Hangar Theatre Outdoor Production Of The REALNESS Opens June 18

Damon J. Gillespie stars as T.O.

By: Jun. 08, 2021

Hangar Theatre Outdoor Production Of The REALNESS Opens June 18

The Hangar's opening performance of The REALNESS: another break beat play by Idris Goodwin will begin June 18th at 7:30 PM, kicking off the Hangar's 2021 Outdoor Mainstage season! A preview performance will precede opening, on June 17 at 7:30 P.M. Matinee and evening performances will run through Saturday, June 26.

Playwright Idris Goodwin (he/his) and Director Kyle Haden (he/his) were working together on a virtual project earlier this year, when Haden coincidentally got the invitation to direct the Hangar production. Haden shared, "I now know why people had been telling Idris and I that we needed to meet for so long. I feel like Idris wrote this for me; I could have been T.O.! When I was T.O.'s age, music and finding love was the most important thing in my life."

Damon J. Gillespie (he/his) will star as T.O. in The REALNESS. Haden was one of Gillespie's college acting teachers, which is one of the reasons Gillespie was drawn to audition. "His was the last acting class that I took for theater," Gillespie said. "So this was a very, very incredible reunion." Gillespie entered the spotlight in 2018 with a major role as Robbie on NBC's Rise. He then went on to two major roles in Netflix originals The Society, and Tiny Pretty Things in 2018 and 2019. His additional TV credits include appearances on Empire on Fox, and Comedy Central's Inside Amy Schumer. He is a Member of Actors' Equity Association, and his theatre credits include Broadway productions of Newsies and Aladdin. He stated, "I am so thankful, and couldn't be happier to join this cast. This show goes out to every person who fell in love with hip-hop. With such craziness in the world, why not strive for some realness?" Haden adds, "This story is woven in and around hip hop, so if you know that world, you'll be excited to revisit it, but those new to hip-hop will enjoy it as well".

This unique play, by nationally recognized playwright Idris Goodwin, tackles history and class collisions in a humorous and authentic story set to a distinct beat. "It's like rhythmic storytelling," Gillespie said. "You know, in Shakespeare we have what's called iambic pentameter, where they basically speak in rhythm, and the way I understand it is that it is a modern version of iambic pentameter, which would be spoken word, poetry or rap." T.O. graduates from high school in 1996 and moves from the suburbs to the city, stepping into the hip-hop scene. He soon meets Prima, a dazzling MC with Lauryn Hill vibes, who takes his breath away. T.O. poses as a music journalist to get close to her, but his story quickly catches up to him.

In addition to Gillespie and Santiago, cast members include Rasell Holt as Lord Style, Ithaca College alum Nicholas Caycedo as Roy et al., and Kiziana Jean-Louis as Professor Brown et al. With direction by Haden, the production team also includes Sound Designer Shammy Dee, Scenic & Lighting Designer Steve TenEyck (who designed the Hangar's entire outdoor venue in addition to the set), Costume Designer Danielle Preston, AEA Production Stage Manager Bailey Saxe, and Assistant Director Jasmine Mitchell.

A virtual Hip Hop Panel featuring guest speakers Ernie Paniccioli and DJ Cut Chemist will follow opening week, on Monday June 21st at 7 PM. The panel will be a collaboration between the Hangar Theatre and the Cornell Hip Hop Collection, and will be facilitated by Ben Ortiz. For more information, visit hangartheatre.org/hip.

The Hangar's 47th Mainstage season will include five live, in-person outdoor productions including The Realness, Once, Sweeney Todd, Queens Girl in the World, and An Odyssey. Artistic Director Shirley Serotsky states, "In preparing for this season, celebrating joy, art, and life was at the top of our list and The REALNESS does all of those things. I feel grateful and lucky to be here with everyone, having the chance to create art. It is overwhelming to have these amazing artists working together to create this remarkable story about making music and art, and celebrating life."

The Hangar thanks Premier Performance Partner Tompkins Financial, Mainstage Media Sponsor Cayuga Radio Group, Partner In The Arts Ithaca College, Partner In Health Be Sure Testing, Premier show sponsor The Shackell-Dowell Family, and show Media Sponsor WICB 91.7 FM. Additional show information can be found online at hangartheatre.org/realness

The REALNESS runs from June 17-26. Seats are limited, and available while supplies last. All tickets must be purchased in advance. Student discounts and Pay What You Will tickets are available at every performance in 2021. Buy now at hangartheatre.org/realness

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