RED VELVET Opens In New Haven At Southern Connecticut State University
On February 28th, Southern Connecticut State University Department of Theatre kicks off the spring half of its 2019-20 season with Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti. This production of Red Velvet traverses Black History Month and Women's History Month. Themes explored within the production speak to the struggles and triumphs of these communities. The year is 1833 and London's preeminent Shakespearean actor, Edmund Kean, collapsed in the middle of performing the title role in Shakespeare's Othello. In dire need of a replacement, the Theatre Royale's manager decides to invite his American friend Ira Aldridge to take over the role. Everyone is relieved to find out a replacement has been found so quickly until they realize that Aldridge is black. A maelstrom of wildly different reactions ensues from actors, critics, and audiences as they debate principles of prejudice, progressivism, and the art of acting.
Director Benjamin Curns, adjunct professor of Theatre at SCSU and a Shakespearean actor himself, says, "Working on this play has taught me a lot. It asks some hard questions about race and about history. About art and about style. About friendship and about sacrifice. About being curious or close-minded. I hope it teaches you something too. And if it does, I hope you'll share whatever it might be with someone else." As a fierce lover of Shakespeare, Curns has appeared in all but six of the canon's plays including the title roles in Richard III, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Henry VIII, and Hamlet. He is a proud member of Actors Equity and holds the rank of Advanced Actor/Combatant with the Society of American Fight Directors where he was also awarded the David Boushey Founder's Award for Excellence in Unarmed Combat.
Red Velvet features a cast of both newcomers and SCSU Theatre veterans. "This play has been a terrific challenge for our student actors," says Curns. "I'm proud to say that some of us are doing their very first play here with us. They have given of themselves in every area from studying accents and dialects (and sometimes an entirely new language!) . . . to being constantly asked to reveal more of themselves and face down their fears." Freshman Communication major and Theatre minor Gary Robinson Jr. makes his SCSU Theatre debut as 26-year-old Ira Aldridge. Rehearsals for Robinson include playing opposite senior actors in scenes discussing issues of race and belonging in 19th century London, and also playing as Othello in selected scenes from Shakespeare's play. Senior Theatre major Christian Gunzenhauser plays Pierre LaPorte: a friend of Ira Aldridge and young entrepreneur. Gunzenhauser is tasked with learning a French accent for the production--a welcome challenge in his last semester. Actors E'von Davis, Malcolm Davis, Ryleigh Rivas, and Molly Flanagan make their on-stage debuts with SCSU Theatre, while actors Patricia Castle, Kat Duffner, Sebastian Cordero, Matthew Lopes, Leah Herde, Keegan Smith, and Liam Welsh all return to the stage with this period piece.
The production boasts a talented team behind-the-scenes as well. SCSU Theatre welcomes Sound Designer Nathan Roberts in his seventh show with the program and second this season. Roberts is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, instrument-maker, and sound designer who specializes in creating original music and soundscapes for plays. He has designed for Yale Repertory Theatre, Hartford Stage, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. With the range of dialects and accents in the production (British-English, Jamaican, French, Polish), actor/writer/director Michael Hinton is working with the Red Velvet cast as voice/dialect coach. Hinton trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in England and with Shakespeare & Company in Lennon, MA. Locally, he has worked with Elm Shakespeare Company and Eastern Connecticut State University, and is currently pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing at SCSU.
The mission for the department is to provide comprehensive theatre training of the highest quality, to foster students' personal and artistic development, and to emphasize experiential learning and access to the profession. This can be seen through SCSU Theatre's involvement with the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, New England Theatre Conference, and its continued partnership with Elm Shakespeare Company. The final production in the 2019-20 season will be a festival of student directed one-act plays (April 28th through May 2nd).
Red Velvet will be performed in the John Lyman Center for the Performing Arts Main Stage (501 Crescent Street, New Haven, CT). Performance dates/times: February 28-29th**, March 5-7th at 8:00pm; March 1st and March 7th at 2:00pm. The opening night performance on February 28th at 8:00pm is free for all college students with a valid ID. On Saturday, February 29th, tickets will be $5 for all veterans. Both offers are available at the Box Office only. Regular tickets are general admission: $15 for the general public; $10 for faculty/staff, seniors and alumni (2 tickets with valid alumni ID); $5 for college students (2 with valid ID), and free for high school students. Reserve your tickets here or call the Lyman Box Office at 203-392-6154.
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