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Accepting The Torch: A New Generation of Leads & Legends

Drew Shade

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Photos by Felix Kunze @Felixkunze
Creative Direction & Produced by Dual Phocus Productions @dual.phocus
Hair & Clothing Stylist: Chloe Chada’ @quintessentially_chloe
MUA: William Bob Scott @bobscott200

For many, the love of theatre begins with a visual. A performance of some sort, the sparkling twinkle that reflects off a bedazzled costume, a set piece that you just know in your heart you should be walking on, or maybe even a tune with such a striking melody that you can’t get it out of your head.  Once it’s planted there, there’s usually no turning back. No forgetting that moment of pure joy and satisfaction in knowing that one day it’ll be you on that stage or you helping to make that kind of magic happen.

Yes, for some, the dream may change at some point but they’ll never forget their initiation. It’s a part of them. However, there are those that push forward through it all. They train and condition themselves to stay on the path and ultimately run the course, hoping to break record time in the relay race of Broadway, catching up to the one in front of them stretching and reaching for the baton. A baton that is on fire. A baton so hot that only a few can hold it, it’s that hot. There’s an insane amount of work to do to even get the chance to grab it but even more work and efforts to hold on to it but also an extreme honor at the same time.

I had the chance to talk with four of the 2016 Tony Award nominees and a previous Tony Award winner about their journey and what it takes to pass and receive the Broadway Black torch. Out of the 18 African-American nominees we chose to talk with Brandon Victor Dixon, (Best Feature Actor in a Musical for Shuffle Along) Saycon Sengbloh (Best Featured Actress in a Play for Eclipsed) , Pascale Armand, (Best Featured Actress in a Play for Eclipsed, Adrienne Warren (Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Shuffle Along) and the torch bearer and trailblazer LaChanze (2006 Tony Award-winner. Best Leading Actress in a Musical for the original mounting of The Color Purple), as they also took part in an exclusive photo shoot with acclaimed photographer Felix Kunze.  Each one had some very inspiring and encouraging words to say that I think truly capture what it means to be a part of the Broadway Black community

2016 Tony Nominees for Broadway Black by Felix Kunze

(l-r) LaChanze, Pascale Armand, Saycon Sengbloh, Brandon Victor Dixon, Adrienne Warren,

“We all [Tony Award Winners], we always assume that the next year we’ll get a chance to pass the baton to the next person. I’ve always thought of it as a rite of passage. An acknowledgment that you’re including someone else into the realm of winners or people who are fortunate enough to receive this wonderful accolade. I’ve always imagined it would be sort of a tradition to do that. Something I’ve always thought that only people who’ve won Tonys can really do, pass the torch. There have been so few people of color who’ve won in my category and in the history since the Tonys began. It just feels right to be able to do that this year. I’d tell the nominees, first, sleep. As much as you can, sleep. Also, enjoy yourself, enjoy the moment. Don’t let anything slip by. Do it all. You’ll be able to look back and be glad that you did it.”LaChanze

“This season is classic and historic. I’m feeling very excited. Excited for myself, As well as to see how Broadway Black is growing. I was born and raised in Atlanta. My mom is American and my Dad is from Libera. Hearing my Dad’s accent or my sister’s accent always penetrated me even though I always spoke with my American accent. So when it was time to call on the Liberian side for this show [Eclipsed], I said “What? when has anyone ever asked me to do that?” So, I welcomed the challenge. That’s what you always have to do. “ –  Saycon Sengbloh 

“Everyone who knows me knows the struggle has been long and hard. I’ve been at it for a second. I never thought for the longest time that it was a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if,’ like some people. I’ve just been hustling and hoofing it for so long. I never even thought about the Tonys. I wanted to work. For all the times young Pascale sat in a puddle crying thinking “I’m going to find a corporate America job, get my benefits,” and all that. I’d tell her, “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, dry all the tears, and keep it at. It’s going to happen you just have to be patient. Wait for it. It’s coming.” There had been so many times where I didn’t know that and was so close to throwing it all away. Then I would look at a student loan bill and think I didn’t pay all this money to quit now.”Pascale Armand

“It’s a big year. It’s exciting to be nominated. It’s a wonderful year. Extraordinary talent. And I’m glad it’s a diverse body of storytelling and talent that’s on display because these really are my people. My boys, my people, my friends. We’re here! I would go crazy if Adrienne Warren won but I’ll go ham if Renee wins. Leslie’s my boy. Lin’s my boy. It’s just a celebratory time. [Being here] is icing on the cake. We have wonderful shows that are sold out. Broadway is doing really well.” – Brandon Victor Dixon

