BWW Interview: Women's Theatre Festival's ECLIPSED Director Michele Okoh Looks Forward to Durham Regional Premiere

BWW Interview: Women's Theatre Festival's ECLIPSED Director Michele Okoh Looks Forward to Durham Regional Premiere

Before Danai Gurira exploded on the big screen earlier this year as Okoye in the movie BLACK PANTHER, she made history with her play ECLIPSED. The play opened on Broadway in 2016, marking the first time a Broadway play featured an all-female, all-black cast, director, and playwright. ECLIPSED will make its regional premiere next month as part of The Women's Theatre Festival.

ECLIPSED is about five women who are struggling to survive the second Liberian Civil War. Four of the women are the forced wives of the Commanding Officer and one is a peace worker.

"One of the things that really struck me about this play and looking at the second Liberian Civil War was that it was the work of women that led to the end of the conflict," says Michele Okoh, director of the Women's Theatre Festival's production. "Yes, these women are in a position where they are being subjugated and where they are struggling for survival, but that's a temporary condition, and they will be able to shine."

Gurira, who was born in Iowa but raised in Zimbabwe, traveled to Africa to interview women involved in the Liberian Conflict. In fact, all the characters in the play are based on the survivors she met there. Okoh says going on a similar fact-finding mission is on her bucket list.

"That was always something I wanted to do, as far as my heritage, because I'm Nigerian American, and I always wanted to be able to interview survivors of the Nigerian Civil War," says Okoh. "My father he died in 2010, and it was something he never really talked about with me, but you could tell it shaped a lot of who he became."

"So, to hear Danai Gurira do that, just really kind of peaked my interest," she adds. "And it was also kind of an inspiration to me too, because that's also something that I don't have to scratch off my list as the impossible, it's something that can be done."

Okoh says it's been important for her and her team to not only empathize and connect with the characters but also to defy archetypes and portray the characters as heroes to expand audience's minds.

"They are not traditional heroes with capes and superpowers, but they're heroes in making difficult choices and surviving the circumstances in which they're in," she says.

"All of these women have agencies, and all of these women are faced with difficult decisions, and there are some decisions that some may disagree with, but they were decisions based on their circumstances, and at the end of the day, they were decisions that led to them surviving."

Okoh says the play touches on so many relevant themes, including our society's attitudes towards immigrants and refugees. And the fact that this play is going to open in Durham, a city that has seen a remarkable increase in the number of foreign-born residents over the last twenty years, she adds, is significant.

"The stories we tell, matter. They shape how we see the world. They shape how we see ourselves. They shape how we relate to others."

"And I hope that that leads people to think a little deeper on the conflicts that are going on in the world, and how to deal with the individuals who are surviving them," she adds.

ECLIPSED runs July 27th through August 5th at The Fruit in Durham. For more information visit, https://www.womenstheatrefestival.com/eclipsed.

Photo by Amani McKenzie.

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