Interview with “Facing Our Truth” Artists

Gwendolyn and JV Hampton-Van Sant in rehearsal for "Facing our Truth".
Gwendolyn and JV Hampton-Van Sant in rehearsal for “Facing Our Truth”.

Facing Our Truth is an event presented for our community here in The Berkshires, and our artists and audience members will make it their own. We contacted some of the artists involved – from accomplished directors to first-time actors – and asked what the experience has been like so far and what they hope they will aid in accomplishing on February 6 at The Colonial. Click HERE to buy tickets.

WAM Theatre: How did you get involved with Facing Our Truth?

Enrico Spada, Director: I was invited by Kristen! I direct occasionally around the Berkshires (including Pittsfield Shakespeare in the Park) and so I was invited to participate.

JV Hampton VanSant, Actor: I work for Multicultural BRIDGE and I was asked if I’d like to perform as the son in the play Dressing, directed by Jamuna Sirker, alongside my mother, Gwendolyn Hampton-Van Sant. It reflects conversations I’ve had with my mother, and so it made this – my acting debut – make sense. I will also play Yellow in Colored, directed by Kristen van Ginhoven.

Barby Cardillo HS
Barby Cardillo

Barby Cardillo, Actress: I was very happy when Kristen invited me to play Blue in Colored by Winter Miller, which she is directing. I wanted to attend the event, but to be a part of it is a real thrill. As an actress, a community member, and a social worker I have strong feelings about what happened to Trayvon Martin and everything that has snowballed since then – it hit me hard. This is not just about putting on a show. This is not community theatre, but it is a community event, a mixture of theatre professionals and community members coming together. I am really excited for that synergy.

Winter Miller, Playwright: [Winter, author also of In Darfur, which WAM produced in 2014, introduced Kristen van Ginhoven to Facing our Truth and inspired this reading. She is speaking about her involvement in the creation of the original production by New Black Fest in 2013. She is also the playwright of ‘Colored’, the ten minute play Kristen is directing for Facing Our Truth.] Keith Josef Adkins [playwright and Artistic Director of New Black Fest], who I’d met on previous projects, asked me to participate. I was immediately impressed with his vibe, his talents and his heart–all of which comes through in his work as a playwright and his leadership of New Black Fest. If Keith had said, hey, do you want to get together with some playwrights and mow the lawn, I would have said yes. He’s that kind of human, you want to say yes to him. I was surprised, at first, and intimidated by the prospect.

WAM: What is the title of the play you are directing or performing in and who is it by? Did you choose it or was it chosen for you? What do you think of it?

Sara Katzoff
Sara Katzoff

Sara Katzoff, Director:  Earlier last fall, I was approached by the fabulous Kristen van Ginhoven and Jamuna Sirker and invited to direct No More Monsters Here by Marcus Gardley. After reading the script and learning more about the project, I enthusiastically agreed. As a director, I am most passionate about work that illuminates and challenges our perception of the human condition. Gardley’s piece is an irreverent satire–it is funny, intense, at times shocking and also quite moving. The full title of the piece is No More Monsters Here: a satire for the sake of standing up in hopes for FACING OUR TRUTH. I believe the play does exactly that. It uses a darkly comic lens to confront complex issues of identity, prejudice and empathy that both surround and lives within all of us.

Enrico:  I’m directing Some Other Kid, which was chosen for me. The cast is three teenagers, so part of it might be my experience working with that age group.

Winter: [About her experience writing Colored, one of the ten-minute plays that comprise Facing our Truth.] Colored was for me one of the hardest things I’ve ever written. I wanted to get it as right as I could. I wrote a lot of drafts, tried a lot of different stories out and kept failing. I was on a weekend playwriting Bake-Off that playwright Paula Vogel was leading and there were these fantastic playwrights there – Alice Tuan, Carson Kreitzer, and Aditi Kapil – and during lunch one day I asked if they’d read my ten minute play, because I said I was struggling with it. We read it aloud to each other and at the end, they gave me great feedback – they asked me questions like what was I trying to do (I said to talk about the complexities of racism while also talking about gender and class – basically theatrical intersectionality) and they were really direct with me – they said, take another crack at it. Basically, they gave me the advice I’d give any of my students – spill some blood, put it all on the page and write the stuff you’re most afraid to write. And I had another writer and dear friend, Shontina Vernon who Skyped with me on the new version and we talked about what I was going for and she gave me good, honest feedback. The thing about writing plays is the craft is in the rewrite and you want to know who you can trust when you ask for feedback. You want encouragement to dare and to grow, and you also need criticism about what you’re not authentically nailing.

