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An In-Depth Interview with Sean Harris on “The Scottsboro Boys”

The Scottsboro Boys are making Connecticut History

by contributing writer, Amanda Forker

After their critically acclaimed, sold-out run of Lin Manuel Miranda’s, In the Heights, last summer, the artistic and executive directors of Playhouse on Park (Sean Harris, Darlene Zoller and Tracy Flater) know that producing The Scottsboro Boys presents some unique risks and challenges they haven’t faced before. They also know that they have a responsibility to produce relevant shows with diverse casts, involve their community through educational outreach and share vital stories that need to be told. They are ready for this challenge and eager to engage the community in the process.

The Scottsboro Boys is a musical that tells the true story of nine, young African-American men who were falsely accused of rape on March 25, 1931, and the grievous injustices they faced throughout the rest of their lives because of it. Written by the popular musical songwriting team, Kander & Ebb (ChicagoCabaretFosse), this musical received the highest of praise, but also met with some harsh criticism during its two-month run on Broadway in 2010. To be frank, this is a controversial show and a box-office risk for any theater company brave enough to perform it…and it’s coming to Playhouse on Park this summer.

As the 88th anniversary of the terrible event approached, I reached out to Sean Harris, who will also be directing the upcoming production of The Scottsboro Boys, to ask him some questions about this exciting and ambitious endeavor.

June 26-August 4

Q:  What motivated you to choose The Scottsboro Boys for the last show of your 10th season?

Sean:  I think The Scottsboro Boys represents exactly who we are as a theatre. Our mission has always been to find ways to challenge, entertain, and educate audiences, while immersing them in the story. We framed the theme of our tenth season around bravery. This production highlights the undeniable bravery of the characters but also calls us to step up to the challenge of producing it. We can think of no better way of not only celebrating our 10th Anniversary season, but doing justice to that achievement by producing this most important story.

Q:  Why is this is an important show for Playhouse on Park to produce?

Sean: This show features a fabulous range of musical styles and the opportunity to develop exciting choreography. But it also tells a profoundly important, true story that too many people know nothing about – nine young men falsely accused of rape in the 1930’s, whose criminal cases ultimately led to two landmark U.S. Supreme Court rulings reversing their convictions, but whose lives were nevertheless ruined.   Racism, then and now, is often too difficult to discuss or can be brushed under the rug; the story of the Scottsboro Boys is no different. Yet, the music and the dance numbers are not only spectacular but critical to helping the characters tell their truth in a way that audiences can receive and, hopefully, not forget. Using the intimacy of our theater space, we want to create an immersive and visceral connection with the characters as well as a communal experience for our audiences.  

Q:  How do you think this show will benefit the Greater Hartford Community?

Sean:  The show has never been done before in Connecticut, so being able to tell this important story in the Greater Hartford Community is really special. We hope to learn and grow along with the community and we’re excited to engage with people after each show.  

Q:  Professional productions of The Scottsboro Boys have been met with protests and criticism for its use of minstrelsy and blackface. Considering current events, what are your thoughts on why they are necessary aspects of the show?

Sean: From what I understand, many (if not most) of those who protested The Scottsboro Boys during its run on Broadway did not see the show. I believe that Joyce Kulhawik, in an article she wrote on October 27, 2016 entitled; “A Tale of Justice Deferred in SpeakEasy’s Sharp-Edged ‘Scottsboro Boys,'” put it best: “Unlike an historic minstrel show, with its white (and often black) actors in blackface playing stock characters that caricature black folks, this cast of minstrels is entirely black. It proceeds to caricature the white folks, from the women who initially accused the boys to the politicians, police and lawyers who victimized them. The show takes the racial stereotypes of minstrelsy and puts them at the mercy of a true tale of racial prejudice. This subversive device is as brilliant as it is disturbing, affording us a rich menu of gospel, blues, ragtime, jazz and tap, and paying homage to the song, dance and narrative foundations upon which musical theater is built.”

