UR Theatre’s ‘Intimate Apparel’ tells the unique story of a Black female living in 1900′s America
Intimate Apparel is set in the early 1900′s, during a time where race and class were unabashedly the major causes for division amongst the public. It follows the life of a black, middle aged seamstress who earns her living sewing under garments for people in town, but under the radar.
Seeing as her work manages to cross all of the boundaries regarding class, she makes a decent living. What she is missing from her life, though, is someone to share it with.
Mike spoke to the, “[…] notion of an African-American seamstress, just after slavery, who dreams of love and a successful business,” he said. “The roller coaster journey she undertakes in the pursuit of this is fascinating and poignant.”
Mike also stressed the challenging aspect of the show both for the audience and the actors involved. “It’s an exploration of African-American and immigrant culture, and it provides a diverse perspective […].”
“Every actor loves to sink his or her teeth in a challenging role, [into] a character that has depth, and all of the characters in this play are well composed,” he said. “My hope is that the experience of performing these unique roles, alongside being entrenched in a unique historical era, provides an elucidating and unforgettable career moment which serves them profitably in their future endeavors […].”
One of the other stand-out facets of this show is its lead being a Black female. “Tales that explore the feminine psyche are rare,” he said. “Our media largely paints women through a lewd lens, so Intimate Apparel is a refreshing contribution to the dramatic cannon.”
Mike also mentioned the overall message of the show, saying that while the issue of morality is addressed, the real lesson is about persevering and surviving.
“We all have dreams that we pursue and we all encounter challenges in our quest to succeed,” he said. “How we navigate [past] these constraints is the telltale [sign of our] character […].”
When it came to actually putting on the show, Mike had to tackle the issue of the lack of interested male students at the university. “Males always constitute a challenge for us in theatre and dance on this campus.” he said.
Luckily, Virginia Commonwealth University’s very own Saidu Tejan-Thomas stepped up to the plate. After being referred by VCU faculty member Dr. Tawyna Pettiford-Wates, he nailed his audition and is now playing the lead male in the show.
Tejan-Thomas plays George Armstrong, and considering the actor is originally from Sierra Leone, he has come to strongly identify with his character.
“George is a passionate man whose pension for sweet-talking is unsurpassed,” the actor said. “I enjoy playing this character because like me he is an immigrant who comes to America with dreams of better days; He wants to find success in the land of opportunity, and that hope is just as alive today as it was in the early 1900s.”
In addition to having wowed the director at auditions, Tejan-Thomas is on the same page with the Mike regarding both the eloquence and importance of Nottage’s work.
“Intimate Apparel is a beautifully written play, but it doesn’t sacrifice politics for aesthetics, and I think that’s what I love most about it,” he said. “The play seamlessly touches on many issues we still deal with today, from the abuse of marriage to race relations in America.”
Mike also spoke of how contemporary racial events in our country have created a need for shows like this. His goal is for people to come out to see the show and leave with a stronger sense of duty towards progression. “I’m hoping audiences can [also] sense that they can also be instruments towards the progressive changes needed to further humanity,” he said. “[…] and if the American Dream is to be an authentic apparatus, [it needs to be] open to all- regardless of race, creed, gender, or sexuality.”
Intimate Apparel is being showcased at the Modlin Theatre at University of Richmond and opening night is Thursday the 19th and runs through Sunday the 22nd. Tickets can be purchased online here
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