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BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Lorene Chesley

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Lorene Chesley
Lorene Chesley

Today's subject Lorene Chesley is currently living her theatre life as Valerie Johnston in Arena Stage's production of Smart People in the. The show marks Lorene's Arena Stage debut. It runs through May 21st in Arena Stage's Kreeger Theater space.

Lorene grew up in the DC area studying ballet and tap, but quickly decided she loved acting even more than dance. Past stage credits include Cassandra in The American Woman at Pasadena Playhouse, Delilah in Memphis at La Jolla Playhouse, and Claudia in The Bluest Eye Mo'olelo/Moxie Theatre.

You might have seen Lorene on the small screen in Perception on TNT, Shameless on Showtime, or The Fosters on Freeform. She recently completed the first season of her YouTube talk show Looks, Lunch, Love with Lorene. She studied theatre at Temple University and earned a M.F.A. in acting at University of California San Diego (UCSD).

Here is a young lady who followed her dream, knew what she wanted, and is now living her theatre life to the fullest. Check out Lorene Chesley in Smart People at Arena Stage. It promises to be a thought-provoking and hilarious time in the theatre. In other words, a fine theatrical experience.

At what age did you know you wanted to do something in the arts?

Very early on, elementary school probably. As soon as I hit the stage either doing dance or acting, I knew it was what I wanted to do. I loved entertaining people.

You come from a dance background. Why did you decide to transition into acting?

As soon as I played the Evil Stepmother in Cinderella in 5th grade I was bit by the bug (for real). I continued to dance as well as act, but by the time I was in high school, I knew I really did want to make this craft my career. Dance wasn't as fulfilling for me anymore.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Lorene Chesley
(L to R) Gregory Perri and Lorene Chesley in Arena Stage's production of Smart People. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Can you please tell us almost everything we need to know about Smart People?

Essentially, it's four smart people who are "fighting to be seen, heard, and loved" - I totally stole that from our amazing director Seema Sueko. It's a wonderful comedy-drama that focuses on four intellectuals - a doctor, an actress, a psychologist and neuroscientist - and how they navigate racism in their respective fields, set against the backdrop of Obama's 2008 election.

Along those same lines, can you please tell us something about the character you play in the show?

I play Valerie Johnston, an actress who has just earned her M.F.A. at Harvard and is just starting her career, while negotiating various relationships, and finding herself as a woman in this world.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Lorene Chesley
(L to R) Lorene Chesley and Jaysen Wright in Arena Stage's production of Smart People. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Smart People marks your Arena Stage debut but given you're from DC, have we seen you perform anywhere else in our area?

I left the area right out of high school so most of my credits are in Philly, San Diego, and Los Angeles. My favorite Non-DC credits are Stick Fly (Mo'olelo), Danton's Death (La Jolla Playhouse/UCSD), The Bluest Eye (Moxie Theatre/Mo'olelo), and Osiris Redux (Black Theatre Collective).

You've done a bunch of TV work. For you, what is the biggest difference between working on a TV show and performing in a theatrical production?

They work very differently. In TV, you rehearse and film all in one day, or over the course of several days. It's very compact. In theatre, there is more time to rehearse, develop, and then perform.

After Smart People concludes at Arena Stage, where can we find you next?

On my web talk show Looks, Lunch, Love with Lorene on YouTube.

Check out the debut episode here.

Special Thanks to Arena Stage publicist Lauren Alexander for her assistance in coordinating this interview.

Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.

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