Q:  Were you familiar with the story of The Scottsboro Boys before choosing this musical?

Sean:  I was only passively familiar with the story. My history books in high school and college very rarely addressed the darkest parts of American history, especially those parts steeped in racism. When we started talking about this show as a possibility, I dove deeper into the research and knew that this was a story that needed to be told again.   

Q:  How do you intend to engage the community in this production?

Sean: We will be having facilitated question and answer sessions with the audience and cast after every performance hosted by guests from the community. In the months before the run, we have a committee focused specifically on outreach and we hope to talk about the show as much as possible. We plan to create a study guide, for both students and general audiences, to read in advance of seeing the show and will be adding relevant literature to our website. Additionally, we’re exploring panel presentations, seeking support for small group conversations with skilled facilitators, working on educational outreach for younger audiences and engaging community organizations.

Q:  What do you want the community to know about this show and your production of it?

Sean:  We want the community and our audiences to know that we are going to produce this show with thoughtfulness, sensitivity and a deep commitment to telling this story honestly, using the most of our creative abilities.

Q:  How do you intend to tell the story of these young, African American men and the injustices they faced, in an authentic, informed and compassionate way?

Sean:  Research is important but what has been most important for us as a predominantly white creative team is to acknowledge that it is not our story to tell. This story is masterfully told through the point of view of the nine young men and the last thing we want to do is to tell this predominantly African American cast how to feel. If we are successful in our commitment to tell this story honestly and with thoughtfulness and sensitivity, it is because we will have created and formed this story together. If we are successful in the telling of this story, the audience will feel that connection, too. 

Q:  What are you most excited about for this production?

Sean:  I am very excited for the creative process. I am convinced that we will be inspired and challenged by every moment in the rehearsal room. Given the extraordinary work of Kander and Ebb and the power of the story itself, I anticipate that our creative, artistic, and technical teams, together with the cast, will be pushed to the height of our artistic selves; it will be an unforgettable artistic journey.    I am also eager to have conversations: Conversations about the process, with the press, with the audiences and with the community. Ultimately, I believe that this show perfectly aligns (perhaps more so than any other we’ve ever done) with our artistic mission, which is to challenge, to educate and to entertain our audiences.              

director Sean Harris

*Some of the above responses have been edited for length and clarity.The Scottsboro Boys plays from June 26 through August 4 at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2 p.m.; with an added Tuesday matinee July 2 at 2 p.m. Tickets are on sale now!
$40 to $50; $35 to $45 for students, seniors & Let’s GO Arts members.

860-523-5900 x10.http://www.playhouseonpark.org.

Seven Ways to Save Money at Playhouse on Park

As you may already know, Playhouse on Park keeps ticket prices low as part of our mission to offer professional quality theater at an accessible cost to our patrons! But, of course, we’re happy to offer these additional perks to those who are watching their budget and still want to have a great night out at the theater! If you’re not familiar with the deals we offer, read on:

Lunchtime specials

Do you and your friends want to see a Main Stage show for $10? Simply pick the day of the show you’d like to go to, and visit our friendly box office representative (on the day of that show) between the hours of 12pm and 1pm for a lunchtime special ticket! This amazing deal is available cash only, so if you’re in the neighborhood, come on over and grab your discounted tickets. Our computer system picks your tickets for you, but remember, there isn’t really a bad seat in the house! Please note that given the popularity of some shows, it’d be wise to call our box office when we open at 10am to check and see how that evening’s show has been selling.

Student Rush

What do you need? Your college ID and $10 cash. That’s it. Take a break from the books and join us to escape with live theater. Student rush begins 15 minutes prior to each show.

Senior Discounts

That’s right, you’ve paid full price your entire life and now it’s time to start taking advantage of your “senior” status! Anyone aged 62 and up receive a $5 discount on any of our Main Stage Series shows. Now isn’t that special?

