MCC Theater's Transgender-Themed Play CHARM Begins Tonight
Leading the cast of Charm in the role of Mama - a 67-year-old, black, transgender woman - will be actress Sandra Caldwell, in her first major NYC role. Caldwell will be joined by Michael David Baldwin, Jojo Brown, Marky Irene Diven, Michael Lorz, Hailie Sahar, Emmy nominee Kelli Simpkins, Marquise Vilson, and Lauren F. Walker.
"Sometimes it feels like I'm reading my own story. Charm is everything I could have possibly wanted at this moment. As an actor, it's a gift and it also gives me the opportunity to portray a person I call a real-life hero," said Charm star Sandra Caldwell. "I watch the world changing right in front of my eyes. But back in the day it was about don't tell, don't talk. I'm so glad my journey lasted long enough for me to see people realizing their freedoms and living authentically. The world may not be ready to accept 100%, but it is absolutely taking a turn for the best. Ironically, I was there when the historic Stonewall went down and I'm thrilled to be here when it is being celebrated once again."
In a statement from MCC Theater Co-Artistic Director Will Cantler: "MCC is committed to telling stories that reflect the diversity of the American experience. With the extraordinary Charm, we took great care to cast actors whose own life experiences-and identities- can inform and enrich the characters they will portray."
As previously announced, Charm is a play by Chicago-based, Jefferson Award-winning playwright Philip Dawkins and will be directed by Helen Hayes Award winner Will Davis. Charm begins previews at the Lucille Lortel Theater (121 Christopher Street) tonight, August 31, 2017, with an official opening night set for Monday, September 18, 2017.
When Mama Darleena Andrews-a 67-year-old, black, transgender woman-takes it upon herself to teach an etiquette class at Chicago's LGBTQ community center, the idealistic teachings of Emily Post clash with the very real life challenges of identity, poverty and prejudice faced by her students. Inspired by the true story of Miss Gloria Allen and her work at Chicago's Center on Halsted, Philip Dawkins' Charm asks: How do we lift each other up when the world wants to tear us down?
Also announced today: the creative team for Charm includes scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado, costume design by Oana Botez, lighting design by two-time Tony Award nominee Ben Stanton, and sound design by Palmer Hefferan. Casting is by Telsey + Company./Adam Caldwell, William Cantler, Karyn Casl.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS:
Michael David Baldwin (Donnie) was born in Birmingham, Alabama. After finding a love for theatre through school plays, Michael joined a touring youth theatre troupe whose target audience was inner city youths. After six years of touring, he attended The University of North Alabama where he received his Bachelor of Science in Communications/Theatre. Following graduation, Michael attended the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) receiving his MFA in performing arts. Michael's credits include an episode of "Law & Order: SVU" and the upcoming comedy filmCoup D'Etat starring Michael Caine and Katie Holmes. Michael is thrilled to be back on stage telling such an important story with a tremendously talented group of people. He would like to thank his family, friends, agents, and all those who have continually supported him along the way. A very special loving thanks to Eugene and Linda Baldwin. Long Live Love.
Jojo Brown (Jonelle) is a Chicago raised actor, musician, and advocate for trans people of color. She has most recently appeared in productions at A Red Orchid Theatre and American Theater Company. Jojo is represented by Gray Talent Group and is Instagram followable @jojobrwn
Sandra Caldwell (Mama) The New York Times calls Sandra Caldwell a "true entertainer in every sense of the word." Her acting career extends throughout the worlds of film, television, and theater. As a jazz singer, she has performed with top orchestras in some of the world's finest venues, including the Montreal Jazz Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival, and the Newport Jazz Festival. On television, Sandra was seen in "The Book of Negroes" (miniseries, guest lead); "19-2" (recurring); "Soul Food" (recurring); "Little Men" (series regular); and guest starring roles in such shows as "Law & Order: SVU" and "Rookie Blue." She was a featured performer in many TV movies, including "Good Fences" with Whoopi Goldberg, and Disney's "The Cheetah Girls." Film work includes Murder at 1600; Shall We Dance, and Maya Angelou's directorial debut, Down in the Delta. In theater, Sandra has appeared in the musical Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story(Shubert Theater); the Original Workshop for Ragtime (LiveNT Productions); the drama Coming Through Slaughter (Necessary Angel Theater, Toronto); and was nominated for a Dora Award, the Canadian Tony, for her work in Sophisticated Ladies (Sterling Productions, Toronto).
