Today is Halloween and no one knows the importance of costumes better than live theater. In the spirit of the day, we wanted to share some of the designer renderings of costumes featured in The Convert. The costumes were designed by Helen Huang and Chelsey Schuller.
By Walter Bilderback
Wilma Theater Dramaturg
WALTER BILDERBACK: For most of our audience, most American audiences, you’re best-known as “Michonne” on The Walking Dead. How do you find the balance between doing a TV show and playwriting? Are you able to find a balance between two careers?
DANAI GURIRA: I’ve now been doing the show for two years and I surprised myself cause I was a little scared that I was not going to be able to get my writing done and I’ve actually got some great writing some writing that I’m very excited about done in the last several months so that’s been very exciting to me. I did a workshop in April and another reading workshop just a couple weeks ago of two different plays and so I’m actually quite excited about the work I’ve been getting done while I have simultaneously been a part of this show. Last year was a lot of transition, but this year I’m starting to find a balance.
WB: I’ve read that you did some high school theatre in Zimbabwe but your interest was really piqued in a class on “arts and social change” that you took almost by accident in South Africa. Is that correct?
DG: Well, it wasn’t a class, that was the name of the entire exchange program which lasted a semester. I was actually on study abroad in South Africa for four months, for the semester. That wasn’t actually the program I initially wanted to be a part of, but it’s the program I ended up being a part of, due to the fact that I had applied too late and so I didn’t get into the one I wanted - but the irony was that it ended up being the one where I was exposed to a lot of great African artists who had used their craftsmanship and their voices against the injustice of apartheid. And so that was actually something that propelled me to step into really saying I’m going to make this my life work. My major had been social psychology, I was very interested in research around dynamics of race, gender, and such issues, nationality and things like that, and doing research in things like that but that was kind of my second love. It did feed into what I’m doing; I’m still very much a researcher and psychological understanding is very important for what I do. But it was about where my passion was so… It was in South Africa during that semester that I decided to dedicate myself to telling stories specifically – mainly, not entirely – from the African perspective.
By John M. Baker
John M. Baker : You sometimes describe yourself as “Zimerican.” How does having been born in Iowa and raised in Zimbabwe inform your work as an artist?
Danai Gurira : I think it is a definite thread in my artistic pursuit. I feel I am part of both worlds and want to see them intersect. I want to bring the subjective African voice to the American audience. I grew up in Zim with all of us watching American movies, listening to American music, having their voice heard loud and clear way across the skies, but vice versa? Not so much. And why? Africans are equally as complex, interesting, and diverse, with fascinating stories and voices. So, bringing that voice to the American realm as much as possible is a driving force behind my artistic quest.
Greek director Theodoros Terzopoulos and his company, Attis Theatre, visited the Wilma during FringeArts in September. In addition to performing Ajax, the madness, Attis led a five-day workshop for twenty-five Philadelphia actors. Mr. Terzopoulos’ systematic, physically rigorous methodology was well-received by the workshop participants, many of whom continue to meet weekly to practice these exercises with Wilma Artistic Director Blanka Zizka. The participating actors were gracious enough to share their reflections with the Wilma.
Michael John Garcés is the director for Danai Gurira's The Convert. He originally directed the play this spring for Woolly Mammoth Theater Company in Washington, DC, in a production featuring the same design team and three of the leading actors who are appearing at the Wilma. A week before beginning rehearsals in Philadelphia, he spoke on the phone with Walter Bilderback about The Convert, his career, directing, and other topics.
WB: And what are you looking forward to in getting a second crack at the play here at the Wilma?
MG: The richness of it and the size of it. I just re-read it recently in preparation for coming down to Philadelphia, and already I was like “ohhh I never…,” there were things in the play that I just never even saw before. You know, you’re kind of overwhelmed sometimes the first time reading a play, you’re just trying to catch up with it. And then the second time sort of feels like, you haven’t really mastered it necessarily, but at least you’re more in it, you’re able to be more present in it. Essentially, I’m oriented in the context of the play and now I can really start to see the trees and not just the forest. And that can be a very exciting part of the creative journey. And this is one of the handful of plays that I would say, in my experience, I am particularly excited about re-addressing because it just feels so rich. And I don’t think we had time or space - I was really proud of the Woolly production I’m not criticizing it - but I think it’s just a big play. So to be able to re-come into it and start from where we are now it will go much deeper and I’m excited about that.