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.

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Ghostlight – Little Theatre of Norfolk Podcast features Spotlight Writer Moriah Joy

Words by BA Ciccolella.
Image courtesy of Moriah Joy.

A huge thank you to the Little Theatre of Norfolk for hosting Spotlight’s Moriah Joy to talk about her recent article “Op-Ed: Gig Economy Work during a Pandemic”. Moriah’s interview can be found on Episode 7 of Ghostlight – The Little Theatre of Norfolk, entitled The Gig Economy: How to be a Starving Artist (pandemic not required). (Full disclosure, Moriah is also a board member at the Little Theatre of Norfolk.)

Moriah Joy's headshot.

Anyone wishing to hear Moriah (and your friendly editor, who is one of the hosts of Ghostlight – Little Theatre of Norfolk), can listen to that specific episode, or subscribe to the podcast at any of the following sites:

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Ghostlight is also looking to continue the conversation by taking voicemails on the topic of the gig economy at 757-632-3281. Any voicemails left on this topic may be featured on a future Ghostlight episode.

Besides following us on Facebook for more community news, you can follow the Little Theatre of Norfolk on Facebook and Instagram as well! 

Script Club – by LTN and PCT

Words by Nina Martin.
Image courtesy of BA Ciccolella.

What do you do when you can’t safely bring the community performances? You bring them the scripts!

It all started with some Little Theatre of Norfolk board members sitting around the LTN Green Room talking about community involvement. To perform a play, you need people. You need actors, you need a production team, and you need an audience. And certain plays require specific skills or actors to produce properly (your humble author has been DYING to put up a production of Allegiance). How could they get more people interested in a wider range of pieces so we could present a broader range of material. The answer: Script Club. People love book clubs, why not have one for scripts? Minimal commitment, broader reach. The idea was born and slowly started to be brainstormed in the free time around putting up the current season.

Enter COVID-19.

Suddenly, all the shows stopped. Everyone went into crisis mode. COVID hit everyone hard, but the Arts and Entertainment sector had its unique challenges . Theater is dependent upon groups of people, on stage and in the audience. Within a matter of days, one couldn’t even enter the venue except to quickly check the mail and make sure the trash was put out. Shows were cancelled, patrons were contacted, tickets were refunded or, generously, converted to donations or complementary tickets to whatever the next show might be. And most of it was done remotely from volunteers’ homes. Theater leaders started watching endless webinars about sanitization, the Small Business Administration, licensing law, and the difference between “streaming” and “broadcast.” They stayed up late worrying about the future of their theaters and their patrons. They had late night chats and Zoom meetings drinking wine, comforting each other, and mourning. But then, they got back to art.

Theater was not defeated by the fall of Rome, nor the Black Death, and it will not be defeated now. Theater folk are nothing if not creative. How do you continue to bring the arts to the community when you can’t be within six feet of the community? You see what you can do over the internet as far as performances… and Script Clubs!

Little Theatre of Norfolk partnered with the Peninsula Community Theatre to get Script Club off the ground. The idea was to offer at least three plays at first, with as much variety as possible, but titles that were somewhat known in order deliver a strong start to the concept. The first offerings were Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, and William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. The initial response was very promising.

Each selection is approached organically. The facilitator chooses the dates, times, and what will be discussed at each meeting. Some divide the discussions up by act. Some by topics. Some by characters. And the facilitators adapt according to what the participants want and need. Some run more like a class, others more like a traditional book club. The response thus far has been very promising.

There are many new faces in attendance, some from as far away as the West Coast. The theatres are able to have conversations with the community about what they want to see and learn about. In return, the presenters are able to introduce a work to the public before investing in staging a production.

Script Club has just finished Neil Simon’s Lost In Yonkers and will soon be reading Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Another Shakespeare will be announced shortly, and there are several other facilitators working on new selections. If you would like to attend Script Club, check out the LTN and PCT websites, or their facebook pages. New plays are announced at least a week in advance, and links are provided to sources for each script. If you would like to suggest a play, or lead a discussion yourself, please submit a proposal here.

Little Theater of Norfolk’s website and Facebook page.
Peninsula Community Theater’s website and Facebook page.

Wars Within A War – A Piece of My Heart at Little Theater Norfolk

Words by Nathan M. Jacques
Photos by Lisa Hogan

A Piece of My Heart, written by Shirley Lauro, tells the story of six women who found themselves thrust into the middle of the chaos of the controversial Vietnam War. Although bonded and united by their common duty to care for a multitude of war casualties, each woman faced their own internal battles alone.

Director Kelly Gilliam and Assistant Director Kathryn Finney, taking the helm of the Little Theatre of Norfolk’s production of this compelling piece, have essentially crafted a work of art. The Little Theatre of Norfolk’s production of A Piece of My Heart is easily one of the best presentations personally experienced to date at this venue.

Although this story was based on the Vietnam War, many of the issues presented in the piece are applicable to today’s men and women of the armed forces- particularly the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. The women portrayed in the story must rapidly adjust to their harsh, unpredictable surroundings in order to save American lives during the conflict- clearly foreshadowing their post-war adjustments back into civilian society- which was also harsh for those who returned from Vietnam. 

A Piece of My Heart requires a cast of actors that is able to portray a wide range of characters and also reach extraordinary levels of emotional intensity. Director Gilliam has assembled a dream-team of actors for this production. The cast consists of Peyton Henderson, Corenn Holmes, Louise Casini Hollis, Moriah Joy, Samantha Santee, Sami Topping, and Peter Scheible.  Every actor selected for this production was cast superbly for each role(s).

A scene from L.T.N's A Piece of My Heart. Nurses react to their surroundings.

Witnessing each actor embody and transition into a different character was astounding to say the least. The cast tasked with said transitions demonstrates the impressive level of talent present in this production.  As the show progresses, each character wrestles with the impact of the war on their lives physically and mentally both during the war and years after the conflict.

The show’s pacing reflects that of what one would expect a warzone would have. One moment peace- in the next moment, total chaos.  Lauro’s writing, combined with the skill of this cast and crew, gives a terrifying (and effective) glimpse into the madness of what these American heroes witnessed.

A scene from L.T.N's A Piece of My Heart. An intelligence officer talks about her struggle getting people to listen to her reports.

The collaboration between set designer Terry Flint, lighting designer B. Butterbaugh, sound designer Charles Owrey, costumer Kathy Hinson, and props master Robin Martineau complements and accentuates the journey the actors share with the audience. The set for A Piece of My Heart is simplistic, yet effective.  Impressive also was the fact that every item on stage served a purpose which kept the scenes uncluttered with no distractions.

Without delving too deep into spoiler territory, a handful of scenes often transitioned from serene to intense situations within a matter of seconds. These moments emphasized the powerful lighting and sound design of this production. 

The entire cast, crew, and production team have done a superb job in telling the story of six women who found camaraderie within chaos and reminding us that for some, wars don’t always end on a battlefield.

This particular production, part of the the Norfolk Theatre Festival, is nothing short of a master class in theatrical genius. 

UPDATE:
Out of an abundance of caution, and due to concerns about the Coronavirus (COVID-19), LTN has decided to cancel the final two weekends of performances, and ticket sales have been suspended for the rest of this weekend.

A Piece of My Heart runs through March 15th at the Little Theatre of Norfolk.