“I’m so grateful for the show [Shuffle Along] and the story we’re telling. How blessed  we are to be able to  tell this story, in this way, with these people. We come to work every day and we realize that we have a story to tell to represent these people who have deserved recognition for so many years and now they’re finally getting it. That’s the best gift I could possibly ever get. I’m so proud of everyone that’s a part of this amazing season.”Adrienne Warren

2016 Tony Nominees Character shots for Broadway Black by Felix Kunze - Tony Awardees - low res

Founder/Editor-In-Chief of BroadwayBlack.com | Actor | Artist | 1/3 of @OffBookPodcast | Theatre connoisseur | All Audra Everything | Caroline over Change | I'm Not Charl Brown | Norm Lewis is my play cousin | Producing an all-black production of Mame starring Jenifer Lewis in my head

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    Karen Owes

    June 6, 2016 at 10:44 PM

    Andrew Shade this was another great article! Can not wait to see you agin at “Harlem Nights!”. You are an inspiration and your enthusiaism is contagious. Karen R. Owes

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Features

Photo Exclusive: Step into The Light with Broadway Black

Drew Shade

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Have you seen The Light by Loy A. Webb at MCC Theater? If you haven’t, then you need to and Broadway Black has got you. Join us on SUNDAY MARCH 3rd for the BWAYBLK Experience!

Use code BWAYBLACKMCC and pay $35 for any seat on Mar 3 at the 7:30 performance

Not every marriage proposal goes as planned. LOY A. WEBB’s THE LIGHT  introduces us to RASHAD and GENESIS on what should be one of the happiest days of their lives, but their joy quickly unravels when ground-shifting accusations from the past resurface in this gripping two-character drama. Can their relationship survive the growing divide between them over who–and what–to believe?

Also, get into this amazing photo series of playwright Loy A. Webb & the cast of her play The Light.  Photos by Curtis Brown were taken in the new elegantly designed and strategically welcoming Robert W. Wilson MCC theater space. Located in midtown New York on 52nd and 10th ave (511 W 52nd ST
New York, NY 10019)

On another tip, some really dope creatives will do a talkback after the Saturday matinee performance that you might be interested in attending. Make sure to RSVP.

Panelists include: Nissy Aya, Cristina Pitter, Alicia Rodis & Kavita Mehra

THIS WEEKEND SAT FEB 23rd

LOY A. WEBB’s THE LIGHT at MCC Theater delves deeply into one couples’ reckoning with an encounter with sexual violence that has left audiences asking: as a partner, a family member, a friend, how do we support sexual assault survivors? And what responsibility do artists have to create work that is trauma-informed? On SAT FEB 23 at 4:00 PM for an in-depth conversation about the power of allyship rooted in love and healing – in our lives and on our stages – in the face of trauma.

SAT FEB 23 at 4PM
THE ROBERT W. WILSON MCC THEATER SPACE
511 W52 ST

RSVP HERE.

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Features

A Superhero On & Off The Stage, Camille A. Brown Brings ink

Drew Shade

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Camille A. Brown Photo by Whitney Browne

Camille A. Brown Photo by Whitney Browne

Camille A. Brown‘s dance company, Camille A. Brown & Dancers, tours nationally and internationally and will be presenting six performances featuring the debut of ink at The Joyce Theater NYC Feb 5-10th 2019.

Propelled by the live rhythms and sounds of traditional African and handmade instruments, Camille A. Brown’s ink celebrates the rituals, gestures, and traditions of the African diaspora. Highlighting themes of brotherhood, community, and resilience, the work seeks to reclaim African American narratives and is the final installment of Brown’s dance theater trilogy about identity.

In addition to her company works, Ms. Brown brings her passion for storytelling to her award-winning choreography for Broadway, Television, and Off-Broadway. Productions include Tony Award Winning Once On This Island, (Drama Desk, Outer Critics and Chita Rivera award nominations), Emmy Award Winning Jesus Christ Superstar Live on NBC, A Streetcar Named DesireChoir Boy, the upcoming Magic Mike The Musical, PAL JOEY. 

We had the chance to probe a little bit into the world of Camille A. Brown, and we’re grateful for the insight and wisdom with which she was able to bless us. Check out the interview below along with an excerpt from ink.

Broadway Black (BB): After forming the idea, what was the process of building ink?

Camille A. Brown (CAB): After the creative process for BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play, I held a desire to dig even deeper and tell more stories of ritual, gestural vocabulary, and traditions of the African Diaspora. I was immediately drawn to two albums that had a significant impact on me when I was growing up. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill, and Like Water for Chocolate by Common. I tasked myself with creating a movement language that embodied the same raw authenticity, and vulnerability that fuels those lyrics and music.