Group Rates

Grab the girls from your book club, or a bunch of friends for a group date night, or a gaggle of little ones for a birthday party celebration and save when you come to see a show! Purchase 10 tickets or more and save 10% off of regular ticket price, and receive 1 additional complimentary ticket.

Let’s Go Arts!

Our friends at the Greater Hartford Arts Council has a discount membership program promoting arts and entertainment in our community. Contribute at least $50 to the United Arts Program and you’ll automatically be enrolled as a Let’s Go Arts! member, earning you discounts at local eateries, museums and theaters. We participate in this program and offer $5 off any Main Stage Series ticket to Let’s Go Arts! members.

Subscribe!

There are so many benefits to being a subscriber to our Main Stage Series here at Playhouse on Park, and for more details, click over to this post for a full rundown of the perks. Subscribe and save up to 20% off of individual ticket sales.

Previews & Tuesday Matinees

The two nights preceding opening night for each Main Stage show (Wednesday and Thursday, respectively) offer deeply discounted tickets. Each seat is only $17.50! These previews are for any last minute changes that the director or production team wants to adjust before opening night – other than that, everything is ready for the public, from lights to costumes! We also offer a 2pm Tuesday matinee during each run with all tickets priced at $22.50!

Any questions?

Our box office reps are standing by for any of your questions about these deals! Give us a ring at 860-523-5900 x10, or email us at boxoffice@playhouseonpark.org.

Rehearsing With The Cast of A Chorus Line

By Katie Gorsky, Hofstra ’18, Playhouse on Park Summer Intern

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In the days leading up to opening night of “A Chorus Line,” the cast was still hard at work putting on the final touches during their last few rehearsals.  Over the past few weeks, the group has spent long days and nights preparing for this massive production, and all of that work has paid off as the show’s run is well underway on the Playhouse stage.

A typical rehearsal usually begins with a thorough dance warm up by choreographer, Darlene Zoller, where cast members get their bodies ready to start the day with a series of stretches and strengthening exercises.  Next, dance material is reviewed in depth to ensure that everything from last rehearsal can be perfected, followed by a fresh batch of new choreography and scenes.

Even though rehearsing five days a week and eight hours a day sounds like plenty of time, when there’s only three weeks to get ready for the show, every minute must be used carefully.

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be able to attend a rehearsal when the cast was working on the show’s iconic finale scene, “One.”  When I walked into the studio space I was pleased to see everyone chatting and joking together like they had known each other for years. (Of course, considering they had been spending nearly every waking minute together, it wasn’t too surprising).   Despite having a good time together, when it was time to start rehearsing, everyone was able to successfully put their conversations aside and focus on the task ahead.

Being able to see a rehearsal in person really put into terms how much of a challenge putting on this show truly is.  I could tell that the biggest trial for the actors is how demanding and precise the choreography is for something that must be learned in a matter of weeks.  Not only must the cast be able to remember every step and formation, but they also must be aware of every leg angle, pointed toe, and hat movement.  In order to achieve those sought-after moments of impeccable synchronization, everything must be picture perfect.

Make sure you secure tickets for A Chorus Line (running ’til July 31) so you can see how this demanding rehearsal process translates into a phenomenal show!

Behind the Scenes: A Chorus Line

By Kaitlyn Gorsky, Hofstra ’18, Playhouse on Park Summer Intern

Get your jazz hands ready and your top hats on because we are less than two weeks away from Playhouse on Park’s summer premiere of “A Chorus Line!” With only two weeks of rehearsal time, twenty-five actors, and the challenge of putting on one of the most iconic musicals of the twentieth century, this performance will surely be one of the largest and most rewarding premieres that the Playhouse has ever seen.

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A portion of the cast during the meet and greet at the Playhouse.

