Conversations on A Strange Loop - Live at JCC Harlem
At a live interview event at JCC Harlem on October 24, 2022, I spoke with two artists who were integral to the Broadway production of A Strange Loop, the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical by Michael R. Jackson. These artists – Associate Director Nemuna Ceesay and original cast member Jason Veasey – spoke about the show’s development and themes . This episode includes highlights from the live event.
For more information on A Strange Loop, visit strangeloopmusical.com, and follow Nemuna and Jason on Instagram at @_nemuna_ and @veaseyville.
Ma Rainey - Interview with Michael Potts
This is the second of two episodes focusing on August Wilson’s play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and its recent film adaptation on Netflix. Today’s interview is with actor Michael Potts who starred in the Netflix film as Slow Drag, the bass player in Ma Rainey’s blues band.When I watched Michael Potts as Slow Drag, I saw something recognizable: the way his character can convey so much with a glance or a knowing look. It is the tendency to observe rather than jump into action. To see a situation from an intellectual distance. I went back to re-watch three roles from his TV work, all HBO series: True Detective, Show Me a Hero, and The Wire in which he played the notable character Brother Mouzone.The art of observation is apparent in each of these characters. As Michael says in the interview: “It’s part of my natural inclinations as a person, as Michael, to observe everything. I’m very aware of where I am in situations. I’m always checking the temperature of the room, which the actor training simply reinforced.”
Ma Rainey - History, Play, & Netflix Film
In April, I had the pleasure of leading an evening event about August Wilson, specifically his play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. This event was hosted by the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Maryland, where the program I co-direct, Exploring Black Narratives, first took off. This conversation includes background on Wilson’s life and the Great Migration in America, as well as a comparative discussion on the script of Ma Rainey and the Netflix film adaptation.
"Pipeline" - Nya
This episode is one of two classroom interviews with 11th grade students at Shalhevet high school in Los Angeles, CA. As part of the Exploring Black Narratives program, we studied Dominique Morisseau's play "Pipeline" and interviewed actors who starred in productions around the US. Today's interview is with Andrea Harris Smith who played Nya at the Studio Theatre production of "Pipeline" in Washington, D.C.Pipeline centers on a public high school teacher named Nya whose own teenage son, Omari, attends a private boarding school. Nya’s ex-husband Xavier, Omari’s dad, believes that the private school will give Omari the best education though it’s a distance from his home and Omari would be one of the only Black students in his classes. At the start of the play, Nya calls Xavier with the news that Omari has gotten into an altercation with his teacher. The teacher had pressured him to talk about Richard Wright’s novel Native Son as though Omari were the representative to speak about Black characters. Feeling increasingly cornered by the teacher, Omari physically pushed back and winds up suspended and at risk of being arrested. Nya worries that the school administrators will see Omari’s appearance and respond harshly, channeling him into the school-to-prison pipeline. While Nya is confident in her role as a teacher, she feels inadequate as a parent trying to protect her son.If you'd like to learn more about Exploring Black Narratives, here is an article about the program that I wrote for American Theatre magazine: https://www.americantheatre.org/2021/03/19/the-familiar-and-the-new-teaching-black-plays-in-jewish-high-schools/