Preview DEAR MAPEL, Written by and Starring Psalmayene 24

Dear Mapel is the first development project Psalmayene 24 will undertake with Mosaic during his residency—a 3 year post as Playwright in Residence and artistic leader, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in collaboration with HowlRound Theatre Commons.  

Reserve a FREE ticket here. Video event runs October 26th – October 31st.

Writer-performer Psalmayene 24 at a rehearsal of the play “Dear Mapel” at Baby Wale. (Mosaic Theater Company)

At Mosaic Theater, a playwright asks: How do you mourn a man you barely knew?

On Oct. 26, when audiences get a first look at “Dear Mapel,” Psalmayene 24’s new one-man show about his relationship with his deceased father — currently in development at Mosaic Theater — the occasion will be no typical workshop.

For one, the familiar workshopping process — in which a scaled-down version of a play is staged and critiqued — has been set aside by Mosaic in favor of a virtual, multimedia-enhanced presentation because of the pandemic.

But Psalmayene 24 also says that this play is a particularly flexible work in progress because he’s still processing its inciting event: the 2014 death of his estranged father, Mapel. As writing the script has bred catharsis, that catharsis has engendered rewrites — with the cycle repeating indefinitely.

“There was just incredible grief, as you can imagine,” the 47-year-old writer-performer says of his father’s death, which he didn’t learn about until 2017. “So this play was created with the spirit of trying to get some sort of closure in that relationship. How can we alter and heal those relationships, even when a parent is deceased? I mean, that’s fascinating to me. I’m still in that process, and I’ve experienced a transformation of my relationship with my father through the making of this piece.”

Earlier this year, Mosaic Theater appointed Psalmayene 24 to a three-year position as playwright in residence, supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Emerson College’s HowlRound Theatre Commons.

Psalmayene 24 promptly identified “Dear Mapel” as the first project of that collaboration. When the pandemic brought on the widespread closing of theaters, he found that the sense of isolation only heightened his desire to complete a project about the thirst for human connection.

Read the full article by Thomas Floyd from The Washington Post here.

Psalmayene 24 Featured in Studio Theatre’s Virtual ‘Salons’ – Offering a Cultural Gathering Place During the Pandemic

Before he began hosting Psalm’s Salons for Studio Theatre, playwright and director Psalmayene 24 didn’t yearn to interview fellow artists in public — with or without his preferred soft drink (ginger beer) in hand.

“I had zero desire to do this,” the busy local theater-maker confesses, recalling his path to emceeing the monthly virtual event, which he describes as “a cultural space that celebrates excellence, unity and the spirit of joy through an unapologetically Black lens.” The latest installment streams Sept. 18 at 5 p.m. with a trio of high-profile guests: Will Power, Danny Hoch, and Jonzi D, pioneers of hip-hop theater.

If Psalm (as he’s known to colleagues) acquired his new gig by default — answering “an opportunity and a need,” he says — he has come to relish it, and has arguably reinvented the online theater-chat format along the way. Free, and streamed live on Studio’s Facebook and YouTube pages, the salons have featured such guests as playwright James Ijames, actors Natalie Graves Tucker and Justin Weaks, and playwright-performer Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi. Conversations cover substantive and urgent issues — from the interviewees’ artistic processes and philosophies; to systemic racism in America; ongoing activism for social justice; the death of Rep. John Lewis; and recent calls for the American theater field to acknowledge and rectify its own racism.AD

But while the discussions tend overall toward seriousness, the salons often boast an upbeat, even celebratory vibe. D.C.-based DJ Nick “tha 1da” Hernandez spins original live music. Participants regularly exchange toasts during a “Mental Health Drink Break,” allowing Psalmayene 24 to indulge in the aforementioned ginger beer, and everyone else to swig beverages of choice. Shout-outs to Black-owned restaurants — host, DJ and guests dish about dishes they have ordered that day — add a sense of community, even as participants zoom in from shelter-in-place locations.

Speaking by phone from Silver Spring — “Piscataway land,” he stresses, acknowledging the Indigenous residents — Psalmayene 24 says there’s no contradiction between the salons’ buoyancy and intense content. The episodes mirror life, he observes, “where you have comedy and tragedy. It’s like the iconic mask of theater.” He adds, “Black people in this country — we have dealt with a lot of pain.” But to find meaning in life, he notes, “You have to find joy. You have to find laughter.” Indeed, he says, “Joy is part of how we fight.”

Psalm’s Salons launched in June, three months after covid-19 forced Studio to suspend performances of Antoinette Nwandu’s play “Pass Over,” which Psalmayene 24 had directed. The pandemic also affected a planned outreach series, aimed at deepening Studio’s connections with Black millennial audiences. On board as host, Psalmayene 24 envisaged conversations fused with music, with touches of dance party.

