, some subjects will have to  adjust more than others, including the performing arts. In the not too distant past, the performing arts evolved to utilize radio and television, but live entertainment – performers sharing the stage and performance space with an audience – has continued to be a special communal experience. Human beings need the connection of shared experiences, and the presence of community. Dr. Sally Shedd, Professor of Theatre at Virginia Wesleyan University, is no exception. Sally is looking forward to the Fall semester and returning to teaching her classes in-person, in the moment. “As a theatre person, of course I believe in the synchronous experience” observes Sally. “People who are drawn to theatre tend to love interaction. That’s not a big stretch that I would value that, right?” she laughs.   

Virginia Wesleyan’s community has been gathering to share stories for over 50 years.  The first theatre production at Virginia Wesleyan, Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, was  presented by the Virginia Wesleyan Drama Society, a student organization, in the dining hall in May of 1969. It was directed by Dolly West, a French instructor. The theatre department was founded a few years later. Professor Emeritus, Rick Hite directed the department’s first production Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters, in 1969. The department has grown substantially over the years. In 2005 a second full time faculty member, Dr. Travis Malone, was added and in the Spring of 2019 it took a giant leap forward as their main stage productions moved to the University’s new performance space, the Susan S. Goode Fine and Performing Arts Center. Productions at VWU typically have around 50 students involved volunteering in some capacity, and students may earn community service hours for their participation. “We are very proud to have all kinds of students on our campus involved in theatre productions and that’s really the beauty of a liberal arts college is that you are reaching out – that a bio major has these experiences too. We welcome them. And that’s a real strength – we like that,” adds Sally.

Originally from Ozark, Arkansas, Sally grew up performing whenever her Mother, an elementary public school music teacher, needed an extra hand. “I played Mickey Mouse in a mouse suit, pageants at church – all of that,” she reminisces fondly. “I think that eventually I was drawn to theatre in part because it was mine. And I just really love working with other people to create something.” Sally went on to earn B.A.s in Music Performance and Speech & Theatre from Arkansas Tech University; an M.A. in Drama from the University of Arkansas; and finally to the University of Kansas for her PhD in Theatre.  “I am forever thankful to the University of Kansas for everything they did for me to nurture me and mentor me so I’m very active with them still,” Sally shared. “They will always be in my heart.”

Sally and Khari Johnson who played Prospera in The Tempest ,Fall 2018, hugging.
Sally and Khari Johnson who played Prospera in The Tempest ,Fall 2018.

When she began applying for jobs, she followed the advice of her mentor who told her, “There are some things worth more than money.” So when Sally interviewed at Wesleyan, she was sold because, “it just felt like family. It felt like home. And I’ve never looked back.” Now 21 years later, she is looking forward to the start of a new, albeit different, school year. 

Sally was teaching 3 classes this Spring when VWU made the difficult decision to go remote for the rest of the semester over Spring Break. She found that synchronous learning worked best for her classes. “Remember, this isn’t the same as teaching an on-line class,” observes Sally. “This is suddenly – you’ve designed a face-to-face course, that you really didn’t think of as face-to-face – it’s just a course – then about mid-way through you’re having to deliver the rest of the content and fulfill the requirements remotely. Which is not the same thing as building an on-line course.” In her script analysis class, Page to Stage, Sally met with her students via Google meet once a week and then allowed them to use the second class period time for individual work. “I purposefully gave that class more discretion with how they spent their time” explained Sally. “Many of the students in that class went home to full time jobs, to deliver child care for siblings – remember the schools had been shut down – and I wanted them to have the ability to do the work when it best suited their schedules. Also, there’s an equity issue. Let’s say a household is sharing one computer: their siblings need it in the daytime, or their parents working from home. So I really wanted to give that class a lot of leeway for how their requirements got filled,” she added.    

For her Advanced Acting class, she went synchronous twice a week. Sally adapted the class by having students upload their performances and allowing them to substitute some type of recorded solo performance for a two-person scene if they had not already performed a scene before mid-term. She found that for some of her students, recording  their performances, “added a quality of rehearsal, and I think some of them greatly benefitted from seeing themselves perform,” so she will have a component of students recording themselves in the future. 

