The Echoes Blog: Why did you immediately think the show was challenging?
Rhonda Boutte: I immediately felt the show was challenging because of the set and design elements.
TEB: Why were you so hesitant to do this play?
RB: I was hesitant due to the full schedule I had and the design elements. The stage is very intimate and the set calls for three separate playing areas. The set design called for fluidity of scene transitions such as changing scenery for each location. The set also calls for an improvised home which sits on top of a cotton field that overtakes the family living space for the duration of the play. There is live video game in three scenes and a tree that grows in the
middle of the kitchen in Act II and remains until the end of the play. There are leaves and acorns that physically blow from above the tree and a space bag fall from the tree.
TEB: Since acting is your "lucky charm," why did you not consider auditioning for it?
RB: There was no role for me in this play.
TEB: Why did July 7 change your life? Because it was close to home? Because you were supposed to be there? Why specifically did this situation (out of the many others) change your life?
July 7th changed my life because it was close to home and I was supposed to be at the protest. The feeling of helplessness awakened in me after the ambush was that I NEEDED to do something to make change in racial relations in our country. I can no longer sit in silence I need to make a difference somehow other than living my life for myself. I must do my part to prevent rebellion and help start or plant a seed of growth and healing. I need to think more about our Country or things will worsen.
TEB: Why had you been silent for so long?
RB: Although I was extremely upset with injustices that were being placed upon African Americans in our country, in my world, these injustices were not happening to me on a personal level. So, I said nothing, I did not speak up.
TEB: Can you give an example of how you used some of the design to show a feeling you wanted to highlight?
RB: The play calls for a cotton field to overtake the black family’s home throughout the play. I found this dichotomy of the past overtaking the future extremely interesting because I feel like our past is very much a part of our future.
The script calls for the tree to appear at the start of the break after act one. I found the significance of an oak tree growing in the middle of the kitchen very interesting because the oak tree signifies strength and survival. The scene before the break shows a family from the past picking cotton by the moonlight. This scene signifies the grandfather character, Matthew’s, death. Because this scene is about the meeting of the past (sharecroppers picking cotton) and future (the Witherspoon Family), I decided to have the tree grow on stage and encircle Matthew by the end of the act. So, the last image would be the grandfather inside a pool of light in the tree.
To show that the tree grows from the ground, the table and chairs would have to be moved. So, I decided to add a chorus of three people that could facilitate these movements in a graceful, stylized fashion. The chorus was a great addition as I used them throughout the play to help magically facilitate the addition of cotton on the set that needed to happen as the play continued. They also represented the past our ancestors and could morph into anything I wanted.
TEB: What does having different generations in this play show?
RB: I am a firm believer in the “Strauss-Howe generational theory." Strauss and Howe did a mass study and identified a social generation of people born over a span of roughly 20 years. They studied how each generation shared historical events and social friends during that timeframe. Therefore, each generation is likely to respond to events differently in different eras.
Howe and Strauss coined the terms "Baby Boomer," "Generation X," and "Millennials." It is the response not the initial event which defines an era per the theory. The characters in the play are a grandfather, mother, and 14-year-old son. So, each generation is represented differently in relation to race and race identity today.
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