Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: You will soon be streaming an online production of short plays titled In Response III in association with Towne Street Theatre. What can you share with us about the unifying theme of this production and the inspiration behind its genesis?
Nancy Davis Bellamy: I am the Founding Artistic Producing Director of the Towne Street Theatre. In 2015, the violence against African-Americans by the police was becoming more and more prominent and as a theatre of color, founded in 1993 after the 1992 LA Riots, we could not ignore this violence that continued to be inflicted on our communities. I did not want to do just another play for our upcoming season, but instead a response to what was occurring. I asked our company to write their thoughts on this, and their work became our series, IN RESPONSE. It was created to address the current State of our Union from both a current and historical perspective in terms of how the systemic racism against African American continues to affect our community. Once again in 2020, we found ourselves needing to respond to the rash of murders of African-Americans, culminating in the horrific murder of George Floyd. We requested submissions for material not only from our company, but from our audience members, as well, this time. The current series is a creative collaborative compilation of our company and audience responses to these situations. It is told through theater, poetry, spoken word, dance and music.
BD: You have a tremendous cast and crew involved with the production, and all are working together virtually to overcome the production limitations caused by the impact of COVID-19. What can you share with us about the creative process of working with the team, especially as it relates to the virtual presentation?
NDB: When the pandemic hit, we had just begun rehearsing for our 11th annual 10-minute play festival. The postcards arrived the day after the theatre had to close. We quickly pivoted to online programming. It was challenging at first in terms of learning what we could and could not accomplish via Zoom. But being the nimble theatre company we are, we found our footing and ways to be creative with the platform through virtual backgrounds, sound and graphics. We are also lucky to have a great tech and design team in Kristina Roth and Maimouna Camara and wonderful production team of Nancy Renee, Veronica Thompson and Teressa Taylor. We discovered the intimacy of the camera and the strong effect it had on our audiences receiving our work through this medium. This is our 7th show over the last year. Very different from being live in person, but no less impactful with the right material, actors, directors and technicians. The beauty of having a theatre company is that everyone is used to working as an ensemble. We all gather for a first read through of the play and monologues selected for each part of the series and then the directors, writers and actors do about six rehearsals separately before we have one final dress with everyone before we either tape it to present or perform the material live via Zoom.
BD: There will also be a live talkback with the team following the show. What can audiences anticipate in terms of this supplemental experience?
NDB: Engaging with our audiences is critical to our theatre’s success and impact. They are why we perform in the first place, and we are eager to hear their responses and how they were impacted by what they just saw. It’s a very lively discussion with the audience and our team of artists. They continue to be moved by our programming and the stories we are sharing.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that In Response’s stories will connect with and impact audiences?
NDB: Our plays always explore racism from a historical context because nothing happens in a vacuum, nor is any of this new. This context is interwoven with the present and the future and is at times sad, joyful, painful and yet, full of hope of how things they could be. We could not be here today were it not for the strife and determination that our ancestors went through so that we could survive and eventually thrive. For example, in "We Jump Broom" by Mildred Lewis, the piece I directed with Charlotte Williams Roberts and Erin Nicole Washington, we explore the story of two female slaves in the early 1800s who risk their lives to “Jump the Broom,” (i.e., get married). Not only was marriage between slaves forbidden, but the fact that they are women makes it even more risky, especially at that time. But they do it anyway to try to have a better future for their descendants and it is a beautiful story of love and hope. In the play "There Was a Time" by Judi Beecher, directed by Karen Therese with Justin Gubersky and Joahn Webb, an extremely racist cop finds out his mother is a black woman which needless to say opens his eyes to a different life then he thought he was living. In "Trader Jericho’s" by Peter Pasco, RJ Wayne directs Fox Worth in a moving monologue about how difficult it can be for a Black man with degrees and knowledge to simply get a job at a grocery store. Tony Robinson’s "You Don’t See Me, You Don’t Hear Me and You Don’t Know Me" is a powerful selection of three people’s experiences on what we go through just to survive our everyday lives, performed by Daphne Jones, Kiziana Jean-Louis and William Warren.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers who want to learn more about and purchase tickets for In Response III?
NDB: We are doing this show as a celebration of the Juneteenth Holiday, and it will be presented Live on Zoom in our TST Virtual Salon on June 13th at 4 p.m. (PST). This is a contribute-what-you-can event and audiences can reserve their square at Towne Street Theatre - LA's Premiere African-American Theatre Company (townestreetla.org). Follow us @townestreettheatre, tweet us @tsttweetingand, and like us on Facebook. For further information, email us at info (at) townestreetla (dot) org.