Black Star Opens At The Secret Theatre's LIC One Act Festival
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Black Star Opens At The Secret Theatre's LIC One Act Festival

Interview with the cast and director of Black Star

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Black Star Opens At The Secret Theatre's LIC One Act Festival

Black Star, written by Kendra Augustin, is about Ramona, the only black kid and open atheist at an all girls Catholic school, who gets accused of nefarious behavior and witchcraft. It opensed November 3rd at 7:30pm as part of the LIC One Act Festival at The Secret Theatre.

It stars Jes Davis as Ramona, Emily Olcott as Lizzie, and Christina Neubrand as Sister Sonya. Directed by Simi Toledano.


1. Most artists are multi-hyphenates? What are yours, in order of where your heart belongs?

Jes: I love art. In general most of the things I feel I’m good at are art related in some way. I love writing, telling stories, I paint, I draw, I do collage work, I design, I sing. I thought for many years that I had to choose one, but since I’ve grown to realize that they each influence each other I let them all live and attempt to give them each enough time.

Emily: Actor-singer-dancer-comedian-writer-collaborator-multi-hypenate-seeker

Christina: Directing, Devised Theatre, Acting, Singing, Dancing, Physical Theatre, Arts Education.

Simi: Creator, adventurer, advocate for self-expression, storyteller, actress/performance and theater artist, writer, dreamer.

2. What drew you to acting (directing in your case, Simi)

Jes: I had no concept of acting when I believe I was drawn to it. I started imitating people and things when I was very young; as kids do. But it carried over to my teens and young adult life. I’m constantly chasing experiences, i believe acting is a vehicle for these different experiences and people.

Emily: It's a tricky question because I've been drawn to acting since before I'd developed good reasons as to why. Thank god little Emily decided to act before older Emily could talk her out of it! I remember being in first grade and rehearsing the class play, and just knowing that I wanted a solo (which happened to be a rap about King Tut). I've always been drawn to the unique form of communication-theatre offers that transcends our daily interactions with one another into something larger and more universal.

Christina: The idea of telling important community-driven stories that can inspire positive social change.

Simi: When I first started directing it brought back memories of being a child and playing with my barbie dolls alone in my basement. I created my own world down there and it was so much fun. Directing is a way for me to channel my imagination and creative impulses into telling stories and furnishing a new reality with my own sensibilities. When I direct, all of my minds (brain, heart, and gut) are focused and I am completely engaged. I trust my instincts, my visions, and feelings. I love the challenge of figuring out how to communicate my vision to actors, challenging and respecting each other, and working together to tell a story.

3. What are two roles you'd like to play and why? (Simi: two plays you'd like to direct)

Jes: I would love to play Josephine Baker. I’ve always been fascinated by the time period of which she was born; and her as person, living as an artist and forward thinker, in many ways, has always been of interest to me. I would love to play Antigone, her character has always resonated with me.

Emily: Mariah in Twelfth Night and Medea from Medea. Also every Sondheim leading lady. I love tortured souls and delighted souls.

Christina: Sally in Cabaret. Cabaret is more than a musical, it is a political and social commentary on a very strained and complicated time in the worlds history. Sally and her world are multilayered, diverse and complicated. The audience is asked to acknowledge horrible actions that occurred to fellow humans, the outcome of pretending those atrocities are not real and what injustices they witness everyday, but still choose to do nothing about. Theatre at its best, dancing, acting, singing, story telling and an important message. Frances Farmer in Sally Clark's St. Francis of Hollywood. This role would be a true challenge, playing a dynamic woman who pushed against societies normal expectations of who and what a woman could be. The play is not linear, but follows her journey from being a teenager, becoming a movie star, searching for more and ultimately being forced into an asylum by her own mother. Such a range of emotions to be explored, responsibility for honoring Ms. Farmer's memory and sending a message about the barriers and preconceptions women have overcome and in many cases are still battling.

Simi: I would like to adapt Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown into a full-length play and direct it. I loved that book a lot when I was younger because it was so calming. The narrative is simply told, also has a quiet and fantastic quality to it that I find inspiring and inviting.

