is the grass any bluer...

is the grass any bluer...
on the other side?

Friday, September 30, 2011

BicTic Professor Tim X Davis Talks about RUINED

When Tim X Davis directed Crumbs From The Table of Joy in 2002 for Actors Guild of Lexington, he had no idea he would be directing another piece by the Pulitzer Prize winning author, Lynn Nottage for Bluegrass Community & Technical College (BCTC, or "BicTic") that less than 10 years later.

As Director of Theatre and Film for the college that is making great strides both onstage and off, Davis tells me he knew when he saw Nottage's play performed last year he wanted his students to be a part of Ruined, a play that is set in the war-torn Congo.  As such, Davis knew it would be a tremendous vehicle for a cast of African-American actors --with whom he has either worked or directed over the years -- to showcase their talents. 

Davis explains, "We saw a production of  Ruined at the American College Theatre Festival's Region IV fest this past February in Daytona Beach (performed by TSU) and I was absolutely blown away by the story. I literally leaned over to my students at intermission and hollered, 'We're doing this next season!!'  It's interesting, because I love Nottage's work. In fact, the first show I directed in Lexington was Crumbs From the Table of Joy.  I'll never forget how on the night of our second rehearsal Kevin (Hardesty, AGL artistic director at the time) called me up and said, 'Yeah, so Lynn is gonna drop by your rehearsal tonight.' -- to which I replied 'Lynn who?' Turned out she was actually in Louisville filming a KET production of one of her one acts (POOF, one of my favorites!) with Rosie Perez, and she agreed to drop by our SECOND REHEARSAL! (No pressure there! LOL!) It was great though. She was a tremendous lady, and she talked to us at length about her process. I was smitten with her right then and there, and I've been a fan of her work ever since."

Curious to see what was going on, I peeked in at Monday night's rehearsal at ArtsPlace, where X set the tone for the evening by playing a recording by Sheryl Crowe, who has joined with other celebrities in promoting awareness of the violence and despair of the women of the Congo.

Davis describes it as "a spoken word piece for an album called RAISE HOPE FOR THE CONGO called My Name is Myamaroyi. The whole thing is this woman from the area describing in detail how she was violated by these militia soldiers and the terrible repercussions it has had on the rest of her life. The thing that hit me the strongest was how she felt that no one knows about the plight of the women in the area and she just wants someone to tell the story. Nottage has done that beautifully with this play, and to know that at least in a small way you are helping to participate in that- that we are providing a voice for Myamaroyi and thousands of other women just like her -- that's a great privilege, and a great responsibility."

Zach Dearing and Gareth Evans keep the beat and
provide accompaniment for
Destiny Morton's Congolese hiphop -- which is fantastic!

When talking with Davis, I expressed how the message of this piece affirms my deep conviction that until women across the globe, especially those in third world countries are given the right to do with their bodies as they want, to buy their own food, vote, drive, lead their lives according to their own will, we will never begin to achieve peace on earth.  It's sad that human trafficking is so pervasive, especially in poverty stricken countries, where the land is rich but the people are poor, and women are mutilated, indeed, they are ruined, as this story reveals.  It is unimaginable for those of us who live in freedom to grasp and fully understand how someone can endure torture and daily assault -- and Davis emphasized to his students and cast members that although the audiences who will see this show may be small, it was important that they are doing it, that it will make a difference.

Sharonda Piersall and Spencer McGwire -- as usual,
Sharonda's role is what I call "the Velcro character" --
when she is on-stage, it's difficult to look away
She steals the scene without even trying
...and sharing a scene with Spencer just
ups that fabulous factor.  [Anybody who saw RENT last
year at the Arboretum will remember her; and if you've been
to Studio Players in the past few years for any of their
productions, McGwire will also be a familiar face.  He's
always honest in his roles and accordingly, brings a
believe-ability to the stage.

That's another reason I'm always glad to hear from X when he has an upcoming show.  He is an encourager, a mentor, and he knows how to fine tune a script to make every actor's experience a meaningful part of the process.  It's also impressive that whenever Professor Davis directs a project,  the BicTic cast is always on their toes by the time I'm invited to see them perform.  (I was there during their first off-book rehearsal on Monday...the show opens next week on October 6th).  This is largely due to the apprenticeship type of program he runs at BCTC...I think of it that way, anyway.  Davis gives actors with more experience the pleasure of working with and encouraging younger's a win/win!  Actor Dmetrius Conley-Williams, who was most recently seen as King Richard in SummerFest's Richard III, tells me that's what he likes best about working on this show and with BCTC.   Davis agrees, "That is certainly an aspect of what we do with certain shows. We've been very lucky to have some of the best actors in the area work with us on many of our productions. Dmetrius has been doing a tremendous job with this character, and it's great training in and of itself to work alongside an actor of his caliber."
I love this pic of Tim X at last year's Halloween party thrown
by performance power couple Bob Singleton and his
gorgeous wife Allie Darden.