Set in the 1970s, “A Chorus Line” follows the individual stories of Broadway hopefuls as they audition for parts in the chorus of an upcoming production. As cuts are made and only seventeen candidates remain, each begins to tell their stories of what brought them to audition in the first place. Featured in the production are many notable musical performances including, “I Hope I Get It,” “One,” “I Can Do That,” “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three,” “At The Ballet,” “The Music and The Mirror,” and many more.
However, before the actors can take the stage of this highly anticipated production, there is much to be done. And like those auditioning in “A Chorus Line,” we all have to start at the bottom to reach the top. That’s where I come in.

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Set Designer Christopher Hoyt and Darlene Zoller

This summer I will be interning with the Playhouse and documenting my experiences behind the scenes. Over the next few weeks, I will be attending rehearsals, speaking with actors and directors, and working behind the scenes to see just how this musical can go from songs on paper to an enormous live performance.
In the past I have attended a few of Playhouse on Park’s musical performances, and was absolutely blown away by the sheer talent of the actors and the genius that went into each show’s direction. Because of this, I have high expectations for what the Playhouse has in store for us in their rendition of this classic musical and am so excited to see what twist they put on it.

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Co-Director Sean Harris shares his vision for the show as Stage Manager Mollie Cook and Co-Director and Choreographer Darlene Zoller look on.

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L->R: Music Director Mike Morris, Playhouse Executive Director Tracy Flater, Co-Director Sean Harris, Music Director Emmett Drake, Stage Manager Mollie Cook.

Make sure to keep checking in for updates on the progress of the show, and I can’t wait to see you at the Playhouse when “A Chorus Line” premieres on June 17th!

From the Stage to the Seats: An Observation of Spelling Bee

By Taryn Balchunas (Assistant Grant Writer/Contributor)

For me, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is one of those shows that makes my mouth hurt from smiling so much. I first saw the production on Broadway as a freshman in high school when our acting teacher and current Artistic Director at the Playhouse, Sean Harris, took the drama department to see the show. He was invited to be a guest speller, we had the privilege of attending a session with the production’s understudy for Marcy Park, as well as the privilege of seeing Jesse Tyler Ferguson play Leaf Coneybear. That was the first show I saw on Broadway and it was a magical experience.

 

Since, I’ve never forgotten Spelling Bee. I didn’t hesitate to see my friend perform in Clark University’s production of the show, and I revisit the music when it strikes my fancy. I was thrilled to hear when the Playhouse announced they would put on this production to close out our fifth season. I knew it was going to be a fabulous run and wanted to be a part of my favorite musical somehow.

 

On opening night, I was signed up to be a guest speller. Perhaps wearing overalls was an advantage in getting chosen. I digress. Being a guest speller is a wonderful way of having the opportunity to participate in Spelling Bee. I had to answer a few questions before I was selected, a short bio that the moderators could use to poke fun at the guest spellers as they’re called to the mic. Those selected were given a list of reminders to help prepare us for our participation onstage. We were able to sit in our audience seats until the guidance counselor called us for a conference at the beginning of the show, reminding us of the rules and handing us number tags to wear around our necks to match the spellers in the cast. Then we were ushered onstage, where the spellers directed us where to sit on the bleachers. I sat next to Marcy Park, who was convincingly portrayed as intense and intimidating by Maya Naff. I hummed instead of sang along to “The Spelling Rules,” one of the moments where it was hard to not break into one of the songbook’s infectious tunes.  Guest spellers were encouraged to be ourselves and not overact or be a ham, anyway.


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The first word that I was selected to spell was “apoop.” As I was directed to, I asked for the definition and for Vice Principal Panch to use it in a sentence. What tricked me was the sentence, “Guido the seasick Italian sailor said, “Excuse me boys, but I have to go apoop.” The stereotypical Italian accent and Panch’s initial delivery of the word prompted me to spell the word as “poop.” Panch repeated the word for me after I finished spelling and allowed me to spell it again, probably to save me from the humiliation of getting out of the competition so early. The second word that I had to spell was “crapaud.” Since I was familiar with Spelling Bee’s adult content, I was prepared for some adult humor from the word selections. However, being unfamiliar with the word, I heard it as “craphole” and spelled it as such. When I was mulling over how to spell the word, I tried telepathically communicating with Panch to see if he really wanted me to utter the word “craphole” out loud. And no, telepathically pleading with an actor does not work. Panch looked at me stoically and patiently before I gave my final answer. Being a guest speller is nerveracking, even with the forewarning. I was cut from the competition because of my dirty mind.

