By Artistic Associate for Community Rebecca Noon
Directors/actors Jude Sandy and Joe Wilson, Jr. often describe black odyssey as representing the best of Trinity Rep’s three core values: company, community, and education. It’s also clear when you look at the cast of this production how they are represented on stage: Joe and Jude are members of our acting company; Cloteal Horne, Kalyne Coleman, and Anwar Ali are students in our MFA program; and several other actors who live in Providence. I had the pleasure of interviewing one such actor/community member last November: the incomparable Jackie Davis.
Jackie is an actor, director, and theater producer based in Providence, working in television, film, and theater. As an actor, she’s amassed an impressive list of credits, including work at Huntington Theatre, Gloucester Stage, Wheelock Family Theatre, New Repertory Theater, Cape Cod Repertory Theatre, and the Lyric Stage. She is the founding artistic director of New Urban Theatre Laboratory, and a master hip hop/dance teacher at our Young Actors Summer Institute (YASI).
I couldn’t say when I first met Jackie. Maybe I saw her onstage performing or talked with her in the lobby. Maybe I met her by inviting her to participate in a community event like America Too or Every 28 Hours or the Ghostlight Project? Or maybe it was at a community conversation following one of those events. I clearly remember watching her teach a killer hip hop class to young people at YASI, and I know it’s always a pleasure to run into her.
I’ve always wondered, “Why doesn’t she perform at Trinity Rep?” And I’ve learned that when you ask that question, it’s only a matter of time before the thing you’re wondering about happens.
Rebecca Noon: Jackie Davis! You are an actor I have long-admired. Can you tell us about your history with performance?
Jackie Davis: Aw! The feeling is mutual. I have been acting for nearly 20 years. Before that, I did some modeling… mainly on the black hair salon circuit… long story. I then fell into touring as a background dancer for a Boston-based hip-hop group. One of my colleagues told me about an audition for a community theater production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She said that they were looking to cast dancers as fairies. I went to the audition hoping to be one of the fairies-and was cast instead as one of the four lovers, Helena. I haven’t looked back since. The long version is even funnier. Picture me in hip-hop gear… and a boombox.
RN: Ha! Remind me later to ask for the long version. What’s your favorite role you’ve ever played? What did you love about it?
JD: I have to say Marie in Robert O’Hara’s Barbecue. I was part of an amazing ensemble and we were allowed to play. Summer L. Williams directed us, and gave us the freedom to really dig into our roles.
RN: That was at Lyric Stage in Boston, right? I heard great things about it. Tell us about black odyssey. What are you most excited about?
JD: I have been to many productions at Trinity Rep and am always blown away by the production values. The costumes! The set! From reading the script, the characters are so large and lovely. The places that Ulysses travel to are vivid and lush. I’m excited to see it all realized by the amazing production team at Trinity Rep. The story is so very layered… even my character, 10-year-old Benevolence (how much fun it that!) is more than meets the eye… no spoiler here though! Most of all, I am excited about the cast gathered by Joe and Jude. I’m looking forward to working with some for the first time, and others, like Cloteal Horne and Omar Robinson who I’ve had the pleasure of working with on other projects. I am extremely honored to be invited to come and play with such brilliant artists.
RN: Why do you think this black odyssey is something Providence needs? What do you hope the audience takes away from it?
JD: I am happy to see that Trinity Rep is doing this play. I can’t speak for all of Providence… but Providence is getting a treat! I can speak to the community, however. WE need this play. We, as in people of color, and don’t mishear me…. EVERYONE is invited to the party… but WE don’t often get to see ourselves reflected back to us from the stage. We don’t often get to celebrate our stories, the way that we experience them. We are expected to be happy to be let in the room, and to have that be enough. I hope this especially for our younger audience members. I am really proud of the relationship that Trinity Rep has with young people in Providence through the education department using teaching artists to engage with elementary through high-school students throughout Providence. This journey that Ulysses is taking to truly find himself is an important one. The differing layers of African-African American culture woven through the story are funny, and heartbreaking, and heartening.
RN: I love what you’re saying about how the show is really led by people of color — and the black experience specifically — but that everyone is invited to the party. What do you think all audiences should know before they see the show?
JD: Though this is the Black Odyssey, they don’t have to feel the need to reacquaint themselves with Homer’s Odyssey. Mr. Gardley has created an American Odyssey. I want them to know that they are being ushered into a sacred space, and that we are happy to have them on this voyage. They’ll need to buckle up though… and lean forward into the journey.