THE LIGHT director Colette Robert and actor Elle Borders (who plays Genesis) sat down with WAM Associate Artistic Director Talya Kingston to talk about their upcoming online performance which will be available for streaming April 25 – May 2, 2021.
Talya – We are thrilled to have brought together such an exciting group of artists around Loy A. Webb’s play. Firstly, I wanted to ask you when you first become aware of this play and what was your reaction upon first reading/seeing it?
Colette – I saw the New York production in 2019, and was blown away! The story was so powerful. I remember sitting in the front row and feeling truly transported to that Chicago condo with Genesis and Rashad. And after it was over, I was literally speechless. I just had to leave the theater quickly without talking to anyone because I needed time to process what I’d just seen.
Elle – This play came into my orbit in early 2020. Brandon and I have been saying for years that we would love to do a two-hander and really have time to delve into a piece together. Then we heard about this play and it seemed pretty perfect. I read through the script and felt an instant sense of familiarity. Loy’s piece reads and feels so much like the relationships I grew up having. There’s a gentle jibing/ ribbing in the banter and it’s clear that this is how this couple shows love. It’s convivial and pure but not without its challenges. This is a relationship that challenges and forces each person involved to rise to the occasion. I think the central question of the play is “can they?”
Talya – Colette, why are you excited about directing this play at this time and in this online format?
Colette – I’m excited to work with Elle and Brandon! The online format allows me (in LA) to work with two phenomenal actors 3,000 miles away. The Light is essentially a 70 minute conversation, in real time, between two people who love each other. What’s compelling, what I’m excited to explore, is exactly what they each bring into this conversation– their past experiences and personal truths and different perspectives. Genesis and Rashad go on a really complicated, nuanced journey over the course of the play, and we (the audience) go along with them.
Talya – Elle, I know that this is not your first time acting with Brandon. Can you speak to the particular challenges and joys of performing an on-stage couple as a real-life couple?
Elle – There are so many joys in being able to work with your spouse (the primary benefit being the time we get to spend together). We are able to decompress and have deep discussions about the piece we are working on, especially after rehearsal. It’s nice to be in relationship with someone who can understand exactly what you are going through. There is so little judgement or jealousy because there is a mutual respect for the work. Truthfully, our romantic relationship was born out of the collaborative artistic relationship we formed in our first show together. That said, the challenge comes in the dividing lines. We are pretty good about keeping home space, sacred space, but that has been a lot harder to do with this pandemic. As we continue to work together, we get better at making sure that our work communication is separate from our familial communication.
Talya – As you know, WAM is a theatre company that operates at the intersection of Arts and Activism. So I like to give all the artists we work with a chance to uplift people and organizations that they draw inspiration from. What art/artists inspire you?
Colette – Any artist making art during this time inspires me! Especially the theatre artists who have had to learn an entirely new medium and new technology in order to keep telling stories.
I get a lot of inspiration from visual artists. Amy Sherald, Kara Walker, and Kerry James Marshall are three of my favorites. I’ve looked at their art online quite a bit during the past year. And I look forward to seeing their work in person again, hopefully soon!
Elle – The artists that inspire me are the artists that speak directly to highlighting the lived experiences of the marginalized. I respect when an artist is able to subvert obvious conventions in favor of teaching the audience something. I love art that displaces me and makes me feel uncomfortable in a way that I’m able to sit with and dissect. I believe that theatre is education (it is the best way to get to the heart of the matter). There are things we are able to learn and understand about our society when a human face is placed on the issue. Art is activism; intentionally or unintentionally.
Talya – What activists/activism inspires you?
Elle – I am equally inspired by activism that gives voice to historically marginalized groups. I believe in voter rights and access with a particular focus on enfranchisement for formerly incarcerated people. I think if we want people to come out of prison rehabilitated, we need to create circumstances where that can happen (having the franchise, access to jobs, etc…). I don’t think we pay enough attention to future generations and believe in activism for equal access to quality education. There should be greater focus on the quality of life for children. I am inspired by organizations that reinvest in communities that have seen continued divestment. Access to quality education, jobs, and the vote for all people would change the face of this nation for the better.
I’m also very inspired by the community of BIPOC artists that came together to release We See You White American Theater. They said what needed to be said, and are pushing our industry towards anti-racism and equity.
WAM Theatre’s online reading of The Light will run April 25 – May 2, 2021.