 

While onstage for the majority of the first act, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience. I jumped from my seat when Mitch Mahoney turned to the spellers and pounded his chest in a threatening way. “Pandemonium” was literally pandemonium when the spellers shuffled the guest spellers along the stage, even rolling us on the bleachers like an amusement park ride. I wasn’t too disappointed when I was disqualified and received a certificate and Hi-C (not apple juice) juice box, a sugary “juice” my mother refused to purchase when I was a kid. Viewing the rest of the show from my stage left seat of the three-quarter thrust was a treat in itself.

 

I’ve always regarded being a live theater actor as one of the toughest professions, due to the consecutive performances and repetitiveness their job requires. Luckily, Spelling Bee has the advantage of allotted room for improv, allowing for something different at every performance. I decided to see this show at the Playhouse a second time near the end of its run, in order to watch it from my audience seat in full as well as see the progress it has made since opening night. Since we extended the show’s run, the cast has been able to work on their portrayals at every performance, improving more and more. And when I saw it a second time, I was not surprised to see an excellent and compelling performance. When I saw the determined and focused look in Maya Naff’s eyes, I knew she has delivered as Marcy Park every performance. When I heard Natalie Sannes hit that very high note during “The I Love You Song,” I knew she can reach it every time without difficulty. And when I witnessed Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre get disqualified, I knew Hillary Ekwall’s tears were real. The main differences I noticed only were the order of the words chosen for each guest speller, the time at which the guest spellers took a photo with the cast, and the type of relationship between Rona Lisa Peretti and Vice Principal Douglas Panch. Though, the reveal in Peretti and Panch’s epilogues about Panch’s restraining order being undetectable throughout the show might be the fault of the playwrights and not the actors.

 

The great thing about Spelling Bee is that even in this fictitious world, the characters come to life. Steven Mooney did a wonderful job at convincing me to like William Barfee, although some would argue that Barfee isn’t supposed to be a likable character. I was also happy to see Steven’s hair grow back to resemble Barfee’s curly hair. Costume designer Collette C. Benoit did a terrific job with the costumes, bringing out each character’s specific quirks from Olive’s silk top to Logainne’s star-spangled canvas shoes. The characters were zany, heartfelt, and the actors’ love for them was definitely apparent. I could see why they would want to sign on to play teenagers for a little over a month. Spelling Bee creates a world that feels human. We laugh, we cry. Even as an audience member, it’s a world that’s hard to leave.

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Join Playhouse on Park as it Celebrates 5 Years

By Jane Weber Brubaker (Freelance Writer)

 

With California Chrome dominating the sports news as the latest contender for the Triple Crown, another legendary horse comes to mind when contemplating the history of Playhouse on Park, celebrating its fifth anniversary this month. The story of Seabiscuit depicts three people whose lives and aspirations intertwine and converge in their pursuit of a shared dream. The three founders of Playhouse on Park had a big dream of their own five years ago: to found a professional regional theater in Connecticut.

 

Five years is significant in the life of a new theater. “Everybody we spoke to in the early days said it takes five to seven years for a theater company to stabilize, when you know you’re going to make it,” says Tracy Flater, executive director. “As we hit five years, so much hard work is paying off,” she added, noting the increase in season ticket holders and growing interest from corporate donors.

 

The work began in early 2009 when Flater and co-founders/co-artistic directors Darlene Zoller and Sean Harris formed a partnership and began to shape the vision they believed would take three to four years to fully realize. An unexpected opportunity shrank the schedule from several years to a few weeks: Park Road Playhouse in West Hartford went out of business.