Sally also team-taught a Batten Honors class, The Artist and Society. Her portion of the class was to introduce students to a hands-on experience of performing. Sally said she had to rework her lesson slightly, “but you do what you’ve got to do, the work goes on. And I will say that class was lovely,” continued Sally. “They completely rose to the occasion. We did this weird little warm-up exercise that we did together every day.  Twenty eight people hootin’ and hollering with delays. We added ‘jazz hands’ at the end just so we would all visually know when we got to the end because there’s such a lag time. But it was raucous, and joyous. I will say it was challenging delivering it remotely. But, you know, theatre artists are entrepreneurial. That is what we do. We always do that, even when there’s not a pandemic, and we have to do it even more so when we’re offered these challenges to, ‘How is the work going to go on?’  Well, it’s going to go on. And it may be better. It will be different. Maybe better. Really it gets us to embrace the parts of us that are creative problem solvers,” observed Sally.  The class, “finished strong,” she concluded. “I was very proud of them and I hope they were proud of me cause we did that together.”

Sally and Pierrette Swan during Tempest rehearsals. They are on a platform looking at a script, the background is a black curtain.
Sally and Pierrette Swan during Tempest rehearsals.

As successful as her on-line classes were this Spring, Sally is looking forward to getting back to the classroom this fall. “I love to teach. I love my students – I do,” she shared. “It sounds hokey, but I really, really do.” Virginia Wesleyan’s faculty was asked for feedback regarding their preferred mode of teaching: on-line or in-person. Accommodations will be made for faculty and students who wish to remain remote.  Sally intends to teach in-person. “I’m all for the mask, but I’m acknowledging that it’s going to be different. We’re also going to have access to some face shields, so if they stand far enough away, the actors could take off the mask and we could see the expression on their faces with the face shield,” she adds. 

Virginia Wesleyan will also adjust their schedule by starting on Monday, August 24th and will be forgoing Fall break. Students will then move out at Thanksgiving Break and have their last week and a half of classes and final exams delivered online. They also have contingency plans: “If any faulty member or student gets sick, we have to be prepared to deliver the rest of the content for the semester to that student if they are well enough to continue. If they just need to be distanced through technology, and they’re not too ill to continue the course, I want to continue providing it for them.”  The same remote contingency plan is in place for faculty if they get sick and must deliver the rest of their courses online.

Social distancing has also been carefully calculated by the University and class sizes have been capped to make sure students may safely social distance. Cleaning protocols have also been put in place. “That’s our current plan for now but as you know, if the pandemic’s taught us nothing, it’s that everything is flexible,” said Sally.

Although there will be accommodations, Sally and Dr. Travis Malone have assured their students, “We’re doing productions at Wesleyan next year!”  

“They may be remote. They may be outside. But nothing will stop us from doing it,” assured Sally. Travis will be directing the Fall show. They were not too far into planning this year’s season when the pandemic hit, Sally shared, so, “as a department we’ve gotten to think this through as the pandemic has sort of unfolded. Travis has a background in film and video production, so I believe the main stage show is probably going to be a filmed performance of perhaps a devised work that the students are creating.” Having a filmed final performance will also free up a time slot in the Goode Fine and Performing Arts Center allowing students to hold their One Act directing projects in that space if conditions are favorable for gathering there. “The Goode seats 50 with social distancing and the One Act casts are traditionally very small,” adds Sally. “So they could be offered inside, or it could be done outside, socially distanced.”  

Dr. Sally Shedd, Dr. Travis Malone, and student Abby Horgan in Legally Blonde- they are onstage in costumes with a blue background.
Dr. Sally Shedd, Dr. Travis Malone, and student Abby Horgan in Legally Blonde at the Susan S. Goode Fine and Performing Arts Center.

Sally is scheduled to direct a musical in the Goode in April of 2021 and says that she will “move forward with the idea that we’re going to be able to stage a musical. If it should become evident that we can’t, I will have a backup plan. I’ll probably have 2 or 3 back up plans,” she laughs, “because that’s how I roll. But we will be doing something.”

Whatever form the Spring semester takes, Sally is confident she and her students will conquer it together. “I’m really proud that our department is very supportive and lovely to each other,” she beams. Working at a small college like Virginia Wesleyan allows her to foster close bonds with her students. “When you are at a small enough place you notice everything – even when they get a haircut. You notice when their diction gets better on a piece. You notice when, ‘Oh my God this work on this monologue is the most honest straightforward work I’ve ever seen you do! I feel like you’re really opening up! This is amazing!’ You know that because you have seen their previous work, and there’s just no substitute for that. I really love being on that journey with them. There’s something that is such a gift, to see them – to witness that, and maybe share that with them,” she concludes. Thankfully, Sally and the rest of the Virginia Wesleyan community will soon resume their journey together, strengthening their bonds and sharing their stories.

You can check out the VW Theatre Department here.