I had first met David when I produced Jacques Lamar’s play Gray Matters back in 2010, but I had forgotten that until he reminded me upon meeting him in January of 2013 to ask if Emerson Theater Collaborative would do a reading of his play Hour Farther. And so the story goes on August 16th, 2013 was the first official reading of the play called Hour Farther by David H. Greer.
The cast of characters: Victor, Young Victor, The Twin, Walter, Janet, Uncle Chester, James, Rev Love Joy, Granddaddy, Grandmother, The Admin Lady, The WallStreet Banker, and The Seattle Trucker. All of these characters are unique in their own way. Each providing something necessary to tell the story of Victor. A Young boy in search of his biological father.
We use a great cast of local actors for the initial reading in 2013. This allowed the playwright David H. Greer to flush out the particulars for a re-write. And re-write he did. All of these very important people would come to life for the October 2014 production. But first we needed to do another reading with a whole new cast.
Hence we come to January 18th, 2014 at the First United Methodist Church taking up residence in the Green room where the perfect stage awaited us.
The cast was as follows:
1. E Roger Mitchell (The Hunger Games) was the lead of this reading of Hour Farther. (Walter, Poopie, Black Boy, The WallStreet Banker, and The Seattle Trucker)
2. Elijah Manning (Victor and The Twin) A superb Norwalk CT actor, whose rendition you will come to know.
3. Jamal Neal Davis (Young Victor) an amazing young man with great acting skills. Menelik Nesmith became young victor for the production in October 2014, what an amazing young actor from New London, CT.
4. Derrick Williams (Grandaddy, Rev Love Joy and Uncle Chester) a very talented actor, musician, singer and all around great guy.
5. Nichelle Rollins (Janet, Admin Lady and Grandmother) A delightful comedic actor from New London, CT
The Emerson Theater Collaborative did two readings in January 2014. To standing room only crowds. I had never seen anything like it. All the pieces fell into place and the feedback was just what we needed to do some re-writes. May came and the scripts went out for review by the actors and producer. But wait we planned on a October production hoping that E-Roger was to be with us, but that wasn’t to be for he went on to bigger and great things like the Selma film with Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey. Yes, That’s right!
So what we had to do is an emergency hire, and we relied on no one other than chapman Roberts to find us the right person for the moment. Kirk Taylor came on board to create the characters of (Walter, James, The WallStreet Banker and The Seattle Trucker) – Playing opposite the best Victor the Emerson Theater Collaborative could find. Elijah Manning gave a new meaning to the words character development. Hour Farther’s director Camilla Ross said “Elijah’s rendition of victor was both riveting and impressive all in one. If I had to hire one actor to play many roles it would be Elijah Manning. Hands down! He performed some of the best work I have seen in a long time. Derrick Williams came to the table with skills that are unmatched. He was by far the best actor for Rev LoveJoy. He just shined in that role. He made to play so much more than Joy. The play’s themes and content were heavy. We needed something to lighten up the mood for a bit so we choose to add Emily Handy to the cast as the Saxophone player giving her rendition of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World at the top of the show. It made the initial production pleasant and I really enjoyed the moment of the opening of the play so much more. Menelik Nesmith – was an amazing Young victor for the productions in Mystic, CT and New London CT. And a reading in NYC. I was just awed by his skill and talent. I am so honored to be able to work with such talent. And they were local too! Jabreel Mawry from Broadway’s Motown played Young victor for the second New York City Reading on November 3rd, 2014. What a talent! So thankful for his rendition of young Victor. Kirk’s Poopie was well executed and fun to watch. Nichelle Rollins’ Admin Lady was delightful to watch and Anika came to life simply and with fun in tow.
The collaboration of this production – was essential. The Sound Cues had to be just the right mix. Time… keeping time and staying with the time theme was important. The Set was created by me – Camilla Ross keeping with that theme of family and time. (See images of set and play) I wanted something that would resonate with everyone. So the image of the sycamore became the backdrop of the play. With the three phases of the day – Morning, Noon and Nigh time painted behind that Sycamore. Keeping with the less is more theme a local painter was hired to paint the backdrop in the vision of the set designer – Camilla Ross. And what a set it was. All things stationary except for the pulpit and grave stone. Three areas representing life at various stages. (The House, The Road, The Kitchen, The church, The Office) flash backs depicting history at its worst, and resting in a place that all could perhaps come to some understanding of the period of slavery. As Victor tells the story from his point of view, It all becomes real, and raw for the eyes, and truth comes to the table in real time. Bringing you into experience the pain of Victor, and then coming to terms with his truth. The ticking of the clock symbolized so many things in this production. Yes, did I mention there was a lot of symbolism in this play?