 

Zoller had been looking for a venue to stage a show that would demonstrate their vision for potential investors. When she approached Catherine Denton, the landlord of the bankrupt theater, Denton suggested that they take over the space. Despite the recessionary times, the three founders believed they could beat the odds. They agreed to lease the theater and moved in on June 1, 2009. The venue was renamed Playhouse on Park, signaling a change in identity from a community theater to a professional theater. Their goal was to provide high-quality entertainment and a diverse selection of offerings at affordable prices.

 

Like any startup, Playhouse on Park had to overcome countless obstacles in the early days. “The night before we moved in somebody stole many of the lights,” said Flater. “From the moment we moved in we had such amazing hurdles,” she added, recalling a benefactor who promised them a $25,000 grant and then reneged a few days later.

 

In spite of these and numerous other setbacks, the founders forged ahead full speed, staging an ambitious lineup of eight shows in the first year. They backed it down to a more manageable five the following year, and gradually added more shows in subsequent years as their finances and reputation grew.

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The founders of Playhouse on Park: Darlene Zoller, Sean Harris, and Tracy Flater (photo credit: Rich Wagner)

In the upcoming season Playhouse on Park’s main stage will feature seven plays including Angels in America, Altar Boyz, Proof, The Dining Room, The Importance of Being Earnest and Hair. “All the plays we chose for next year have great roles for every actor,” said Harris. “They are all immersive pieces.” The stop/time dance theater rounds out the season with its annual dance musical revue. Playhouse on Park is the only professional regional theater in Connecticut with its own resident dance company.

 

The theater seats 160 in a “three-quarter thrust” u-shaped arrangement. The last row is just four rows back, giving every audience member a birds-eye view of the stage and the performers. The layout creates a heightened sense of intimacy for both actors and audience. “The three-quarter thrust lends itself to an amazing theater experience because no one can hide,” said Zoller. “The actors can’t hide from the audience, the audience can’t hide from the actors, and the audience members can’t hide from each other.”

 

The interactive experience begins even before the play, when one enters the small but comfortable lobby, furnished with cozy leather couches and walls covered with colorful production shots. The three principals are on hand to welcome first-timers and greet season ticket holders. Performances are prefaced with friendly, engaging “curtain talks” from the founders, offering inside information about the play and the playhouse. Many performances feature a talkback with the actors after the show, giving the audience a chance to ask questions and give feedback. Playhouse on Park feels hospitable and personal. “Everything is about the community,” said Harris.

 

Highlighting the community aspect, Playhouse on Park casts all shows using both Equity and non-union professional actors. The hybrid model, inviting participation from professional community actors as well as union actors, is a source of pride for the founders and exemplifies their mission to embrace the community, and be embraced by it in return. This commitment extends to youth in the community, from kindergarten through college, with Theater for Young Audiences performances, educational experiences and internship opportunities that give students an immersion in theater arts.

 

On Tuesday May 20th, Playhouse on Park honored the ‘Founding Five,’ the five individuals who have supported the theater from the beginning, at the Governor’s residence: Ron Roy, David Wurzer, Chuck Coursey, Catherine Denton and Jeff Dornenburg and Tod Kallenbach of Dornenburg Kallenbach Advertising.

 

Playhouse on Park invites you to join the celebration at its 5th Anniversary party on Thursday June 5th from 6-10pm at the Pond House Café, 1555 Asylum Avenue, Hartford. Tickets are $50 (cash bar). Visit www.playhouseonpark.org or call 860-523-5900 ext. 10 for more information.

 

 

Jane Weber Brubaker is a freelance writer living in Wethersfield. Contact her at jane@askjane.com

 

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Ask the Cast with Higgins in Harlem

By Kat Iacobucci (Contributor)

I am here with the cast of Higgins in Harlem, who has been kind enough to sit down with me, just minutes before tonight’s performance. So thanks for that – I know you have a lot to do. If you wouldn’t introducing yourselves please?