As I began to develop the concept for ink, I wanted the dancers to represent superheroes. I couldn’t figure out why I had the urge to play with this idea until I read Question Bridge: Black Males in America. One of the men interviewed said, “I see Black people as comic book heroes because they always keep rising.” That was it! It is about showing that in our basic survival, and natural attributes we have superhuman powers. Powers to shift, overcome, transform, and persevere even within an often hostile environment. The seven sections of ink represent super powers of spirituality, history and heritage, the celebration of the Black female body, Black love, brotherhood, exhaustion, and community.
The process involves a deep collaboration with the dancers and my direction is guided by their choice making.

The space is very organic and fueled by research. My dancers, musicians, dramaturgs, and I are in constant dialogue throughout the process about the work and how it’s progressing. We don’t move forward unless we’re all on the same page.

We are building the work together. As a disclaimer, I let everyone know the process will be exceptionally tedious. Like a fine comb, I go through each beat, gage the temperature of storylines, and make sure the movement and music are always in conversation (whether aligned or in contrast).

BB: What made you want to start your own dance company and how have you sustained?

CAB: I found my love of choreography in college because I struggled with body image, and found that creating my own voice was a safe and empowering space. After graduating, I danced with Ronald K. Brown/Evidence for 5 seasons and during my second year with The Company, a friend from college (Amy Page) sent me a flyer for the Hubbard Street 2 competition which picks 3 choreographers to create work on the Company. I was chosen! That gave me the encouragement to pursue choreography. My first idea was to take an alias like female writers used to do because even at 22, I knew the playing field was not leveled and women (particularly black women) did not get as much exposure as male choreographers. Dance is revealing and vulnerable so taking an alias wasn’t a realistic option. People would have to see me as I am, but I also needed the confidence to withstand the obstacles. Not only that, having a company seemed daunting.
Ron wore so many hats. He was the director, choreographer, teacher, and also took on administrative duties. He never got a break. I wasn’t confident I could handle all of the duties.

I set work on other companies, but soon realized it wasn’t for me. 1-4 weeks working with a Company wasn’t enough time for me to really hone my skills, find my voice, and discover my personal creative process. I desired a more intimate relationship and space with my dancers and collaborators. I had my first show at Joyce SoHo in 2006, and committed to having a company in 2010.

What sustains CABD is my team. I have a company agent (Pamela Green), Managing Director (Indira Goodwine), Company Manager (Michelle Fletcher), and a production team who holds things down.

In the beginning, I was doing ALL the jobs! As time went on, my team slowly formed. It’s really about patience and perseverance. Nothing happened over night and everything is a progression.

BB: How have you had to be a superhero in your own life personally and professionally?

CAB:

Personally
Last year, I had a life-threatening experience. My appendix ruptured on tour. Appendicitis is when they remove your appendix before it ruptures, but mine actually did and the fluid was in my system for at least a week. I survived the “fatal” stage- which the doctors told me isn’t common. This started a very long year and a half which included 4 hospital stints and two surgeries (my second one was in April). This all happened during Once on This Island (I was in the hospital the first week of rehearsal and had my first surgery during tech), Jesus Christ Superstar Live, and my Company touring. I had to access my “superpowers” and push through, but thankfully I had my team and community to help me.
I’m going to be writing about the entire ordeal because it was such an integral part of my life. People see the “success”, but if they only knew the hardships I had to overcome to get to the other side.

Professionally

Being a Black female Choreographer and Director is hard. People ask me to do I feel like I’ve arrived. Absolutely not. I’m still Black and a woman- two underrepresented groups- particularly in theater. The playing field is still not leveled and I’m clear I have to work twice as hard.
I’ve had to build up strength and confidence. It is an ongoing process of gathering those superpowers. In many spaces, I’m sometimes the only woman (I was the only woman on the creative team for Jesus Christ Superstar Live), and the only black person in some rooms.
Recently two black girls at different events asked me the same exact question: How do you navigate spaces where you’re the only one.

It’s quite easy to feel intimated and shrink yourself. I know I have done that in the past. Now, I’ve found if I think about the black women before me in similar spaces, black women who are currently in similar spaces, and the next generation of black women coming after me, it makes me more confident. When it’s not just about you, it becomes a responsibility.

And even when I don’t feel like I have any superpowers, this happens…

and it refuels and encourages me to keep going. Someone is always watching.

“Turf” (Excerpt from “ink”) – Camille A. Brown & Dancers – Grace Farms (2018) from Camille A. Brown & Dancers on Vimeo

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Twitter: @BroadwayBlack

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