4. Name two actors whose work you enjoy and why? (Simi: directors)

Jes: There are of course many. I love watching Cate Blanchett work. She’s so powerful and yet can be so minimal at the same time. Tom Hardy as well, very powerful but he can bring out the vulnerable with the power, his commitment is also something I greatly admire. There’s truth and both of these actors work when I’ve seen them.

Emily: I would love to work with Lisa Kudrow. I just think her particular brand of comedy is so heartbreaking. I'd also love to work with Sandra Oh. She is an absolute powerhouse and I want to watch her work.

Christina: I appreciate Rachel Griffiths body of work, she seeks out strong female characters, unique personalities and embodies rich and nontraditional acting choices to reveal a deep, real and true reflection of the human condition. Sutton Foster, she sings, she dances, she performs with so much energy and old-fashioned musical theatre fun. She also challenges herself with smaller, lesser known pieces that require a variety of vocal finesse, physical acting choices and raw vulnerability. She has even taken on shifting to some TV.

Simi: Baz Luhrmann because his style indulges the senses through romance, movement, and music. Jane Campion because The Piano was one of the first films I saw that was directed by a woman that felt different from most other movies because of her empathetic storytelling and truthful female protagonist. Jill Soloway because she is unashamed, thoughtful, and fiercely specific, subjective and emotional in her storytelling. I'm noticing that all three directors use music and silence in interesting and dynamic ways.

5. What's a play you saw that really resonated you and why?

Jes: I remember seeing Twelfth Night at Shakespeare in the Park when I was 12 with my aunt who was living in NYC at the time. I was so excited to see something I’d never seen before actors acting on stage. I love period pieces and as a child I loved being in another time; seeing that play was allowing me to live in those moments that I played in as a child.

Emily: It's not exactly a play but I recently saw Chris Gethard's Career Suicide in which he explores his relationship to his depression and to his career in comedy. I thought it was so powerful, the intersection between making people laugh and dealing with one's own darkness.

Christina: The Front Page, a classical play with everything that makes fun live theatre: fast quippy dialogue, larger than life characters, physical humor, heart and a message of following your dreams and finding happiness in who you are.

6. What are one or two acting studios you'd recommend to people starting out and why?

Jes: I don’t know many acting studios so I can only offer one: HB studios. I took a Shakespeare course there(because they don’t have a classic Greek course.) And learned so much in the way of saying a line with rhythm and emotion. I would also recommend that aspiring actors read, “The Lee Strasberg Notes.” But i believe the most import way an actor can learn is by educating themselves. read as much as you can, write as much as you can, reflect, observe, watch other actors; all of those things will help you. The root of acting in my belief is understand human nature and what drives that nature to emote and live. So I’m always trying to answer that with each character.

Emily: I've been studying with Caymichael Patten and she completely changed my life.

Christina: I don't do acting Studios. The more performing you do, the more you will learn and grow. There is value in multiple styles, techniques and traditions. Keep an open mind, try them as you have an opportunity, sure take a class or 2, but you have to discover what works for you and that's an individual journey and an ever evolving one.

Simi: Terry Knickerbocker Studio. Terry was my first acting teacher in New York and though he helped me be a deeper, more truthful and authentic actor, he also showed me how to direct through listening and self-trust.

7. If you could work with any artist (whatever medium) who and why?

Jes: I would love to work with Da Vinci. His mind for detail and expression is something I could learn from. I’m always searching for people to learn from or rather searching for that one lesson that I can learn in every person I meet. He would have many lessons I would think. I also just love that time period.

Emily: Cindy Sherman. Her art has been one of my inspirations visually and emotionally for a long time.

Christina: Anna Deveare Smith. She uses multiple techniques and mediums to create unique performance experiences that promote social awareness. She can also be seen in many films and TV shows like West Wing. She has continued to learn, grow and explore as an artist. From her interview theatre pieces to her work with young people and her more traditional acting credits she would be an amazing collaborator.

