Saturday, May 21, 2016

Spotlight On...Vanessa Shealy

Name: Vanessa Shealy

Hometown: Oklahoma City, OK

Education: I got my MFA in Theater Performance from the University of Georgia, and a BA in theater from Oklahoma Baptist University.

Favorite Credits: Earlier this year OnTheRoad Rep did a production of my play, Tea in the Afternoon, on Theater Row with Alice Spivak and Tayler Beth Anderson. Nick Corley directed, and he and the entire team did wonderful work. It’s a play that I wrote about ten years ago, and I self-produced a production of it in the NY Fringe festival back in 2006. It’s a very personal play for me, so it was incredible to see how much they brought to it.

Why theater?: Because I like to play! In the theater it all depends upon the willingness of the audience to play, to believe and imagine, so the possibilities are endless. And plays are so elastic, they are all so different from each other because there’s no one way to tell a story. Or to receive a story – each individual seeing the performance is influenced by the rest of that night’s audience. So the audience, along with the actors, become a community - a big group of kids agreeing to pretend for a few hours together.

Tell us about An American Drum Circle: The play is about a young woman from Oklahoma, Mandy, who is lost because life recently dealt her some blows, and her father really let her down. So when she meets an exciting young man from Nigeria she falls for him, and their lives become entangled in a web of falsehood. As James Bosley, the UP Theater Artistic Director, put it, “God is the lure. Wealth is the bait.” And that’s true. The play is about hope and what it means to lose your faith, and what happens when you find it.

What inspired you to write An American Drum Circle?: I'm originally from Oklahoma, I grew up in church, I’m in an interracial marriage, and the struggles in this play are inspired and based upon my personal struggles. So this story is about the diverse people and experiences of my world coming together. It was very exciting, but also a big responsibility, to write characters from a variety of different backgrounds. For a while I drowned myself in research, but later I came to heavily rely upon the input of the racially diverse actors and other artists, who, over the years, have been gracious and bold enough to share their insight into the world of this play.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Details inspire me. Big-fun-play inspires me. Theater that makes me think, but doesn’t preach, and tricks me into thinking that I came up with a wonderful epiphany all by myself is always satisfying. Above all, a big story - one that really moves.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I thoroughly enjoyed Gideon Production’s Honeycomb Trilogy by Mac Rogers. Such great performances and originality. As I said above, I like it when things happen in a play. And you can’t get more happenin’ than an alien invasion. I was so glad to see that all three plays are now available through Samuel French. Theaters around the country should be getting in line to do those plays.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Kate Beckensale would play the version of me in my mind. And Janeane Garofalo would play me in the present. The movie would be called “Where did I leave my keys?!” and it would be an edgy, independent dramedy feature, with heart.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I’d go back and see Anna Deavere Smith perform in any of her documentary solo pieces. I love the solo show form, and she was such a huge influence. I’ve seen sections of Let Me Down Easy on PBS, but I would have loved to see it live, as well as Fires in the Mirror.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Black licorice. If it’s in my presence I eat it until my tongue is numb.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: I’d be teaching, which I did for years and occasionally still do. Teaching is essentially performing, and writing, and directing, and producing, and stage managing...so I guess I’d be doing the same thing I’m doing now.

What’s up next?: In July I’m directing a short play that I wrote called Naked for the Women in Theater Festival with Project Y Theater Company. It’s a short solo piece and the lovely Rebecca De Ornelas is my single cast member. Then in August my husband and I will perform in the NY Fringe Festival doing a storytelling piece we are (currently) calling Inside Information. My husband is black and I’m white, and in this piece we get real about what it’s like to be in a mixed race marriage. And we also come clean about our own inherent racism, which is scary. But I hope important. Oh, and it’s funny. And then during all of that, I’m writing an indie comic book with my co-creator, Leah Lovise, called Couri Vine. We have the first two books in print and we hope to get the third out in time for Thanksgiving. Young people need comic books (and they make great holiday gifts!!)

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