Hi! I’m Bakari! I hope you’re having a great day so far. Me? I’m pretty good, I suppose. Jasper told me that I can be as informal as I would like to with this, so here goes.
Here’s a synopsis that I wrote for my upcoming production of the shape of things, by Neil LaBute:
When Evelyn, a quirky art student, and Adam start dating, Adam’s friends notice that his appearance begins changing rapidly. Adam is transforming into a more attractive person and as time moves on, his attitude also begins to change. His friends take notice and respond in conflicting manners.
Pretty good, right? That took me about 30 minutes to write.
I’m going to try and explain the production process a bit, and just ramble in text; I hope this makes sense, but I make no promises.
This show came together through Green Room Productions, a student-run organization at the University of South Carolina. Back in November, I got it in my head that I wanted to direct this play in Benson Theatre, so I wrote a proposal and sent it to Green Room. They got back to me in late January, I held auditions, pulled a cast together, blah blah blah, and now we have a show! A lot of people ask me: “Is this for you to graduate or something?” Which really sounds like “Why the hell did you go this out of your way for no payment or credit hours?”
I have a couple reasons. I realize that we as undergraduates at the University of South Carolina don’t get as many opportunities for leading roles in demanding material. Dillon Ingram (Adam), for instance, is a great actor whom I’ve seen on the mainstage at Carolina, but I felt that he would kill in a leading role. Also, I really wanted to direct something that people aren’t getting at Carolina. I felt that the shape of things was just the thing I was looking for. I’ve always been a LaBute fan, and even though he had many other works to choose from, I knew this was the one, the one for me. It’s funny, it’s unsettling, it’s vulgar, and most of all it’s real. The dialogue is very real. The plot is very real. Even though there is a bit of hyperbole, this play talks about things that happen that we may choose to ignore when it becomes too personal. Things like art and the concept of being cultured, being attractive and how far being attractive will get you, and infidelity. Especially infidelity. No one ever wants to talk about it, and I don’t think that’s fair, because it happens. I guess where I’m going with this is that I think people will see parts of themselves all over the show. Hopefully audiences will question themselves later that evening or the next day. So, that’s kind of a roundabout way of me explaining why I chose this play.
Still with me?
I have a super cool cast. They are all amazing actors, but I don’t think that’s the only reason they’re so super cool. It’s also because none of them are playing roles that they are used to playing. For an actor, or one who is at all ambitious, that’s the dream. This is like anti-typecasting. Patrick Dodds (Phillip) actually told me a few days ago that this is so cool to him, because he’s “never really played a dick onstage before”. That’s a very basic illustration of the character, but I know what he meant, which is why I cast the kids that way. It’s also intriguing for audiences to see actors trying new stuff. I acted in Camp Rock last summer at Workshop Theatre with Katie Foshee (Evelyn) and Catherine Davenport (Jenny). The difference in roles between these two shows could not be more extreme. I feel like I should have a poster that says “Come see Doody from Grease and Mitchie from Camp Rock say a bunch of bad words on stage!” Or not. That looks so much crazier written down than it did in my head. Speaking of things that look less crazy in my head, directing anything of this length is new for me. I’ve done things like music videos and small sketches, but never a full-length play. I’m sure the cast can agree, sometimes things make more sense in my head than they do out loud. But give me a break, I’m learning.
Directing is weird. It’s cool, but it’s weird. Mostly because it’s so interesting to see things come together and watch characters grow, but also because it’s so time consuming. We’ve been doing a lot of stuff when not rehearsing, like discovering props and set pieces and painting and building and designing sound and finding set and lighting designers and SCHEDULING ANYTHING. It’s so worth it though. Also, the team I’m working with is awesome. The stage manager, Lauren Pace, who was assistant stage manager for Legally Blonde at Workshop this season, keeps me in line and sane. Samantha Elkins has been coming through in the clutch, helping me as an assistant director. She rocks, because I love having a second eye, and especially a trained second eye. I also like having an untrained second eye, which is why I brought in my boy Chris Pickering. He’s a theatre virgin, and my assistant stage manager. I asked him if he wanted to be Prop Master General, and he responded “I have no idea how to do any of this, but yeah!” He really put the team on his back. He also helps a ton, because he can be a “normal person” when I need that viewpoint. If that makes any sense. So, I feel that the team is pretty clutch. And I’m extremely grateful that they’re all on top of it. Especially considering that I do a million things at once. I’m currently a full-time theatre major at the University of South Carolina), a part-time employee at Sid & Nancy, a local musician, and an actor. I actually just finished performing in Workshop Theatre’s production of The Color Purple on Saturday. Directing a show while being in a show makes for very little sleep and a lot of forgetting to eat dinner. Supposedly that’s unhealthy or something.
This production is totally worth seeing, because you’ll see a boy-meets-girl story that isn’t at all what you’ll think it will be. You will see the pains of being an artist in a small town, or the confusion of art and wondering where it crosses the line. You’ll hear a soundtrack that only uses local and regional music. It tackles the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, or MPDG, trope, because I think it’s nice to see a side of American storytelling where the depressed boy realizes that MPDG’s aren’t real, AND where the female lead who seems to be the MPDG is more than just a cutesy shell of a human. She’s an actual person with plans and thoughts. If you have no idea what a MPDG is, I believe this article should help, but think Natalie Portman in Garden State, Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown, or Zooey Deschanel in anything she is ever in ever. Actually, for all of the characters. This production takes notice that even though the world around us may be black and white, no human being is two dimensional. People are still people.
So, please come see it, Soda City. I think you’ll like it.
~ Bakari Lebby
the shape of things, a stageplay by Neil LaBute, will be performed at Benson Theatre (301 Pickens Street) on April 12 and 13 at 8 PM. Tickets will be $5 at the door.