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BWW Interview: Vie Boheme of MEMPHIS at Artistry Theater

Production runs from April 23rd through May 15th

BWW Interview: Vie Boheme of MEMPHIS at Artistry Theater Memphis the musical will be playing at the Artisty Theater. This musical will blast you out the door humming! Inspired by actual events in the turbulent south of the 1950s, Memphis is the story of Felicia Farrell and Huey Calhoun - one a Black singer, talented and determined to share her voice; the other a white radio DJ whose passion for music transcends race lines. As their love of music and each other grow, their lives and communities intersect, causing encounters with prejudices that challenge them to reconsider their relationships, priorities, and dreams. Featuring an original score with music by David Bryan, founding member of Bon Jovi, this show will have you dancing in your seat.

We chat with cast member Vie Boheme who plays Felica Farrell in the Artistry Theater's production of Memphis.

How does it feel to be back on stage in front of an audience again and to have live theatre back?

It honestly feels surreal! I'm so excited for the chance to perform night after night sharpening my performance and storytelling tools. It's been a long time so these performances feel precious. I'm excited to grace the stage.

How does your role compared to other roles you played?

This is my first leading role in a production that I didn't create. So, there isn't really a comparison. Only a realization of how much less responsibility I have in the overall process of putting up this show! That has been a blessing and a challenge. I'm used to wearing so many hats! So, it's been a journey to relinquish a need to keep the full picture and process in my mind at all times. I only need to focus on my part. I welcome that shift of focus.

How was working with the cast and the creative team?

This process has been very Black! Very organic, natural and evolving in real time. The work blossoms and comes alive in each moment. It thrives in instantaneous creation and that is something very familiar to me but not in the theatrical setting. That has taken some adjustment and I hope that it is something that can be steeped and supported more in the future by theaters that want to do the equitable work of hiring Black directors, choreographers and musical directors. Working our magic within the frame and timeline of theater requires lots of communication. Bringing any type of non white creative practice into the formality of the theater world will require constant communication between the creative team, the theater and the cast. Non-white creative processes explode all systemic dominant structures, so, in order for all people involved to stay reminded of that and to stay tuned into the newness, constant communication is an absolute requirement. Communication becomes the new anchor of the process rather than the familiarity of the systems that have traditionally anchored the process (take it or leave it theaters and producers!).

Was there anything challenging with the process in developing your character or anything in the production?

So many challenges! Memphis attempts to take a light approach to a very serious circumstance. Having a Black woman director has been a blessing with this piece. Aimee wanted us to truly consider the more likely intensity that would have been present in many of the scenes in the show. I believe that intensity can coexist with the romanticism of musical theater, though it isn't easy, I believe it can provide a more relatable experience for all audience members.

The more research I've done to develop who Felicia Farrell is to me my heart breaks constantly. I'm playing a black woman who was written by a white man. I have to say, this is much harder than I thought it would be. Joe DePietro's instincts, dreams, wishes, desires and history formed Felicia Farrell's truth on the page. The same is true of David Bryan who wrote the music. I can't help but to feel puppeted by them at times. It's really tough. It makes me wonder why would two white men tell this story this way without any Black folks in the writing room? What was going on culturally in America to foster this piece in 2009?

Though those questions remain somewhat unanswered for me, as far as Felicia Farrell is concerned, I guess I can be happy that this show highlights the high points of Felicia having her music heard and landing her first national tour. What looms for me, are the likely stories of her songs being covered by white women artists and having their careers propelled to heights she might never attain in her lifetime. Felicia Farrell is BIG MOMMA THORNTON, Etta James, Lavern Baker, LORRAINE ELLISON and so many more. What does it do for us in America to focus on the good parts this way? I've wondered, is a part of the purpose of a musical to make people feel good about things that have happened? There are so many shadows in this show and with so little lines (lots of songs! but simple one line responses in most scenes), I stand in those shadows constantly when I'm on stage. This story is an important one to share but I am certainly challenged by the silences and omissions.

Do you have a favorite song in the show?

Ain't Nothing But a Kiss is my favorite tune! It's a classic 12 bar blues, love it. I also really like Love Will Stand When All Else Falls. It's a beautiful ballad.

Do you have a favorite moment in the show?

My favorite moment or scene in the show is when Felicia shows up to Hueys house to tell him about the music she recorded. It's a delicate scene! Felicia is there for her music but she really is falling for the guy. I appreciate the see saw of the power dynamics and the curiosity between Huey and Felicia.

What do you hope the audience takes away when they see the show?

I want folks to observe that African American and White American pleasure and pain in this country, have been inextricably interwoven. Most times, when Black people experience joy and pleasure in America it is something everyone can enjoy and participate in. When Felcia wins, Huey wins. Often times pleasure and joy for White folks comes at a price for Black folks. Delray and Felicia are constantly aware of the potential danger and the possible expiration date on all the things that are happen in the show. They know that they could pay some sort of price for all the good things happening and that Huey won't.

I invite the audience to honor the dawn of the civil rights movement as it bubbles under this story. Please, feel the joy of Felicia and Huey! Take the rollercoaster ride of love with us. Enjoy each victory that unfolds for us, however, don't let that be where you land. We owe it to all of our ancestors and our children to also hold space for the seriousness this musical does its best to keep light and hold just a bit out of view so we can all feel good. Trust and believe, what is being held just out of view is still there, I can tell you that it sits in my body and I have to carry it each night. Don't let me carry it alone. Allow the unspoken to be spoken in your car ride home.

Thank you so much Vie for your time!

For more information and ticket information on the Artistry Theater's Memphis, click here

Photo courtesy of the Artistry Theater

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