Simi: I would LOVE to create something, anything, with Lady Gaga and Marina Abromovic. They are two female performance artists whose force of nature and expression I trust and connect to in their passion and desperation to connect, see, and be seen. I would love to have a long conversation with Audre Lorde.

I would love to act for Baz Luhrmann because he has such a specific style and I'd be interested to hear how he communicates his vision. I'm pretty obsessed with Leonardo DaVinci and it would be cool to pose for him.

8. Actors: what do want us to understand about your character in Black Star

Jes: I want the audience to understand her (Ramona's) other worldliness. That she is a divine presence trapped.

Emily: I want everyone to understand that Lizzie feels, in her truest heart of hearts, that what she is doing for Ramona is the absolute correct choice and one rooted in love, not in hate. Good things happen to good people, and she needs to do good things for God to love her.

Christina: what do want us to understand about your character in Black Star. Sister Sonya is just as troubled and conflicted as Ramona. She chose the path of the sisterhood as an escape, a safety, a security blanket, but realty is there is no such thing and that frightens her profoundly.

9. Simi, what drew you to Black Star?

I'm drawn to this play because it is multi-faceted and multi-layered. This is my second time directing this play and I have come to realize that a question this play seeks to respond to is, "What do we do with our pain?" It is a psychological play that explores the depth of pain and how it can manifest through power, control, and manipulation on personal and interpersonal levels. And it also shows how systems of race, gender, and religion contribute to the control, manipulation, and separation of women from ourselves and each other. The story focuses on the darker aspects of society and I have an artistic interest and impulse to mirror those human and societal qualities with depth of emotion, compassion and acceptance. It's also a relatable story to anyone who has felt like a misfit or freak growing up.

10. Any plays you'd recommend to read and why?

Jes: ANTIGONE is one of my favorites. [I] don’t believe we have too many representations of women in theatre quite like that one.

EQUUS also a favorite of mine. I love the internal struggle that each character faces and the dynamic that is present because of it.

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? i think this was kind of the first “VENUS IN FURS.” There’s a lot of role reversal, dominance and submission play that is very intriguing for the audience and actors.

Emily: You Got Older by Clare Barron, A Feminine Ending by Sarah Treem, Stunning by David Adjmi

Christina: Suddenly Last Summer, classic Tennessee Williams exploring challenging topics, discrimination and choices way before their time. Polaroid Stories, a modern take on mythology in an urban setting written by a [Naomi Iizuka], unique, cutting edge and unexpected. Angels in America, tells such a heart wrenching and very real story addressing social issues still very relevant and raw today .

11. Upcoming projects:

Jes: I am currently starring in a film called the “Grid Lock Theory” Directed and written by Prelo White, the story covers a disdain for societal patriarchy through the eyes of a criminally insane female assassin. I’m also working on “Orange is The New Black,” as an inmate. In addition to acting I’m also having a fashion show for my Punk BRAND JESXDAV NOV 16

Christina: The AJ Project creative director, planning and producing monthly showcases and workshops to support emerging artists. www.4theajproject.org .

Simi:

November 1st: Performing a personal monologue I wrote for The Kaleidoscope Project at BRIC.

November 16th - 20th: Directing David Ives's short play The Philadelphia at the Producer's Club

November 19th: Reading of my play "The Agnostic Foundation for Dying with Dignity's 50th Annual Lottery" at One Acts and Snacks in Brooklyn

12. Social media:

Jes:

INSTA: JESXDAV

FB : Facebook.com/jessicawhitneydavis

TWITTER: @JESXDAVIS

Christina:

Facebook - Christina Neubrand

Instagram- cneubrand

Twitter - c_neubrand


Black Star is about 20 minutes long and plays with 8 other plays are part of Group B.

Performance Dates:

Nov 3rd at 7:30pm
Nov 5th at 5pm
Nov 6th at 2pm
Nov 9th at 7:30pm
Nov 12 at 8pm

The Finals are on Nov 13th at 5pm

Tickets are $18 online and $20 at the door


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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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