WAM: What do you hope will be the result of this event, what change are you hoping to see locally?

Sara: As an artist, I believe my role is to continually challenge and expand both my own and my audience’s perception and understanding of the stories that are unfolding in our world right now. Here in the Berkshires, we need more diversity and more diverse stories represented in our communities and on our stages. I am thrilled this project is happening here and that it is happening at the Colonial Theatre. Hearing/seeing/watching new and diverse voices that are telling those stories is what I am most passionate about as a theater artist. The anthology of plays that compose Facing our Truth was commissioned by The New Black Fest. The writers are incredibly diverse and therefore reflect a broad spectrum of perspectives, opinions and points of view surrounding the issue of Trayvon Martin, race and privilege in America. Their work is vibrant, controversial, shocking, electrifying, magnetic, poetic and essential. These are stories that confront what is happening in our world, in our society, in our culture right now. I believe the immediacy and relevance of that will inspire an important dialogue with audiences in the Berkshires and beyond.

Enrico Spada in the 2015 Fresh Takes Reading of "The Effect" with Kristyn Youngblood.
Enrico Spada in the 2015 Fresh Takes Reading of “The Effect” with Kristyn Youngblood.

Enrico:  I hope that this can inspire a conversation, and that we can get people there who are not the usual theatre-going crowd. I’m hoping that more people can see that art can be and is meaningful and not in a patronizing way.

JV: I hope that this will spark conversations that unite people on the topic of race. Change is needed, change is wanted, change is possible, and change will be imminent, providing we: have these conversations, wake up, and stay awakened.

Barby: I am hoping that people who don’t ordinarily go to the theatre will come to Facing our Truth because of the community conversation. It’s not about the theatre, it’s about storytelling and from that conversations can start and people can start to see other perspectives. When you hear someone else’s story and understand them there is so much less fear. I hope it will be thought-provoking. I am excited to experience the event myself, to find out what feelings and ideas it generates in my heart and soul. I didn’t realize how bad racism was currently; I had hoped things were getting better. I have been able to work with all ages and races – even in this innocent and not very diverse County – and life is so much richer with that diversity. WAM is always using theatre to do social justice work – my two passions in life are social work and theatre so this is a great match for me.I am glad this is happening in Berkshire County. I am a North Adams native and have lived and worked here all my life. I talk to black mothers who worry about what will happen to their sons and grandsons in a decade or so, and I never had to worry about any of that raising my son here.

Kristen van Ginhoven and Winter Miller during rehearsals for "In Darfur".
Kristen van Ginhoven and Winter Miller during rehearsals for “In Darfur”.

Winter: Have I seen change? No, not yet. But we’re part of a dialogue, we’re part of a movement. Theatre is really important as a way of breaking down assumptions and barriers and really asking people to question what they think they know and what they believe. Facing our Truth is a part of a broad conversation. I would love to see every high school, college and community group perform this set of plays or plays like them. New Black Fest has another group of plays and playwrights called  Hands Up: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments which holds a space for hard discussions about race and police brutality. The important thing is that WAM and other theatres take the lead and produce these types of plays and invite communities into the conversation. These aren’t plays for people of color – they’re plays that everyone needs to see. We want people of color to feel seen and heard, we also want white people to step up and be accountable for efforts to shift inequality and oppression. We all have to do our part – and that means a lot of messy conversations and for white people in particular, and men of all races – a lot of listening. This is my hope, better days for all of us and a lessening of oppression and a raising of opportunities for people who are marginalized to really thrive.