BWW Interview: Renaissance Man Ruben Santiago-Hudson From LACKAWANNA To Broadway, HBO & Back
Tony Award winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson brings his autobiographical solo show LACKAWANNA BLUES to the Mark Taper (already in previews), with opening night set for March 13, 2019. Hearkening back to his 1950's childhood in Lackawanna, New York; Ruben assumes the roles of twenty-plus characters he grew up with. The writer/actor/director will be accompanied by Grammy-winning blues guitarist Chris Thomas King, (who also composed additional music to the original music of Bill Sims Jr.).
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Ruben!
LACKAWANNA BLUES was first produced at the Joseph Papp Theatre in 2001. You then adapted your solo play into fully-cast HBO film in 2005. Have you made any tweaks to your original script for this Mark Taper production? Any of the film adaptation been added to this one-man (plus musician) show?
I've made a few changes but for the most part the play is intact from its original production.
How many years before 2001 did you begin writing your autobiographical play?
Though I had been telling these stories to anyone that would listen my entire life, I only began writing it about a year before the initial production at The Public.
Did you have a vivid memory of your childhood? Or did you keep a diary/journal?
These remarkable people and the experiences I shared with them were etched in my memory and in my heart.
How did your collaboration with Bill Sims Jr. first come about?
I met Bill in another production Off-Broadway where he was playing music. His brilliance was clear in every note he played. We became friends and vowed to keep working together. I told him about my life, and the incredible community where I grew up, and I told him about Nanny. He equally shared his story coming up in the Midwest and his love for his family and community, and it was on. We collaborated for twenty years on more events that I can count. He changed my life in a wonderful way.
Chris Thomas King, who will be accompanying you at the Mark Taper, also composed music in addition to Bill's?
Chris is an amazing musician, and though we honor everything Bill has written, Chris gets opportunities to add his special touch; and it is just beautiful. He has been a godsend.
When you were growing up, what did you want to be - a writer, an actor, a director?
I just wanted to get a good job and make Nanny and the folks around me proud. But I fell in love with the stage in the second grade. And I've been in the theater ever since.
What gives you the most satisfaction? Sinking your actor's teeth into a meaty role? Writing a piece that connects with an audience? Directing a group of talents to communicate the author's ideas?
Each time I am involved in a project, I get particular joy in the process. No matter what position I am in, there is always an opportunity to learn from extraordinary artists and to share my experiences and my heart with them as well.
Would you describe the evening in 1996, you were at the Tony Awards ceremony waiting for the announcement of your category "Best Featured Actor in a Drama"?
I had been sitting there thinking about my new twins whom my wife had never been away from for that many hours before. Then I heard them say, "Best Featured Actor," and the reality began to sink in that my category was coming up. When they called my name, it took a little time to sink in, but Jeannie nudged me and I knew it was real. The feeling was overwhelming. I rushed my speech and didn't get to thank everyone, but I hope I they could feel the love and appreciation. So many people play a part of what seems like a singular accomplishment.
What significance to you was being awarded both the Humanitas Prize and the Christopher Award for writing your HBO film script of LACKAWANNA? The cherry on top? Respected validation? Other significance?
The Humanitas Prize and Christopher Award represent work that changes the world in a positive way. Any positive recognition that you receive is a blessing, but those two honors which are based on humanity have a very special meaning.
They collaborate together and the vision is never singular. The same rules prevail in all of my work.
You relive your earlier years on stage more frequently than most civilians do. What one piece of advice would you today give your teenage self?
Be careful about your generosity, and who you trust and let get close to you.
What feelings would you like the Mark Taper audience to leave with after your curtain call?
I want to remind people of a time when we took care of each other, the power of love, community, and the unforgettable touch of mother.
Thank you again, Ruben! I look forward to experiencing your younger self back in Lackawanna, New York.
For ticket availability and schedule through April 21, 2019; log onto www.centertheatregroup.org