There is no I in the word team – that has always been something that I believed in. However of course we will always have one or two who think that doesn’t apply to them. And that we did… and I suspect that the universe gave me a teaching moment. Keeping it about the playwright and his story and how we told that to the public was my primary focus. Allowing my actors to be actors and giving them a say on how the story was told was important. Guiding the actors, and giving them the opportunity to make choices – not telling them what do. “I didnt want puppets on my stage.” I wanted actors who knew how to create real and raw characters, and who understood how to transition into each character they played effectively.
Did someone say transitions? There were some complex transitions in this piece but sometimes I feel professional actors could learn from the non-professional actors a thing or two about character development and transition. During my research over the years as an actor I have discovered this tactic could apply to so many shows that I have seen done and watching others rehearsal practices. Transitions can be hard at times – but listening to a director can help you make it through. They may not tell you everything do but they will guide you and its up to you the actors to make the right choice.
The Emerson Theater Collaborative has a process that works best when producing. We take a risk, but we believe in the actors ability to create, and thus the risk we take becomes affective. WE believe in the process of acting!
As a director – This was probably one of the most challenging pieces to date that I have put a large investment into. The story spoke to me. It allowed me to heal and come to terms with some of the things in my personal life that had been pulling at me for years. It freed me so to speak. (My Directors/Producers note speaks to this)
The Lighting beautifully done by Roy Bourque help bring the moments to life – The Red lighting helping to symbolize the burning of the house, The Blue lighting to help with the changing of the Twin. The lighting was affective. Stephanie LaPointe brought her time and talent as the Stage Manager to bring it all full circle. Bringing in the gifted and talented has its rewards – Victoria Gordon showed some backstage skills….now lets see what she shows the world when she matures into who she is really going to be.
I tried to keep the focus on the work at hand and the success of Hour Farther was in the writing and the actors that brought it to life and were able to move people to a call to action. They left the theater moved, because they were not expecting the level of emotion from the piece. I am very proud of this piece of work. I put my heart into it and David trusted me as a director/producer to give the piece what it needed. The comment cards were essential in this process. Getting the playwright the feedback he needed for re-writes was so important. We took the play to NYC twice October 6th and November 3rd, 2014 to get more perspectives. The best thing we could have done. What an experience! Thank you Chapman Roberts for that gracious hosting at the Ellington Room. And getting us a new edition to our cast of Hour Farther. Jabreel Mawry! (Of Motown!!!)
The October 3 – 5, 2014 (Mystic CT) and the October 25 – 26 (New London CT) run of Hour Farther was a success because of the collaborative efforts of so many people.
The First United Methodist church in Mystic giving us the space to create truth and social change. The Black Stars of the Great White Way, (A Chapman Roberts Concept) The Richard Allen Center for Culture and Art, Kristina Jordan, David H. Greer, The ETC Board of Directors, Cast and Crew all came together to create something magical. The countless volunteers, Leola Wilkerson, Film Director Hans Hartman, Understudy Todd Sherrod, Ok3 Photography (Jack Ross) for the great photos. Thank you to Miracle Temple for allowing us to use the space for the New London Performance’s. Debbie Pento our Social media FB diva! Jody Kay Riordan – My Go to lady of year! I can’t thank my patrons, sponsors and donors enough. – The Puffin Foundation, The Hartford Foundation of Public Giving, State of CT – DECD, Bowdenwein BF, thank you and all our donors that help us get to where we needed to be. The Mystic, New London, and NYC Support was just amazing!
Dennis Sirrine Gallery (Velvet Mill Studios) for hosting our Meet and Greet for the public! Adiba, Jabreel’s mom was just awesome allowing him to partake in this journey with us. We couldn’t have done this with out you. Thank you again for allowing Menelik to be a part of this journey with us. Menelik – thank you for coming on board of ETC and making this experience for a pure joy. Ciara Rollins having you in the same space during rehearsal was so awesome. Thank you for always speaking your truth. And speaking for those who at times can’t speak. Kayla Barfield and Shane Renfro did an amazing job on the new image for the production. As a director I gave them all the things I wanted to see on the flyer and they brought it to life. I said to kayla… ” I want a clock under his feet and leaves coming from his head” They gave me that and more! I am thankful for them! Thank you MFF for all of it. You have anchored me. To my son Joseph who continues to believe in me for being just who I am his mom. You are the light of my world and your heart is beautiful. Thank you for being an amazing son! My sustaining force of creation comes in the desire to please my creator – God/dess in all that I do I honor you. Thank you!
As this journey continues: We embark on visits to Cincinnati, Kentucky, Hartford and where ever the wind takes us. Hour Farther is going places and I can only see it ending up in one place. So move over Broadway and make room for an amazing piece of theater. Hour Farther by David H. Greer Broadway bound!