Gift of an Orange will be in open rehearsal at the 95 Empire Black Box Tuesday, 3/11-Thursday, 3/13. What is an open rehearsal?
An open rehearsal is akin to letting folks peek through the keyhole. They are invited to watch the process as the final rehearsal of the play unfolds. The beautiful thing about this play is that we have produced it in two different locations; they won’t be seeing scripts in hand but will be observing us fit the play in a new environment. The first iteration was presented in a Boston theater, on a proscenium stage, and the second was outdoors in the round in Provincetown. When we go to New Orleans in a couple weeks, we will be outdoors again, in a beautiful courtyard with several obstacles. The open rehearsal at 95 Empire rehearsal will show us trying to manipulate the new world we will be living in and maneuvering the obstacles that are presented with the space. As a director I am excited (and a little bit scared) to meet the challenges the new venue presents.
And the 95 Empire audience will get to ask questions of you and the cast afterwards?
Absolutely. What’s exciting about this new venue is that the audience encircles the action. We will have the Black Box at 95 Empire set up (as much as we can) to reflect the setting in New Orleans. The audience will be, if you will, a part of the set. We ask that they treat this as a theatrical performance in the sense that they do not interact with the cast during the presentation; however, at the end of our rehearsal, we will conduct a talkback. The audience can ask questions and learn more about our process and production.
Can you tell me a little about Gift of an Orange? What is its relationship to Tennessee Williams?
The play is based on Mr. Williams’ short story, “Gift of an Apple”, based in Italy. In Williams’ original story, a young drifter happens upon a large Italian woman in a trailer by the side of a road. Hungry, he stops to talk with her and in the process, the pair share a brief moment of lust, interrupted by her realization that he is far too young. Williams takes that tiny little moment, what in reality would last only a minute or two, and gives it meaning beyond what the two characters can realize. When Charlene Donaghy read Tennessee Williams’ short story “Gift of an Apple,” she was struck by the connection, however fleeting, between his two characters. The result of that inspiration is the play Gift of an Orange
So the 95 Empire Black Box performance is to rehearse the cast for the New Orleans Literary Festival? How did the play get selected?
One of the producers of the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in New Orleans came to the Provincetown production and was impressed by it. The rest is as they say, history.
New Urban Theatre Laboratory is your company in Massachusetts. Can you tell me how it got started and where you hope to go?
New Urban Theatre Lab came about on Superbowl Sunday five years ago, February, 2009.
Cliff Odle and Alan White, fellow co-founders, and me were all at my place in Boston and, as actors do, we started that never-ending conversation of not having enough opportunities to see our own people of color stories on stage…and of seeing ourselves always reflected through the eyes of white playwrights and producers. I had been bugging Cliff for years to start a theater company, and for some reason, that night, that moment it felt right. Our mission statement reads: “The New Urban Theatre Laboratory exists to use the experimental power of theatre to investigate the stories and voices of those who exist on the margins of society. We seek to bring the stories of the underrepresented to the forefront using the active ingredients of honesty and insight mixed in with equal parts sadness and joy, myth and mysticism, farce and cynicism and above all, truth.”
One of our first productions in October of 2009 was the play, Srey Neang, by Bernice Luison Sim. It is a story about an Asian woman who is sold into servitude as a young girl and eventually ends up being sold into prostitution. It was a hard play to watch, but it also fit our mission to tell the stories of people living and existing in the margins. It showed faces we don’t generally get to see on stage. We had a cast of four Asian actors on stage on a story about life in an Asian country!
New Urban Theatre Lab produced Gift of an Orange as the winner of our playwriting competition “The Love Experiment” . The premise was (or as we Labbers like to say, the hypothesis) that Love is an Experiment. The play had to meet four criteria–no more than four actors and no longer than an hour with a submission deadline and a submission fee. The winning script not only received a public reading at the end of Season 2, but a full production to kick off Season 3. Charlene’s play knocked it out of the park, as far as storyline, casting, location, and adherence to our mission statement.
Right now, New Urban is a company of one person, and the progress is a little slower. As far as our future, I’m contemplating next steps as well. All of the productions were in Massachusetts, and I’ve since relocated to Rhode Island. While not far away, it does make it difficult to try to coordinate productions out of two places. My focus now is to form a niche in my new home town of Providence which I’m happy to say is coming along nicely. I am a part of the Rhode Island Teaching Artists (RITAC), affiliated with Trinity Rep’s summer intensive program YASI, acted with the Manton Avenue Project (amazing people), and most recently, directed For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.
You recently got some great reviews for your direction of Mixed Magic’s Colored Girls. Will we see more of your work in Rhode Island?
I hope so! I directed For Colored Girls because I have a connection to the piece, as I was cast as Lady in Blue in a production in Boston years ago and because I was very excited to have a chance to direct in Rhode Island. And I hope to organize a series of Edward Albee plays in the fall with a fourth play as a surprise here at 95 Empire. It feels as if I’m finally breaking ground. I hope this is the beginning of many more projects here.
Gift of an Orange will be in open rehearsal with a talkback at the 95 Empire Black Box on Tuesday, March 11, Wednesday, March 12, and Thursday, March 13, at 7:30.
Tickets will be available at the door on a sliding scale: $5-10.