Meet the Actors of DANCE OF THE HOLY GHOSTS at Center Stage
If you have never attended a "Meet the Actors" night at Center Stage, I highly recommend it. I've been doing it for years. Following a Friday night performance, the actors usualy gather on stage or in the lobby, to discuss their roles in a performance and most importantly to answer questions from theater patrons. Heather Jackson, Center Stage's Public Relations Manager, allows ample opportunity for those in attendance to discuss the play.
For the "Meet the Actors" session after dance of the holy ghosts, the entire cast sat on chairs on the stage, Sheldon Best, Denise Burse, Jasmine Carmichael, Doug Eskew, Michael Genet, and Chandra Thomas.
After the evening's performance, I noticed the first couple of rows filled quickly. Later, it was revealed that about thirty people from the North Shelton AME Church in New Jersey came down for the day to see the show because Jasmine Carmichael's mother, Sharon Carmichael, organized the journey. She wasn't bashful when before she took the mike to ask a question, mentioned she was the proud mother of Jasmine who was making her professional theater debut.
Michael Genet plays the leading role of Oscar and he admitted he is on stage virtually the entire evening. When asked how helpful it was to have the playwright Marcus Gardley in the rehearsal hall, Genet was very clear that it was beneficial. "This was his life" Genet said. Gardley has admitted this. He continued, "This is very personal to him. He brought in letters from his father written to him (his grandson). Genet related how in real life, his grandfather (played by Genet) actually killed a man having an affair with his wife and then shot at his wife but missed. He then served 22 years in jail." The play is a memory play with Oscar remembering his long and varied past imperfections. Genet added, "You work your entire life for a role like this."
The play is set on two levels and one patron asked why the upper level only has a thin rope to prevent an actor from falling. The response stated it was more dangerous have a hole in the second level (leading to a pole like in a fire station. "You have to be careful not to fall in the hole."
The cast was asked about the rehearsal process. Best mentioned that the playwright was reworking the play in Baltimore, changing lines and changing the ending. Genet added it was a very difficult rehearsal process and that it was a very difficult play to do. He thought it was very emotional. He added he didn't read the entire play until two days before he left for Center Stage from New York. It is then he said to himself, "Uh oh!"
Genet was emphatic saying doing the play was one of the most rewarding experiences he's had in his 35 year career...one of the finest casts. "They are not only talented, they are full of humanity. No one has an attitude. Never a harsh word."
Doug Eskew (who I remember fondly from his Broadway performances in FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE and THE COLOR PURPLE) praised Center Stage Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah for his direction of the play. "He is one of the greatest directors I've worked with. He is free and open and allows us to create. You are lucky to have him here at Center Stage." He commented that he based his character, "Big Ass, Willie Small" on his uncle.
Burse mentioned she also based her character on a relative of hers, her Aunt Viola. She paid tribute to the dramaturgy department for all the photos surrounding the rehearsal hall and for adding photos of the era in her Center Stage apartment. She continued that theater is her first love. "It changes every night. We can sense the audience."
Carmichael was asked by her mother how do they keep up their energy. She replied, "Good eating habits, working out, and plenty of sleep. We do five shows in a week-end". She stated she loved playing children and added that she owed a greal deal of credit to Sheldon Best for helping her on stage with her character. "He's so beautiful and open. Makes me feel like a kid."