Interview: Artistic Director, John J. Wooten of Premiere Stages and FANNIE LOU HAMER, SPEAK ON IT! From 10/15 to 10/18


By: Oct. 08, 2020

Interview:  Artistic Director, John J. Wooten of Premiere Stages and FANNIE LOU HAMER, SPEAK ON IT! From 10/15 to 10/18

Premiere Stages in Union, under the artistic direction of John J. Wooten, will present an outdoor production of the one-woman show, Fannie Lou Hamer, Speak On It! The show will be performed from 10/15 to 10/18 at The Tent at The Liberty Hall Museum.

Part battle cry, part spiritual, this timely and poignant play brings to life civil rights activist Fannie Lou as she leads a rally to fight for voting and racial equality. Her call to action was one that resonated with Americans in the sixties and is equally powerful today. Fannie was originally commissioned and developed by The Goodman Theatre and Seattle Repertory Theatre. The arrangements and musical direction is by Felton Offard. The show was originally directed at The Goodman by Henry Godinez.

Fannie Lou Hamer, Speak On It! stars Rema Webb as Fannie Lou Hamer and features Kena Anae as Music Man. The production has been adapted by Cheryl L. West from her play, Fannie. It is being directed by Marshall Jones III, who is very well known to the theatre scene as he was formerly the Producing Artistic Director of Crossroads Theatre. had the pleasure of interviewing Premiere Stage's Artistic Director, John J. Wooten about the upcoming show.

Interview:  Artistic Director, John J. Wooten of Premiere Stages and FANNIE LOU HAMER, SPEAK ON IT! From 10/15 to 10/18

We are excited about Fannie Lou Hamer: Speak On It! Tell us about a little about the extraordinary team that is making it happen.

Extraordinary is right. I sat through the virtual read through on Tuesday and was blown away by the power of the actors and Cheryl's words. Rema Webb is the perfect actress to bring Fannie's message to the fore. And her chemistry with the talented Kena Anae, who plays Music Man, will make them an unstoppable duo by Opening Night. They are lead by Marshall Jones III, whose vision for the piece is inspiring and a highly talented team of designers (Ali Turns, Toussaint Hunt, David Barber), stage manager (Dale Smallwood) and production staff that are going to create an outdoor voting rally like no one has ever seen before! We are also fortunate to have the arranger Felton Offard as the Musical Director on the project.

What have been some of the challenges of bringing the show to the stage during Covid-19?

Everything we took for granted in the past has to be considered; the smallest tasks and interactions can take twice the amount of time to plan and implement. There are numerous protocols, mandates, and procedures for every phase of production. But keeping the artists and audience safe is the highest priority so the extra work, diligence and attention the staff is taking to cross every "t"and dot every "i" is worth it. Virtual rehearsals, particularly for plays with music, can be challenging but having Marshall's steady hand and Felton's sharp ear has been a huge help.

We know you want audiences to feel safe and confident about attending. What would you like them to know?

Fortunately our team supported multiple outdoor Commencements over the summer, gaining practical experience in how to navigate performances during the pandemic. We have detailed instructions on our website that audience members must review before purchasing tickets. All patrons will be required to wear masks, keep socially distanced, and have their temperature checked before entering. The play is less than an hour so there will be no intermission. The stage and seating is all outside. Playbills will be virtual so there is nothing to touch. All spaces are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before performances.

Fannie Lou Hamer: Speak On It! has a poignant message for our times. What do you think some of the audience takeaways will be?

I think anyone on the fence about voting (is that still possible???) will be excited, inspired and motivated to make sure their voice is heard. Fannie Lou Hamer's call to action could not be more relevant. Systemic racism and voting suppression is still a major problem in our country and with the election only a few weeks away, the stakes could not be higher. We need more leaders like Fannie to bring us together rather than tearing us apart.

Can you tell us about some of the supplemental activities and special exhibits that are being offered through Liberty Hall Museum for the show?

We have a longstanding partnership with the Museum and the staff - Maryellen McVeigh, Rachael Goldberg and Jeff Eckert - have done an amazing job helping put this project together. The "How Long Must We Wait: Suffrage and Ladies of Liberty Hall" exhibit will be available before and after each performance, with monitored entry. 2020 marks the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote and the exhibit showcases the struggle of the many pioneering women who created and catapulted the Suffrage movement to the forefront.

We congratulate you for being one of the NJ companies able to bring live theatre to the public. What are some of your upcoming plans for Premiere Stages?

After Fannie, we will be hosting virtual readings of our Senior Endeavor Award recipients and will embark on a new Liberty Live Commission cycle. We are also offering virtual master classes with some of America's leading artists. We are definitely keeping busy! Please visit for more info.

Anything else, absolutely anything you want BWW NJ readers to know.

This is probably the most difficult production we have produced at Premiere given the challenges associated with COVID-19. I know it is not customary to list all of the people involved but I hope you will indulge me given the circumstances. This production truly would not be possible with the fearless and dedicated staff at Premiere and Kean that includes the names above as well as Christina Hoffman, Nick Gandiello, Steve Cochran, Yadira Hernandez, Jennifer Milone-Clapp, Melisa Vallovera, Pat McMullen, Paddy Shaw, Matthew Eggleton, Zack Gage, Elizabeth Dellapietro, Kristin Ganley, Suzanne Kupiec, and Audrey Kelly.

Because safety is a concern to our readers, here is a link from Actors' Equity Association, designating this production as one that has "met or exceeded safety and sanitary conditions necessary for presenting live theatre during the COVID-19 pandemic."

Premiere Stages and the Liberty Hall Museum will offer supplemental activities, including exhibits and Q & A's as part of the theatre's experience. To learn more and to purchase tickets for Fannie Lou Hamer, Speak On It!, please visit Premiere Stages online at

Assistive listening devices and sign-interpretation are available upon request; please call 908-737-4077 at least two weeks prior to your desired performance. For more information, please visit Premiere Stages online at

Photo Credit: John J. Wooten by Yadira Hernandez, photos of John J. Wooten at the Carriage House by Steve Cochran