Marky Irene Diven (Lady) is overjoyed to make her MCC Theater debut as Lady in Charm. She is a graduate of SUNY Fredonia's Acting program, where she obtained her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Her favorite past credits include Dopey in Balm in Gilead, Crabtree in The School for Scandal and Leporello in Don Juan in Chicago. Marky has also directed various plays, including This Is Our Youth by Kenneth Lonergan and Four Dogs and A Bone by John Patrick Shanley. She is a founding member of Shellscrape Theatre, a New Group of artists producing original work. She is currently working on insomnia by Cody Jones, which will be the group's first main stage production. Marky would like to thank her family, Will Davis, Philip Dawkins, and everyone who thought she deserved this chance, from the bottom of her heart.
Michael Lorz (Logan) is overjoyed to be making his MCC debut. TV/Film: "Gotham," "Difficult People," "Elementary," Chateau Sauvignon: Terroir. Theatre: Into the Woods (Northern Stage), Rock of Ages (Gateway). BFA: NYU. @MichaelLorz13 www.MichaelLorz.com "Loving people live in a loving world. Hostile people live in a hostile world. Same world." - Wayne W. Dyer
Hailie Sahar (Ariela) an LA native, began performing as a SparKid, dancing for the WNBA Sparks. She made her film debut in, Leave It On The Floor and recently costarred alongside Jeffrey Tambor in season 3 of Amazon's "Transparent". Sahar was featured in Out Magazine as one of Hollywood's New Rising Talents. During the 2016 TransNation Film Festival, Sahar performed a live duet with Miss America, Betty Cantrell. Sahar has become a highly respected Transgender woman working in Hollywood having been crowned "Miss L.A. Pride" and "Queen U.S.A." She was also honored with an invitation to speak at The Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in D.C for the 57th Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Sahar's first music video, California Dreams, was released in Jan 2017. Her music showcases equality, empowerment, and overall positive messages.
Kelli Simpkins (D) is thrilled to be making her MCC debut. She is a company member of Tectonic Theater Project and is one of the original creator/performers of The Laramie Project (d/Moises Kaufman). Theater credits: T. (d/Margot Bordelon) and Men On Boats (d/Will Davis)-ATC; The Secretaries (d/Bonnie Metzgar)-AFT; Cocked (d/Joanie Schultz)-Victory Gardens; Spill (d/Leigh Fondakowski)- EST/Timeline; Teddy Ferrara (d/Evan Cabnet)-Goodman; The Kid Thing (d/Joanie Schultz) (Jeff nomination) and Pony (d/Bonnie Metzgar)-AFT; In Darfur (d/ Nick Bowling)-Timeline; Late (d/Jessica Thebus)- Piven; Celebrity Row (d/David Cromer)- ATC; Fair Use (d/Meredith McDonough), Good Boys And True (d/Pam McKinnon) and One Arm (d/Moises Kaufman)- Steppenwolf Theatre; Execution Of Justice (d/Gary Griffon)-AFT; The People's Temple (d/Leigh Fondakowski)- Guthrie, Perseverance and Berkeley Rep. FILM/TV: Slice, "Chicago Fire," "Patriot,"Betrayal, A League Of Their Own, "Chasing Amy," "Law & Order: C.I." and "The Laramie Project" (Emmy nomination). Kelli is a proud recipient of the 2013 Chicago 3Arts Award.
Marquise Vilson (Beta) was born in Bronx, NY is excited to make his debut appearance Off-Broadway in the play Charm. A former advocate and activist for homeless youth and the LGBTQ community he's currently been working in the transportation field for the last 3 years. Marquise would like to thank to his mother Andra Vilson and his mentor David Summers for their support as he embarks on his journey into professional acting.
