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BWW Interview: REBECCA S'MANGA FRANK of THE NON MONOGOLOGUES at 14th Street Y

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Love, sex, choosing, and being CHOSEN.

BWW Interview: REBECCA S'MANGA FRANK of THE NON MONOGOLOGUES at 14th Street Y

We are in an extended season of miracles - theatre is back, and then there are the December holidays. BroadwayWorld wants to introduce you to another miracle - actor, singer, writer, and director Rebecca S'manga Frank.

The name S'manga means "miracle in" in Siswati, the language spoken in Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly called Swaziland), where her father, a linguist and diplomat, is from. Her mother, who is Jewish, is a professor at the University of Southern California. Frank has been pursuing not just mainstream theatre, but unique shows that integrate her training as an actor, her talent as a writer, her intellect as a person, and her rich Black-Jewish identity.

Frank, a native of Santa Monica and West Los Angeles, received a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Mills College in Oakland. Once she landed in a play at Berkeley, she decided to go into acting. She earned her M.F.A. from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. She sings jazz, makes short films, practices yoga, writes poetry, and does accents. It's important for Frank to incorporate all her wide range of interests and strengths "to imagine and tell stories in a new light," she says.

Some of those stories include acting in classics such as Twelfth Night (with the African American Shakespeare Co.), Coriolanus (at the Red Bull Theatre), The Three Sisters and Mrs. Warren's Profession at Tisch, contemporary plays such as Indecent (at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) and Intimate Apparel (Alter Theatre and 6th Street Playhouse), and new works by rising playwrights. Frank has also appeared on television and film. Writing and directing are also very important to her as she grows as a performing artist. She directed Romeo and Juliet at the Brooklyn Preserve in Oakland and was an assistant director at the New York Theatre Workshop.

"I love doing new work," she says, "exploring new territory." It was how she got into professional theatre. In November, she appeared with Elise Kibler and Brian Miskell in the world premiere of Is Edward Snowden Single? by Kate Cortesi at the New Ohio. She and Kibler played actresses and best friends April and Mimi who portrayed 19 different characters. Miskell played Snowden, a minor but important character. Frank loves this play, which explores "the theme of integrity and being a whistleblower about [a character's] moral dilemma about her actions." One of her many roles in the play is an "old Jewish woman who sounds a lot like a character I created in the pandemic." That was an older funny social media advice contributor called "Pandemic Orange." Cortesi actually found Frank through that and offered her the part in Is Edward Snowden Single?

"The first time I ever played a Jewish character was in Indecent," she recalls. "It was a game changer. I could integrate my own identity. Since then, she has worked on projects that delve into her unique heritage.

On December 16, she will present The Non Monogologues, a project from her 2021 LABA Fellowship at the 14th Street Y in the East Village. Through conversations and interviews of people in non-monogamous relationships, it explores love, sex, choosing, and being chosen, based on classic Jewish texts. Previously, she wrote on Where is the Goat? at the LAB/Shul's Yom Kippur, "a big piece about sacrifice, scapegoating, loss, and community at the New Year." Later this year, The Black Jewish Dybbuk project will be presented at The Workshop at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

In mid-February 2022, Frank will appear in Bryna Turner's play At the Wedding at Lincoln Center Theater/LCT3's Clair Tow Theater. The play is about a woman who crashes the wedding of her ex-girlfriend. She plans to return to The Workshop with her film, My Blewish Wedding. The film combines the themes in S. Ansky's play The Dybbuk with elements of the tragedy of Elijah McClain, a young man who was murdered in Colorado during a violent police encounter. "It's an interesting way to engage with what is justice and how can we find justice for those who are no longer living," she says.

Frank welcomes returning to just acting for a while. "Acting reminds me I have a body." She explains, "I live in my head so much. Acting grounds thoughts and feelings in an embodied experience. I'm a writer and a poet. I have ideas and a big imagination." With acting, "I'm telling a story with my body. When I'm read, people are able to see my soul."

She has a lot of ideas to explore and develop. "Plays can have a sort of a negative, non-conversation about race" in which the playwright tries to make the subject invisible. Race and racism are a part of the conversation people need to have, and theatre is a good place to have it. And it doesn't work in a color-neutral world.

In addition to intellect, talent, and creativity, Frank is blessed with stunning good looks and an engaging personality. That truly is a miracle. Frank says she wants "to continue to play a vast range of humans, holding tons of characters in my body, also playing real people, reflecting on history with heroes like Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston, and great artist and culture makers." In addition, she seeks "stories that integrate music and poetry, and importantly, I'm interested in roles that reflect the intersectionality I often write bout, like the escapades and perspective of a Black Jewish woman in America."

If anyone can do it, Frank can. Follow her posts @Smanga_yahart on Instagram and visit her website www.rebeccasmangafrank.com.


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