"We also have Spencer MacGwire and Sharhonda Piersal in this production too. It's especially nice to have Sharhonda back. She was a BCTC student way back when and had the lead in our very first Theatrical endeavor (Laddy Sartin's BLESSED ASSURANCE) then she moved up to Northern Kentucky. Ever since she's moved back I've been trying to lure her back onstage with us, and I finally succeeded! She's a tremendous talent. As I say, we've been really blessed to have great local talent in alot of our shows - Laurie Genet, Jimmy Hamblin, Chris Rose, Dave Dampier just to name a few - my next plan is to try and get a regional on national guest artist to come work with us. That may be a ways off, but the way the program is going and with the support the college is giving us it's definitely doable!"

Dmetrius Conley-Williams likes working with BCTC's
theatre apprenticeship program.  As a Shakespearean
performer who has appeared on stages around the world,
Dmetrius adds the seasoned experience and
insight of an accomplished actor to the BicTic mix.
I wondered how it came to be that Davis and his BCTC folks are going to be performing in the new Little Theatre at Sts Peter and Paul? I love that space! I heard him discuss how they had to cut out an element of a scene because there wouldn't be enough room.  I asked if the venue is smallish for a production like this, or can you easily make adjustments for such things?  Unhesitatingly, Davis states, "The venue is fine for me- I was at Kentucky State for five years, and the Lucille Little Theatre is almost exactly the size of the little theatre in Bradford Hall where I mounted numerous productions. My scenic designer freaked out a bit when she first saw it (LOL!) as we were initially planning on doing the production at the Lyric, but that plan didn't work out so well, so we wound up with Sts Peter and Paul. I knew Laurie was working there now as the Drama teacher and she had mentioned the space as a possible venue for us, so when we wound up needing a place to go (as we so frequently do!) they stepped up and welcomed us right in. I hope we can make this arrangement more permanent, as I'd love to do at least one show a year there. Performing in a proscenium theatre is old hat for alot of theatre students, but it's something we at BicTic have only done one time (at UK when we did GRAPES OF WRATH) so this is a great experience for us all the way around. And it's a neat little venue that's hardly been used."
Stage manager extraordinaire Aly Miller
and BicTic theatre guru Tim X Davis

Of course, X had no trouble assembling the talented cast and well as the musicians, who perform a Congolese hiphop.  The drum and guitar artists accompany the songbird voice of Destiny Morton, whose voice is ever so compelling.  Davis states,  "Having Gareth and Zach do the music is a definite plus. Those guys have added a great dimension to the show with the work they've done, and Destiny (who plays Sophie, and does most of the singing) is just knocking it out of the park and having a blast performing with them!"

"You can't HANDLE the truth!" -- X was
frighteningly convincing when he played the
Jack Nicholson role in BCTC's A FEW GOOD MEN
last year. 

"As far as casting, almost everyone just showed up to auditions. We were able to get the word out that we needed African American actors for this project, and I was lucky enough to get some great interest. Many folks knew the play, and that certainly helped. It's a GREAT piece. And as usual for us, the majority of the cast is indeed made up of BCTC students. Kendrell Dickerson is a UK student (we've worked with a number of them before, and I really enjoy that collaboration. Nancy Jones, their Department Chair, actually sent Kenny to us when she found out about the audition!) and Sharhonda is a former BCTC student, but the majority of the cast are BicTic folks. I'd like to mention that I have a GREAT production staff too. Marc Morphew is my TD again - I was able to get one more show out of him BEFORE he goes to Raleigh to work for Burning Coal, my older brother's Theatre. He's an absolute joy to work with. As is Carrie Belew, my scenic and lighting designer. Carrie has worked with us before (ROCKY, and DANCING WITH DANI). She's a former student of mine from down on the Gulf Coast, and she flat out knows her shit as well or better than any designer I've ever worked with. It's an absolute pleasure to have her on board again (and she comes all the way from Indiana too!) Brenda Evans is doing costumes (Gareth's Mom - so it's a family affair!) and she has a great list of shows she's costumed here in the Bluegrass, and of course Aly Miller, my student Stage Manager. Aly's one of my go-to students. She's multi talented, and one of the hardest working people I know."
Manny Wright and Meredith Crutcher


Meredith Crutcher

Manny Wright

Dmetrius Conley-Williams

Sharonda Piersall

Destiny Morton

Gerhonda Canada

Spencer McGuire

Jared Sloan

Jordan West

Kendrel Dickerson

Kevin Avery

Brooks Dixon

 the Lucille Little Theatre
at Sts Peter and Paul Regional Catholic School
423 West Short Street
Lexington, Kentucky

10/6- 10/8
7:30 pm

Tickets $10 for students
$12 for general admission
(group rates available)
Call 859-225-0370 for ticket information

After seeing Monday night's First Act rehearsal, I can't wait to see how the rest of the story unfolds.  I'll be back with more information about the plight of the women of the Congo, and how you can help think globally, but act locally.  I'll also be featuring the chamelion-like Meredith Crutcher, who plays "Mama" in this prize-winning play by Lynn Nottage.  So stay tuned!

See you at the show,

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