F. Walker (Victoria) is thrilled to make her Off Broadway debut in Charm. Hailing from Washington, DC, attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, where her passion for theatre was ignited! A graduate of the BFA Conservatory of Theatre Arts at SUNY Purchase, Lauren's recent credits include The Public Theatre's Julius Caesar (ensemble), The Black Spectrum Theatre's A Tribute to Mae Jemison (Mae Jemison) and The Purchase Repertory Theatre's production of Romeo and Juliet (Friar Lawrence). She would like to give a special thanks to her first year acting teacher, the late Charels Tuthill, for inspiring her to run furiously toward her truth whilst embracing every obstacle with an open mind and an open heart.
Playwright Philip Dawkins (he/him/his) is a Chicago playwright whose plays have been produced all over the country and the world. His critically acclaimed works include The Homosexuals(About Face Theatre), Le Switch (About Face Theater, The Jungle), and Failure: A Love Story (Victory Gardens Theater), all of which were nominated for the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Work; and Miss Marx: Or The Involuntary Side Effect of Living (Strawdog Theatre) and Charm (Northlight Theater), both of which won the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Work. This fall, he performed the world premiere of his solo play, The Happiest Place on Earth at the Greenhouse Theater Center (co-production with Sideshow Theatre Company). Look for his musical adaptation of Dr. Seuss's The Sneetches (with composer, David Mallamud) at Children's Theater Company in Minneapolis this winter. Philip is an ensemble playwright at Victory Gardens Theater, as well as an artistic associate at Sideshow Theatre and About Face Theatre. Philip teaches playwriting at Northwestern University, Loyola University Chicago, his alma mater, and through the Victory Gardens ACCESS Program for writers with disabilities. His plays, including his plays for young performers, are available through Playscripts, Inc. and Dramatic Publishing.
Director Will Davis is a trans-identified director and choreographer focused on physically adventurous new work and old plays in new ways. He is also the newly appointed artistic director of American Theater Company (ATC). Recent projects include: a queer re-imagining of Picnic by William Inge for ATC; Evita, re-imagined for the Olney Theatre Center; Men on Boats by Jaclyn Backhaus for Clubbed Thumb's Summerworks and Playwrights Horizons, for which he received a Lucille Lortel Nomination for Best Direction; DUAT by Daniel Alexander Jones for Soho Rep;Orange Julius by Basil Kreimendahl; Mike Iveson's Sorry Robot for PS122's COIL Festival; and two productions of Colossal by Andrew Hinderaker for Mixed Blood Theater and the Olney Theatre Center, for which he won a Helen Hayes award for outstanding direction. Davis has developed, directed and performed his work with New York Theatre Workshop, Clubbed Thumb, the New Museum, the Olney Theatre Center, the ALLIANCE THEATRE, the Playwright's Realm, the Fusebox Festival, New Harmony Project, the Orchard Project, the Ground Floor Residency at Berkeley Rep, Performance Studies International at Stanford University, and the Kennedy Center. He is an alum of the Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab, the NYTW 2050 Directing Fellowship and the BAX (Brooklyn Art Exchange) artist in residence program. He holds a BFA in Theatre Studies from DePaul University and an MFA in Directing from UT Austin.
Director Will Davis is a trans-identified director and choreographer focused on physically adventurous new work and old plays in new ways. He is also the newly appointed artistic director of American Theater Company (ATC). Recent projects include: a queer re-imagining of Picnic by William Inge for ATC; Evita, re-imagined for the Olney Theatre Center; Men on Boats by Jaclyn Backhaus for Clubbed Thumb's Summerworks and Playwrights Horizons, for which he received a Lucille Lortel Nomination for Best Direction; DUAT by Daniel Alexander Jones for Soho Rep; Orange Julius by Basil Kreimendahl; Mike Iveson's Sorry Robot for PS122's COIL Festival; and two productions of Colossal by Andrew Hinderaker for Mixed Blood Theater and the Olney Theatre Center, for which he won a Helen Hayes award for outstanding direction. Davis has developed, directed and performed his work with New York Theatre Workshop, Clubbed Thumb, the New Museum, the Olney Theatre Center, the ALLIANCE THEATRE, the Playwright's Realm, the Fusebox Festival, New Harmony Project, the Orchard Project, the Ground Floor Residency at Berkeley Rep, Performance Studies International at Stanford University, and the Kennedy Center. He is an alum of the Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab, the NYTW 2050 Directing Fellowship and the BAX (Brooklyn Art Exchange) artist in residence program. He holds a BFA in Theatre Studies from DePaul University and an MFA in Directing from UT Austin.
