#Garnishlivinglocal @ The Piano Lesson
Posted on 03 November 2014
SM: How long have you been acting?SR: Just over one year, now. My first show was The Fantasticks! at Hillsboro Artists Regional. I played Mortimer, the man who dies. After that, I was hooked.-SM: Are you a Portland native?SR: I was born in Connecticut and raised outside of Philadelphia. I've been in Portland since high school. I suppose I'm a Portlander now, and I'm mostly comfortable with that.-SM: How are you most like Lymon?SR: There is a large part of me that is an observer, a listener, an experiencer. That's Lymon. With relatively few lines and a lot of time on stage, where Lymon's attention goes and how he responds tell a whole lot to the audience. Growing up, and well into college, I played the "sidekick" kinda role - I'd have one very close male friend to whom I'd look up and admire. He could do no wrong, and I'd do anything for him. That's Lymon. There are still parts of me that are awakened and reminded when I'm on that stage speaking his words. Lymon and I still share an optimism that might be mistaken for naivete.-SM: How are you different from Lymon?SR: I like to imagine that I'm less short-sighted and more assertive. I'm not as accepting or as forgiving as he is. I'd like to be.-SM: What is the name of the slave song that was sung at the table.SR: It's called "Berta, Berta" and August Wilson wrote especially for the play. The lyrics are very relevant to the story, and indicate mood, values, hopes and circumstance. It's one of the songs we sang when we were down on Parchmen Farm (prison work camp). It helped us keep the rhythm of the work. The advantage of this was not only to get through the days with a unified distraction, but also because a steady rhythm made it more likely that we wouldn't hurt ourselves while working, using improper form, etc.-SM: What advice have any of the seasoned actors imparted to you?SR: Ha! Tomes and tomes (or gigs and gigs). From the very first day, without exception, they've been eager to share their experience, feedback and encouragement. I couldn't ask for a better way to begin what I hope becomes my professional career. Though, I've probably lost much of what they've shared already, I've tried to roll as much as I can retain into a mantra I use during those moments before I start to "fill up" when going on stage. "Diction, drive, physicality, intent and joy."-SM: What is your favorite restaurant in Portland?SR: Just one? How very frustrating. Nope, can't do it. Drinks/Lounge: Mint/820 or Box Social. Fancy: The Farm Cafe or Davis Street Tavern. Chill (read, affordable): Teote, Tarad or Bollywood Theater. Happy Hour: Ringside or anywhere they make a good French 75. Music: Jimmy Mak's, Mississippi Pizza or Clyde's Prime Rib.-SM: Why should people come see the play?SR: It depends. If you don't know August Wilson, you should, and this is the best way to make his acquaintance that I can think of. If you know August Wilson, I think you will appreciate this production. I'm new to professional theatre in Portland, but I've seen a bit, and the talent and skill in this show is unheard of. And it's not just individual stand-out performances. Kevin (Jones, director) calls it a musical. It's not your standard musical, and it's not known as a musical, but I understand now why he calls it one. Aside from the beautiful lyricism and rhythms within the language and writing, the music that is in this show is powerful and vital to the progression of the story. This thing requires your whole body. Audience members have told us how wonderfully exhausted they feel afterward. You will feel things you didn't expect when you hear these words, this music and when you see this story. You will be tired and grateful, and you won't forget it.-At the end of the interview Seth included this very powerful narrative which we wanted to share...-SR: I grew up hearing African-American Vernacular English (AAVE, Ebonics, Black English, etc.) spoken when I was with my mother's side of the family, in certain circles of friends, at college and I spoke it in those places. I loved the rhythms, intonations and grammar of Ebonics, but there was a part of me that felt ashamed, and that it was something I should control and mostly hide. I grew up mostly in a very white world, and my comfort with my blackness was very insecure. I knew it was shameful to "pass," but I didn't know how to love my blackness openly. Language was a big part of this for me. My best friend at Morehouse was a poet. I remember just this line from one of his pieces: "..super-sonic Ebonics bouncing off the walls!" and he yelled it proudly and affectionately. That was the first time I'd considered that I could be proud of my relationship with Black English, but it was still something I kept from the rest of my world (unless I was trying to be resistant).But, on that first afternoon, August 25th, when we had our first read, there was something in the way we spoke those words, and the way that the room full of actors, designers, staff and directors listened, that made me feel safe. I felt safe with and proud of this part of me, really for the first time in my life. So, in the words of Lymon Jackson, "Boy Willie say he going back. But I'm gonna stay, see what it's like up here."-A huge thank you to Seth for taking the time to speak with Shelby. We look forward to seeing you in future performances!