Janelle: I’m Janelle Robinson: I play Mrs. Higgins

Vanessa: I’m Vanessa Butler: I play Clara Hill

Kevyn: I’m Kevyn Morrow, and I play Henry Higgins

Bob: I’m Bob Johnson and I play Conrad Pickering

Q: And this is an adaptation of Pygmalion I understand – and would one of you please explain and how it relates to My Fair Lady, which is perhaps the more known version of the story?

Kevyn: It’s based on the original Pygmalion play… it’s actually darker, and may not have the ‘happy’ ending that everyone expects… it’s much more real.

Janelle: It’s about relationships, and how people depend on each other or not… it’s refreshing.

Bob: They’re all very original characters

Vanessa: One thing I really love about this piece, is that I feel like there is not enough light shone on the complexity and the spectrum of African Americans in society today. I feel like a lot of modern culture… focuses on the poorer classes of African Americans

Janelle: Stereotypes

Vanessa: … there is nothing about yourself or your culture that you are denying with upward mobility. And we have this idea that blackness goes hand in hand with the lower class. It’s all a class thing, but somehow it gets wrapped up in race

Q: So your identity gets wrapped up somehow, in this class consideration, which is almost implied, and this is a great play to explore this, right?

Kevyn: I don’t want to imply this is only a black thing. If you are learning to speak ‘correctly,’ those of your culture will question you.

Vanessa: Take Higgins for example. In our culture, we have this idea that if you have more money, you have more integrity… and the character of Higgins – he’s a jerk!

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Q: So he’s not the benevolent soap opera version of the wealthy gentleman who comes in and saves the day?

Kevyn: He’s very focused on his work, very passionate about it… he’s very headstrong, and he’s very blind… talking with audiences in the talk back – they always want to know – what happened? Some agree with the ending, some want to know more.

Q: Could we just talk with the setting a little, and your own personal experiences with it, because you live close by, correct?

Kevyn: One of the very interesting things about the setting is that it takes place in Sugar Hill, which is where I currently live in New York. And this is during the Renaissance (sic: of Harlem) in 1938. I live one block away from my character. Part of the life I’m living now in Harlem… is watching the neighborhood change, and the new gentrification which is happening, but I prefer the word Renaissance for it, as there are so many different cultures.

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Q: How would you describe what the culture is, for someone who hasn’t been there?

Kevyn: Harlem has been traditionally the black part of New York: the urban part of New York. … if we can keep the flavor, the history, that would be great.

Janelle: And Bob? What’s your history there?

Bob: I came to the area in the 1970s, and although at that point the Renaissance was very much over, and at that time Abyssinia, Mother Zion, and Convent Avenue Baptist were very much into the music culture and had concert seasons…

Kevyn: Those churches still exist and are very strong.

Bob: … I remember during the week people were working, but on Sunday I saw mink stoles, hats… many in top hats… and now I’m reliving that (sic: with this play).

Janelle: The one thing about Harlem that I hold to… is that regardless of your class, there is always a sense of pride, so if you were the owner, or if you worked in a barber shop… or if you were a lawyer – on Sunday? It didn’t matter who you were. There was a sense of pride in the community that covered the community. I love the pictures of the Harlem Renaissance because you see that in the pictures… and it’s coming back now… and that pride is there.

Kevyn: People still dress in Harlem. When the time is right, you put it on, and people are very prideful. What I’ve always loved about my culture is that whatever you have – people always take care of it. No one seems to mind in terms of ‘who’ or ‘what’ is living next to them, as long as they are taking care of their own.

Janelle: That’s one of the things I love about this show is… how we’re dressed! What we see in this show is a great deal of pride, regardless of whether you’re Doolittle, or Mrs. Pearce, or Mrs. Hill.. or.. *pauses, laughter*

Q: Except if you’re one of the more difficult characters

Kevyn: well, we try *laughter*

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