When the series had to move online, he drew inspiration from the popular “Verzuz” Instagram musical battles launched early in the pandemic by superproducers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz. “Two hip-hop artists who are re-creating how people commune — I thought that was fascinating,” Psalmayene 24 says. He’s a hip-hop-theater eminence himself; he even wove hip-hop touches into “Les Deux Noirs,” his play about Richard Wright and James Baldwin, staged last year by Mosaic Theater Company. The “Top Five” feature in Psalm’s Salons, in which guests name favorite theater works, nods to a hip-hop tradition of ranking rappers, he says.

For tunes, he turned to Hernandez — a frequent collaborator, who had designed sound for Theater Alliance’s “Word Becomes Flesh,” winner of five 2017 Helen Hayes Awards, including for Psalmayene 24’s direction. Mixing his own material with audio from the Library of Congress’s Citizen DJ tool, Hernandez creates the salons’ introductory and incidental music, catchy enough that participants can be seen nodding to the beat.AD

The music adds palpable energy and a sense of “exciting connection,” notes Studio associate artistic director Reginald L. Douglas. “Having Nick is such a boon,” he says.

Hernandez also creates a Spotify playlist for each episode. There’s space for uplift, even alongside weighty talk about societal issues, he thinks, especially because the current moment of national reckoning could lead to a better future. “A lot of times people associate change with being in turmoil, where it should be more about a blooming process,” Hernandez says.

When it comes to guests, Psalmayene 24 says the aim is to recruit people who can speak “eloquently about their art, but also can speak to the times.” (At next month’s salon, on Oct. 22 at 5 p.m., Mildred Ruiz-Sapp and Steven Sapp, of the Universes theater company, will fit that bill. The salons will run at least through November.) The key to interviewing, Psalmayene 24 has found, is not only the preparatory research he loves to do, but a willingness — as with good acting — to listen and “relax in the moment, love the moment.”AD

So, while the covid-19 era finds the 47-year-old busier than ever — among other projects, he has contributed to Arena Stage’s in-house film series and Round House Theatre’s Web series “Homebound” — he has time for the “high wire” of hosting.

Salons are, in their way, an artistic genre. “To experiment and explore form as an artist — that’s something deeply important to me,” Psalmayene 24 says.

Where to watch

Psalm’s Salons

Studio Theatre’s Facebook and YouTube pages: facebook.com/the.studio.theatre and youtube.com/studiotheatredc.

Dates: Friday at 5 p.m.

Admission: Free.

Read the full article by Celia Wren from the Washington Post here.

BWW Review: Ifa Bayeza’s THE BALLAD OF EMMETT TILL at Fountain Theatre

Original cast of the Fountain’s 2010 award-winning production reunites for online reading on 65th anniversary of Emmett Till’s murder

BWW Review: THE BALLAD OF EMMETT TILL at Fountain Theatre

In August, 1955, energetic 14-year-old Chicago resident Emmett Till was visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi when he was accused of whistling at Carolyn Bryant, a white woman who was a cashier at a grocery store. Four days later, Bryant’s husband Roy and his half-brother J.W. Milam kidnapped Till, beat him and shot him in the head. The men were tried for murder, but an all-white, male jury acquitted them. Till’s murder and open casket funeral, a wish from his mother to let the world see “what was done to him,” galvanized the emerging Civil Rights movement. So much so that three months later, Rosa Parks refused to get off the bus – and said she was ‘thinking of Emmett Till.’

Ifa Bayeza

It was not until 2017 that Bryant recanted her story, admitting that the court testimony she gave more than six decades prior was false and stating “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.” And that was seven years after Ifa Bayeza‘s THE BALLAD OF EMMETT TILL had its multiple award-winning West Coast premiere at The Fountain Theatre in Hollywood. So riveting is the storyline, I’d like to think its impact influenced Bryant to take the action she did.

BWW Review: THE BALLAD OF EMMETT TILL at Fountain Theatre
Image of the original 2010 cast

But not much has changed in the way of racism in our country right now, with the Black Lives Matter movement inspiring people in the middle of a global pandemic to take to the streets to protest the lack of equal justice for people of color. “As America is now being challenged to face its racist history, I can think of no project more worthy,” says Fountain artistic director Stephen Sachs, “to present this play in an online format for people around the world to experience. And in addition to being the 65th anniversary of Till’s murder, Aug. 28 also marks the 57th Anniversary of the historic March on Washington in 1963, and a 2020 March on Washington this year.”

BWW Review: THE BALLAD OF EMMETT TILL at Fountain Theatre

Part history, part mystery and part ghost story, Bayeza’s lyrical integration of past, present, fact and legend turns Emmett’s story into a soaring work of music, poetic language and riveting theatricality, transformed into an online format that breaks the notion of what a virtual performance can be. With the actors seen as cut-outs inserted into backdrops to fit each scene, characters move about each other in cars, on a living room couch, or while riding on a Ferris Wheel as if they really are in the scene together at the same time.

