In Part 6 of a series of interviews with the cast and director of Flyin’ West at Bowie Community Theatre, meet Ben Harris.
Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you in the past year on local stages?
I have been performing in regional theaters, commercials, and some independent films in the DMV for three years now. You may have seen me as Lancelot in Second Star’s production of Camelot or as Juror #4 in Twelve Angry Men.
Why did you want to be part of the Bowie Community Theatre’s production of Flyin’ West?
The history behind the play was what drew me to this production. The struggle of these women and of African Americans, in general, to find dignity and self-worth in a post-slavery America, especially, from the perspective of the “exodus ting” women of Nicodemus, Kansas is a seldom-told part of our story.
What did you perform at your audition, and where were you when you got the call that you had the role?
At my audition, I performed a monologue from Death of a Salesman, a scene where Biff is bitterly confronting his father with the reality that he cannot live up to his expectations. I was in class teaching when Estelle gave me the call offering the part. I had to make a choice instantly but felt somehow that I had to take this role.
Who do you play in the show and how do you relate to your character? What do you like about your character?
Frank Charles is the darkly twisted mulatto husband of the youngest sister, Minnie, who ultimately is the antagonist in the story. Frank embodies the tragic plight of what it means to be of mixed heritage in a world torn by racial polarization and hatred. Rejected by his white slave master father and brothers, Frank is alone and in the middle of two worlds. He is bitter and racked with self-hatred, which he often unleashes on his wife. While I at first was repulsed by him, I began to connect with his pain. Would I have become the same person if I had been totally rejected and unable to find a world to fit into?
How did you prepare for your role and what were the biggest challenges you faced and how did you resolve them?
The biggest challenge has been to understand and connect to the self-hatred and anger that can drive a man to domestic violence and abuse. We all know it exists, but it was a dark side of rage that I found hard to dive into. Anger is something that we know we must control. We know the consequences. I have had to learn to look the monster in the face without being afraid of what truth might come out.
What advice and suggestions did your director give you that helped you prepare for your role?
Estelle told me straight up, people are going to dislike you. Thank you for being willing to do that. She is a marvelous director and she pushes me to understand Frank’s humanness–looking past the monster to see the pain that made him that.
What is your favorite scene in the show that you are not in and what is your favorite scene that you are in?
Funny. My favorite character in the play is Sophie, my arch enemy, if you will. I like the scenes where she interacts with Miss Leah. Their love for each other is so apparent even in their dry, tough way. I like that.
If I had to pick a favorite scene that I am in, I would spoil the show.
Which character in the show is most like you and why?
This sounds terrible, but at times I feel like I might be more like Frank than I want to admit when I consider his pain. But, when you consider Sophie is also a mulatto, I want to think that I have made better choices and taken on her resilience and progressiveness.
What do you admire most about your fellow castmates’ performances?
I love this cast. I like to watch them work. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience and have all the dignity and strength their characters require. I have complete confidence in them.
What does this show have to say to today’s audiences?
Freedom and Dignity are a choice, a character matter. No matter what life has thrown at you, your inner strength and self-respect is what will ultimately carry you above it and over it.
What line or lines that someone recites are your favorites and what are your favorite line or line that you recite and why?
Miss Leah (to Sophie): “Well, I’ll try not to let the smoke from my chimney drift out over your sky.” Translation: Don’t let your head get too big!
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing Flyin’ West?
An understanding of the many unsung battles that were fought to lift African Americans, men and women, from the curse of slavery to a place of respect and dignity. It’s a curse that they are still fighting today. But, as Frank’s character reveals, there are many different types of slavery.
Flyin’ West opens April 10, 2015 and plays through April 25, 2015 at The Bowie Playhouse – 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call (301) 805-0219, or purchase them online, or at the door.
Meet the Cast and Director of ‘Flyin’ West’ at Bowie Community Theatre: Part One: Drector Estelle Miller.
Meet the Cast and Director of ‘Flyin’ West’ at Bowie Community Theatre: Part Two: Kecia A. Campbell.
Meet the Cast of ‘Flyin’ West’ at Bowie Community Theatre: Part 3: Sandra Cox True.
Meet the Cast of ‘Flyin’ West’ at Bowie Community Theatre: Part 4: Darius McCall.
Meet the Cast of ‘Flyin’ West’ at Bowie Community Theatre: Part 5: Brawnlyn Blueitt.
Meet the Cast of ‘Flyin’ West’ at Bowie Community Theatre: Part 6: Ben Harris.
Meet the Cast of ‘Flyin’ West’ at Bowie Community Theatre: Part 7: Lolita Marie.