Dreams Deferred and Realized
Voices in the Dark Repertory Theatre Company launches its 2019 season
Jennifer Gibson Schecter was once a tourist in New Orleans herself and is now proud to call NOLA home. She also writes the Wednesday Tourism Blog on BizNewOrleans.com.
illustration by Tony Healey
Visitors to New Orleans come here expecting to see great live music, but they don’t think of us for incredible live theater performances. One local production group is working to change that, however, one act at a time.
Voices in the Dark Repertory Theatre Company (Voices) returns for its 27th season this month with three plays that honor Langston Hughes’ “Dream Deferred (Harlem)” but resonate together as a lineup called “The DREAM — REALIZED.”
The president and artistic director of Voices, Tommye Myrick, said the company places importance on the stories that don’t often get told, that challenge social norms and encourage audiences to practice introspection so they can consider how they treat others.
“We pride ourselves on doing shows that no one else will do and giving a voice to the voiceless — those whose voices are unheard or silenced in some form or fashion, either by society or by their own fear,” said Myrick. “It’s an ambitious season, but we’re ready. Somebody’s got to do it.”
The trio of plays for 2019 leads off with Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” which opens March 15 at the Ashé Power House Theater. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the iconic play opening on Broadway. Myrick felt it was important to produce the play this year not just to mark the anniversary, but to remind people that it is more than a black drama. It’s an American classic.
“Many of the trials and tribulations that the family [in the play] deal with, we are dealing with today,” said Myrick. “Many of the racial tensions that they dealt with back then, we are dealing with today. I’m not sure whether things changed, or if it’s history repeating itself.”
To share the story of Hansberry’s Younger family, Voices is inviting area high school students to special performances of the play. Local actor Carol Sutton, who has more than 100 film and television credits to her name, will star as Lena Younger.
The second play in the trilogy is a production Voices is hoping will become an outdoor historical drama performed eveyr year in the spring and fall. The new play, “Le Code Noir,” was written by Myrick and her longtime mentor, Mark R. Sumner. Sumner, who passed in 2017 at the age of 93, was the director of the Institute of Outdoor Drama at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and is considered an authority in outdoor theater.
Myrick saw an opportunity to tell the story of the people of Louisiana through the medium of outdoor drama, citing our diversity and importance to the United States through the Louisiana Purchase. This production will commemorate a particularly dark part of Louisiana’s history by opening on June 6 in Congo Square, marking the date when 300 years earlier, the first two ships brought enslaved Africans to Louisiana’s shores.
“Le Code Noir” begins during the Haitian Revolution and weaves the story of a young enslaved African women who is brought to Louisiana from Haiti by her master. The play tells how two families become one and follows them through decades that include pivotal historic events, including the Treaty of San IIdefonso – the Spanish cession of Louisiana to France in 1800 — the Louisiana Purchase, the Revolt of 1811, the Battle of New Orleans and New Orleans’ first Mardi Gras in 1837.
Myrick said a historic outdoor drama like “Le Code Noir” will draw visitors and help educate them about Louisiana. She wants to create an interaction that will spark curiosity in the audience.
“Our goal is to make this a Louisiana tourist attraction that is family-oriented, but is also a living history,” she said. “When people come to New Orleans they come to the French Quarter and they’re done, but by seeing this play maybe they’ll want to take a ride up to Cane River or want to know more about the 1811 Revolt and maybe take a march down River Road to see what that’s about.”
To complete the 2019 season, Voices will have the Southern U.S. premiere of “Trans Scripts” by Paul Lucas on November 7. The play features seven transgender women and has been purposely planned during the second week of November to honor International Transgender Week. Myrick is working directly with Lucas, who will be in New Orleans for the premiere, to create a week-long symposium on transgender topics during the play’s run. The symposium will include artwork, films, books, photography and readings. The location for “Trans Scripts” and the symposium is still being determined.
Ticket prices for all productions range from $20 to $35. Tickets will be available for purchase near their performance dates on Voices’ website at VoicesintheDarkRepertory.com.