Posted on September 20, 2017
Producing Artistic Director Michael Stevenson reflects on rehearsals for An Octoroon at Capital Stage
When I read An Octoroon, I remember being amazed at the script and at how the 19th century melodrama carried unintended echoes of the present. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ fearless and inventive adaptation jumbles time, contemporary values and humor with the hard realities of race in America today. I felt it was our obligation to do such a daring piece of theatre.
After Charlottesville, this play struck me with a new resonance. I felt I woke up in a new and disturbing world. After the shock and dismay of the white supremacist march in Virginia, we as a country started to question our identity and our progress – who are we?
I vividly remember the moment in rehearsal when one of our actors started putting on blackface. Judy Moreland, our director, and I were sitting in the theatre during our designer run, and the tension in the air was palpable. I squirmed in my seat, and watched with both fascination and dread as the actor playing Pete/Paul/Assistant carefully and silently applied the blackface makeup. It was a surreal feeling – witnessing something I never thought that I would actually see in real life. Just moments before, our lead actor had put on whiteface.
As I watched the actors fearlessly step across taboos, it occurred to me, the genius of this play is that it uses taboos and stereotypes to open our eyes to our own beliefs – to a take a new look at ourselves. Dion Boucicault, the author of the original play The Octoroon, wrote it as an anti-slavery piece, but he himself was full of prejudicial beliefs. It made me begin to question what beliefs do I carry that I’m not even aware of?
A friend of mine posted this picture the other day on Facebook with the caption: “Here’s your statue.”
We’ve come so far, but we still have so far to go.
Producing Artistic Director