Interview With Actress Carra Patterson

By: Jan. 22, 2015
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Education Dramaturg Ted Sod interviews actor Carra Patterson from Little Children Dream of God.

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? Where did you get your acting training?
Carra Patterson:
I was born in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My mother was only 16 when I was born, so she was a teenage parent, but she took my brother and me to college with her, so I spent many of my early years growing up on a college campus. Education was always very important in our household. We eventually settled in Atlanta, Georgia, which is where I attended college. I got my bachelor's degree from Georgia State University and my MFA from NYU's graduate acting department.

TS: I'm curious why you chose to do the role of Sula in Little Children Dream of God. What was it that spoke to you?
It's such a beautiful role. Jeff Augustin, the playwright, did a great job of just writing a juicy, rich role. And as a young black actress, you don't find that many roles of this caliber to be honest. It's such a gift. At first glance, Sula seems like this beautiful, delicate, almost virginal character, but she's a fighter. And there is nothing pretty about her past or her journey. Sula is not a victim who's helpless and depressed. She's a fighter who is literally clawing her way out of her painful past. I love that complexity, and that's what I'm looking forward to exploring during rehearsals.

TS: I just saw a TV interview with Meryl Streep, who said she reads a lot of scripts and she knows it's the right one because her heart starts beating faster. Did something like that happen to you when you were reading Little Children Dream of God?
Oh, definitely. There is this final moment in the play - and I don't want to reveal too much - where Sula finally confronts her past. I remember the first time I read it aloud, it was so visceral, I could literally feel the drums and the rhythm of the language, almost like a trance. There are so many moments in this play where you don't know if it's a dream or a nightmare. I look forward to bringing those moments to life and seeing how they translate from the page to the stage.

TS: What type of research do you have to do to start on this role?
Lots! I am not Haitian, so I am pretty much reading everything I can get my hands on. Although the play is set in Miami, it's very much a story about Haiti; its culture is very important to the world of this play. There's no way I can truly understand Sula's journey without an exploration of Haitian art, spirituality, and traditions.

TS: I know you haven't started rehearsal yet, but what do you think the play is about?
In a way, the title says it all. Children come into this world full of innocence and possibility, and somewhere along the way, it gets lost. I think every character in the play is trying to recover a sense of hope. I definitely think that's what Sula is wrestling with throughout the story. Every parent wants his or her child to have a better life, and Sula wants her son to hold on to the innocence that she's lost.

TS: What style do you think the play is written in?
What I love about Jeff's writing is that on one hand it has a magical, dreamlike quality and then in the next moment, it switches to a tone that's edgy and straightforward. I love how the writing vacillates between those two worlds at any given moment.

TS: How do you see the relationship between Sula and Carolyn?
I love Carolyn's character. She seems to be a symbol of motherhood. However, Carolyn is not the typical mother...she has 11 children, who we never meet in the play. But she also seems to nurture many of the characters in the play in one way or another. I think Sula admires this quality in Carolyn, and sometimes that terrifies her. Between motherhood and her relationship to God, Carolyn represents almost everything Sula is running away from.

Deirdre O'Connell (Carolyn) and Carra Patterson (Sula). Photo by Walter McBride.

TS: What about Sula and Joel? That's a very complex relationship.
I think Sula and Joel are teachers for one another. While they both are trying to recover the ability to dream, Sula also forces Joel to embrace his Haitian roots -- the language and the traditions he's lost touch with. Joel is trying to encourage Sula to create a new history for herself and her son. Sula and Joel push each other and force one another to face their fears.

TS: How would you describe Sula's relationship to Haiti?
Well, although Sula is running from the pain of mistakes she made in Haiti, she loves her home. She forces Joel and Madison to reflect on their own loss of connection with Haiti. Even though she's running from the life she had, she carries the beauty of the culture with her, and that's where the conflict lies with Sula. In order for her to move forward and create a better future for her son, she still has to confront the mistakes and the pain of her past...something we all have to do at some point.

TS: How do you like to collaborate with the director?
I love when there's a true collaboration process between the actors and the director to tell the story. There are all kinds of directors, and I have definitely had experiences where it doesn't feel collaborative at all. Sometimes directors know exactly what they want and it's your job to just do that. Luckily I know the way Gio works, and I am so excited to get started on this journey.

TS: Have you worked with Giovanna Sardelli, the director, before?
I have. She taught me at NYU during my first year, and it was great. Every time we've seen each other since, we always say, "I can't wait to work with you!" And now it's happened. I think a true collaborative process is about trust - the actors trusting the vision of the director, the director trusting the ability, interpretation, and input of the actors. I absolutely believe that I'll have that with Gio. And because she also started as an actor first, I know she knows how to communicate with actors in a way that enhances the collaborative process.

TS: You mentioned doing a table read of this play. Do you have a history with the project?
About a year ago, I had the opportunity to do a reading of this play. It was last minute, so I had to dive in right away. By the end, I was blown away by the story and by the journey that Sula takes. That's when I fell in love with this play. And I was looking forward to the opportunity to audition for it all year.

Little Children Dream of God begins previews at the Black Box Theatre January 24. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

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