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BWW Interview: Kaliswa Brewster Talks Moliere In The Park's THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES Featuring an All-Woman Cast

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The production, starring Tonya Pinkins and more, premieres today, Saturday, October 24 at 2pm EST and 7pm EST.

BWW Interview: Kaliswa Brewster Talks Moliere In The Park's  THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES Featuring an All-Woman Cast

Kaliswa Brewster has a long and impressive resume as an actor, including appearances on Showtime's BILLIONS, ABC's TIME AFTER TIME, Topic's RELEASE, the feature film, PAINT (which recently won the grand prize at the Dances With Films independent film festival), and much more! On stage she has performed at The Signature Theatre, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Hartford Stage, The Williamstown Theater Festival, The Guthrie Theater, and others. Kaliswa is also the Creative Director and Producer for the podcast Black Voices Past and Present.

Today she is starring alongside an all-woman cast in Molière in the Park's live stream of Richard Wilbur's translation of Molière's satire THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES, directed by MIP's Founding Artistic Director Lucie Tiberghien. This production looks at the classic play through a modern lens, putting the focus on the power of justice and equality over racism and sexism.

THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES streams live today, Saturday, October 24 at 2pm EST and 7pm EST. A recording of the stream will be available on MIP's YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/moliereinthepark) through Wednesday, October 28, 2pm EST. The livestream link will be sent via email on the day of the event. Reserve at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/molieres-the-school-for-wives-registration-120285734871.

We spoke with Brewster about performing a role traditionally written for a man, what it has been like working with the incredible cast, why The School for Wives is especially relevant in this moment in time, and more.


What was it like rehearsing for this show? Were there socially distanced rehearsals? Was it all done virtually?

We've rehearsed 100% virtually for the show. And what's really crazy is that our cast has members in 3 different time zones. I don't know what kind of wizardry it has taken for the production team to keep all of the details straight of who is where and what time it is where they are but it's pretty amazing that we are able to do this. Tonya is in Korea right now so we often rehearse and 6 or 7 in the morning her time (7 or 8 pm in New York where I am). I'm beyond impressed by her ability to function let alone act and handle this language at that hour but, then again, she IS Tonya Pinkins.

Talk to me about The School for Wives, who do you play, and what can we expect from the show?

I play Horace- a young man who swiftly and unexpectedly falls in love with a beautiful young woman named Agnes. Agnes (played by Mirirai Sithole) has been kept in isolation on purpose by her guardian Arnolphe who wants to keep her uneducated and simple-minded so that she can be the perfect wife to him. Arnolphe is like an uncle to me and while I know that Agnes is being kept from the world by an awful man, I don't know that that man is like family to me. So I spend most of the play telling him about my love not knowing that he is my "rival" and he then uses what I tell him to foil Agnes' and my love. Horace is all love and energy and excitement. He's free and untamed-so of course he and Arnolphe clash.

Why is this play relevant now, and what is it like being able to perform this work with an all-woman cast?

Lucie Tiberghien, our director, said that something that strikes her about the play is how much Arnolphe tries to tame nature-he tries to control who Agnes is, he tries to stamp out real love and instead wants a world that is ordered by him in a way that makes HIM comfortable. This resonates with me as a black woman in this time in America. The U.S has always had these Puritan values and was built on white-supremacy. I think we're seeing a lot of scary things happen precisely BECAUSE the country has become not only more diverse in every way, but because different types of people have started to shine in the mainstream. We've also had lots of "awakenings" culturally - people like Issa Rae and Ava DuVernay have been telling stories that center the "other" in FULL COLOR. I think that's scary for some white Americans who see themselves as not being celebrated. On a deeper level than entertainment is just this crazy fear of blackness, of joy, of freedom.

Honestly, I thought that having an all-woman cast would feel so so different but to me but it doesn't - these actors are AMAZING, truly the best. I'm beyond lucky to be among them. As far as playing a character who is written to be a man traditionally- I find it SO FREEING to not be constrained by gender. To just wildly play and go after what I want both as an actor and as Horace. Lucie says that we are learning to fly this airplane while we fly it and that is SO TRUE. I think each of us is tackling what it means to be a woman in The School for Wives world differently. Some characters are approach gender in a very cis way, others are exploring breaking out of gender norms-Lucie has very much left that up to us. And I think it's going to be a constant process of discovery and of the audience really getting to decide what casting this play this way means to each of them individually.

How does it feel to be able to take part in creating theater at all right now?

Being asked to be a part of this production is such a gift. Our industry has been absolutely devastated by Covid. There's a lot to mourn. But this is a celebration. A bright moment because no matter what art finds a way, it seems. This is MIP's third virtual production and this time it REALLY feels like theater in the sense that they sent us full computers, cameras, costumes, and light kits that are controlled by the designers. It's wild. I think I heard that this will be the first live theater performance to have lights and sound controlled remotely like this.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you are working on or that are being released that you can tell us about?

I'm producing a podcast with my longtime mentor Steven Anthony Jones called "Black Voices Past and Present." We pick pieces of writing by Black voices and we just read them-it's simple and beautiful and honestly, for me, healing. The episodes are about 20 minutes long and we release one every ten days. It's healing because being black in America I really didn't know much about African American history. My family is from Liberia and so we have a different relationship to blackness than African Americans do - I had to learn about the civil rights movement on my own but the world itself taught me that no matter where you are from in the diaspora black skin is black skin and that is NOT valued. In this country. I didn't learn anything beyond "standard" black history like MLK and Rosa Parks...so reading the writing of Harriet Jacobs, Ida B Wells, Henry Highland Garnet, and Bayard Rustin has been major for me. History teaches me that we are definitely in a continuum of struggle for Black lives to matter in this country. Activism didn't start this year. Since black people have been in this country we have fought and resisted for rights and human dignity. Knowing that I am standing on the shoulders of so many as a human makes me feel so much less alone. So much less crazy.

Black Voices Past and Present: https://blackvoices.transistor.fm

Do you have anything else you would like to share?

Just that what this process is teaching me is to keep on keeping on-art heals. Working on this has been healing. I hope that watching it is healing. We are RESILIENT. No matter what happens in November. We are resilient. And not only will theater and tv film be back - we are STILL HERE.


THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES streams live for free today, Saturday, October 24 at 2pm EST and 7pm EST. A recording of the stream will be available on MIP's YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/moliereinthepark) through Wednesday, October 28, 2pm EST.

Reserve at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/molieres-the-school-for-wives-registration-120285734871.

For more info visit https://www.moliereinthepark.org/school-for-wives-online.


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