BWW Interview: Brittany Bellizeare and KING HEDLEY II by August Wilson at TRT
Two River Theater (TRT) continues their 2018/2019 season with August Wilson's King Hedley II, directed by Obie Award winner, Brandon J. Dirden. It will be performed on the Red Bank stage from November 10 to December 16.
The year is 1985. King Hedley II has returned from prison looking to rebuild his life, save some money, plant a backyard garden, and start a family. Don't miss this powerful and evocative look at how hope springs from even the hardest of soil. This production is the halfway mark of Two River presenting the 10 plays of August Wilson's American Century Cycle.
Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing Brittany Bellizeare who plays Tonya in King Hedley II.
Bellizeare previously appeared at Two River Theater as Ruby in Seven Guitars and is happy to return to work on yet another August Wilson masterpiece. New York credits include an interactive play, In the Blue Hour (Emily) at La Maison d'Art Gallery in Harlem, and A Raisin in the Sun (Beneatha) at The Gallery Players. Regional: Portland Center Stage (Oregon) JAW Festival: three girls never learnt the way home (Edith); Baltimore Center Stage: Skeleton Crew (Shanita); The Guthrie: The Bluest Eye (Pecola); TheaterWorks Hartford: Sunset Baby (Nina); La Jolla/Berkeley Rep: The Last Tiger in Haiti (Rose); Northern Stage: The Mountaintop(Camae); the Yard: Archy & Mehitabel (Ensemble) Educational Tour: McCarter: Sunjata Kamalenya (Player 3). Film/TV: The Blacklist, Eye Candy, The Knick. Education: MFA: The New School for Drama; BS: Spelman College. NAACP Theatre for Best Ensemble nomination for The Last Tiger in Haiti (2017/18).
When did you first realize your love of the performing arts?
I think I realized my love for the performing arts, more specifically acting, when I was a junior in High School. I took dance classes when I was a young child, was always singing in the choir and loved watching TV with my Dad, so performing was always a part of my childhood. But it wasn't until I shared the role of Mama in the musical version of A Raisin in the Sun, RAISIN, did I realize my deep love for acting. And in my senior year [of HS], I played Dorothy in the musical The Wiz. However, my love for it wasn't strong enough to convince myself to take on the major in college... lol... I ended up majoring in Mathematics and Minoring in Theater Arts... but the classes and productions I did while in undergrad sealed the deal. And I ended up going to The New School for Drama for my MFA!
Is there anyone in particular who inspired your acting career?
Both RAISIN and The Wiz were hits in HS, and it was the enthusiasm of the community that planted the seed in me, that started me on the path of believing I had the chops and ability to be a great actor if I chose to put the time and energy into it. So that was my inspiration. But I also had some childhood favorites: Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington. My parents will tell you, I watched their movies over and over again. I was obsessed with watching every movie they were in. I was in awe of their talent. They always portrayed their characters with such passion, honesty and vulnerability. I had all the feels experiencing them on screen; I literally experienced so many emotions myself watching them. I wanted to artistically evoke that type of reaction in people; portraying a person on stage/screen where someone could potentially see themselves, be able to relate and connect to someone, evoke compassion and awareness, to inform and teach, to inspire. And to this day, what drives me most is being able to dive into a role with my entire being and bring to light a character who may not have been seen, invisible, often misunderstood and underrepresented. Some of my other favs are Meryl Streep, Cicely Tyson, Alfre Woodard, Jeffery Wright, Ron Cephas Jones, Viola Davis, just to name a few.
We'd love to know a little about your education.
I grew up in Upper Darby, PA, just outside of West Philly. I went to Friend's Select School, part of the Friends Quaker school consortium, from Kindergarten to 7th grade. I then moved to Scotch Plains, NJ, with my parents, and finished middle school (8th grade) and High School. Went to Spelman College in Atlanta, GA, an HBCU, and then moved to New York to attend grad school for Acting, The New School for Drama.
Tell us about your experiences working at TRT.
This is my second time working at Two River and I absolutely love working here. I've been looking forward to my return and so excited to be returning to do another August Wilson piece. And the fact that King Hedley II is considered to be a direct sequel to the play I did here three years ago, Seven Guitars, makes it that more serendipitous. Two River is a family, their community feels just like that, a family and I will continue to come back and work here.
Tell us about your role as Tonya in the show.
Tonya, is a Black woman who is trying to discover who she is. Realizing, in her mid 30s, that she grew up too fast, having to coup and survive with her own circumstances that have only held her back.
Why do you think the timing is right for an audience to experience King Hedley II?
Whew... well the timing is... perfect. If you recall, the '80s was a time where the headlines in the news looked scarily similar to what we're seeing now. The amount of black bodies being killed on the streets in this country is simply atrocious. And the Black Community was, and is constantly having to fight to be seen, heard and validated that we matter in this country. The struggle hasn't ended. So what do you do when you try your hardest to do what's right for the survival of your family, follow the rules and laws of this country but also try to decide for yourself your own values and beliefs? What do you do when the fight isn't good enough because you still end up with the short end of the stick? THIS, for me, is part of what King Hedley II is about, fighting against all the obstacles placed upon us and also fighting for YOU.
Can you share with our readers any plans for the future?
Well, an actor is always auditioning... ALWAYS. So that's what I will be doing. LOL. But I do have a project following this one; I'll be at The Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, NY performing in a world premier of a new play :-)
Tickets for King Hedley II can be purchased by calling 732.345.1400 or by visiting the Two River Theater website at https://www.tworivertheater.org/. The show will be performed in the Marion Huber Theater from November 10 to December 16. The Theater is located at 21 Bridge Avenue in Red Bank, NJ.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Brittany Bellizeare