BWW Review: THE BALLAD OF EMMETT TILL at Fountain Theatre

The new virtual production offers a brilliantly remarkable piece of online editing and direction by the play’s original cast and director Shirley Jo Finney, who stepped in to direct THE BALLAD OF EMMETT TILL after director Ben Bradley was found murdered in his home just a month prior to the show’s original 2010 opening in February 2010. “Because Ben loved the play and the project so much, we were determined to go forward,” explains Sachs, both to honor his and Emmett Till’s memory. No doubt Ben would have been as awestruck as I was when viewing the original cast in the current virtual production.

BWW Review: THE BALLAD OF EMMETT TILL at Fountain Theatre

Fountain co-artistic director Stephen Sachs, describes the production as “a fast, immensely theatrical, 90-minute version with a cast of five that celebrates a young man who lived, not an icon who died.” In fact, we do get introduced to Emmett as a young teen living in Chicago who describes what his life is like living in the streets of a vibrant city where he does not feel held back by the color of his skin or his burgeoning interest in girls. When he persuades his mother to allow him to visit relatives is the Deep South, it is very apparent this outspoken young man who overcomes his shuttering by whistling, will be in for trouble since he does not realize how the social mores of this so-different society will place roadblocks to his natural need to speak his mind without regard to the consequences of his actions.

BWW Review: THE BALLAD OF EMMETT TILL at Fountain Theatre

Every aspect of Emmett Till’s personality is shared with stunning realism by Lorenz Arnell, from Till’s youthful exuberance to the sheer terror he faced at the end of his life. Each of the other four actors, Rico E. Anderson, Adenrele Ojo, Bernard K. Addison, and Karen Malina White, fully inhabit each of the play’s other characters from Till’s mother and grandmother to other family relatives and Till’s youthful companions. By the end of the play, which is often brutal as well as entirely entertaining to watch, you will feel as if you have stepped inside the lives of real people living in extraordinary circumstances often out of their own control.

BWW Review: THE BALLAD OF EMMETT TILL at Fountain Theatre

“Everybody thinks of Emmett Till’s story as a tragedy,” says Finney. “This play is a joyous look at a life lived. Emmett was a hero and a martyr, not a victim. He had overcome polio, replacing his limp with a swagger. A stutterer when he was young, he became a wordsmith. He had a zest for living and a sense of humor; he was fearless and he was defiant. Those white men had just set out to ‘teach him a lesson’ – they murdered him because he was a ‘smart mouth.’ It was the spirit of his being that sparked the civil rights movement, his defiance and his refusal to bow down and be broken. And it was his mother who laid that foundation in him and who refused to hide any more by keeping that casket open. Emmett was the voice of a new generation.”

BWW Review: THE BALLAD OF EMMETT TILL at Fountain Theatre

Finney and original cast members of The Fountain Theatre’s 2010 West Coast premiere reunited to present a live-streamed reading of the play onFriday, Aug. 28, which will be available for viewing online through Dec. 31 at www.fountaintheatre.com/fountain-digital/the-ballad-of-emmett-till-2020 with tickets at $20 per viewing location. And there is no better way to honor Till’s memory and the spirit of human rights than to tune in to THE BALLAD OF EMMETT TILL before the end of this most unusual and profound year.

Original staged production photos by Ed Krieger

Online production photos by Shari Barrett

Read the full article by Shari Barrett for Broadway World here.

EllaRose Chary Featured on Broadway on Demand

EllaRose Chary and Brandon James Gwinn are an award-winning writing team specializing in stories that take a fresh look at the queer community with cutting-edge music. They’ve been commissioned and produced by The Civilians/Encores! Off-Center at City Center, The Tank, Prospect Theater, 54 Below, Theatre C, All For One Theatre, NY Theatre Barn. They’ve been in residence at Ars Nova, Rhinebeck Writers Retreat/Triple R Residency, The O’Neill Theatre Center, Catwalk Institute, and The Polyphone Festival at UArts. They’ve been awarded grants from NAMT and Anna Sosenko Trust. As Dramatists Guild Fellows, they’ve been featured many times by the Guild and The Dramatists Guild Foundation, including in The Dramatist Magazine. Ella’s work has also been recognized as a Kleban Award Finalist, NYFA Fellowship Finalist, Kernodle New Play Award Finalist, and with Weston and BOH Cameronian Arts Awards. Brandon has been a Richard Rodgers Award Finalist, celebrated piano bar entertainer, LiveNation touring artist, and is also known for his work as a music producer. He produced and performed on the albums TWO BIRDS & ONE STONE by Trixie Mattel (Winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Allstars 3), which debuted at #1 on the iTunes Top Albums chart and Billboard Heatseekers.

www.brandonandella.com
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