Miss Gloria Allen was born in 1945 on a farm in Bowling Green Kentucky. The family moved to Chicago in the early 50's and settled on the south side where Miss Allen attended Englewood High School (class of '65) and received her Nursing LPN license from Southeast Jr. College. Her career as an LPN spanned 33 years, and she worked at The University of Chicago, Billings Hospital, and Michael Reese Hospital. When she was 19 years old, she began living as her true gender. Miss Allen says, "I knew who I was at an early age, and my entire family knew too. I thank God he blessed me with a wonderful family who supported me through life." In 2011, Miss Allen came up with the idea for a Charm School at The Center on Halsted, Chicago's LGBTQ community center, and began leading "charm classes" on a weekly, volunteer basis for a little over three years before issues of finance and health forced her to stop. Miss Allen remains active in the Chicago LGBTQ community as a motivational speaker, mentor, and community organizer. Last season, she was a production consultant on Tarell Alvin McCraney's Wig Out! at DePaul University. She is currently studying Stand Up Comedy at Chicago's Second City Training Center and has already performed at a number of Chicago comedy venues including The Second City and the Laugh Factory. Miss Allen is the proud recipient of the Living Legends Award. She says, "I'm so blessed to have people to come aboard to show the world that people do care and that TRANSLIVES matter. It doesn't get any better than this."
Support for this production is provided in part by the Venturous Theater Fund of Tides Foundation.
MCC Theater broke ground on its first permanent home- a two-theater complex on West 52nd Street and 10th Avenue-on March 22, 2016. Set to open in 2018, the space will unite MCC's diverse roster of programs under one roof for the first time in the company's three-decade history. The new facility will also allow MCC to expand its programming and establish it as a cultural anchor within the Clinton neighborhood. The $35 million project is funded by a public-private partnership between the Theater and the City of New York, with $30 million raised to-date.
MCC is one of New York's leading nonprofit Off-Broadway companies, driven by a mission to provoke conversations that have never happened and otherwise never would. Founded in 1986 as a collective of artists leading peer-based classes to support their own development as actors, writers and directors, the tenets of collaboration, education, and community are at the core of MCC Theater's programming. One of the only theaters in the country led continuously by its founders, Artistic Directors Robert LuPone, Bernard Telsey, and William Cantler, MCC fulfills its mission through the production of world, American, and New York premiere plays and musicals that challenge artists and audiences to confront contemporary personal and social issues, and robust playwright development and education initiatives that foster the next generation of theater artists and students.
Plays and musicals developed by the company have gone on to stagings around the globe. Notable productions over the course of the company's 30-year history include Robert Askins' Hand to God, nominated for five Tony Awards and transferred to London's West End; Sharr White's The Other Place, starring Laurie Metcalf; The Submission by Jeff Talbot, winner of the inaugural Laurents/Hatcher Foundation Award for new American plays; Bryony Lavery's Frozen, a 2004 Tony nominee for Best Play and winner for Brian F. O'Byrne's performance; Wit by Margaret Edson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1999; the classic cult musical Carrie, which has gone on to international productions since the Theater's extensive redevelopment work and staging in 2012, the first in more than two decades; and ten plays by Playwright-in-Residence Neil LaBute, including Fat Pig; reasons to be pretty, a 2009 Tony nominee for Best Play; Reasons to Be Happy; and All The Ways To Say I Love You . Blake West joined the company in 2006 as Executive Director. MCC will open its first permanent home in 2018 in Manhattan's Clinton neighborhood, unifying the company's activities under one roof for the first time and expanding its producing, artist development, and education programming. The Theater is currently in the midst of a $35 million campaign to support its expansion and growing artistic operations, with $30 million raised to-date.