Roz White and Teresa Castracane star in Black Pearl Sings! at MetroStage playing two extraordinary strong women from very different backgrounds.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you perform on our local stages.
Roz: Hello everyone. I’m Roz White. I have performed throughout DC at Studio Theatre, The Kennedy Center, Source Theatre, Arena Stage, The Lincoln Theatre, Cramton Auditorium, The National Theatre , The Warner Theatre, and MetroStage.
Teresa: I came to the DC area to get my master’s degree at the Academy for Classical Acting. Locally, I’ve appeared at Ford’s Theatre, Signature Theatre, Chesapeake Shakespeare, 1st Stage, and Taffety Punk. I’m also a photographer, so some folks may have seen my name in association with theatrical production photography or actor headshots.
Why did you want to appear in Black Pearl Sings! What moved you about this story that inspired you to be in this production at MetroStage?
Roz: I saw Black Pearl Sings! in Philadelphia in 2010. I loved the story and the characters. I knew I wanted to one day play Pearl Johnson. I mentioned the show to Carolyn Griffin at MetroStage , and she read the script. The rest is history!
Teresa: I had been hoping for an opportunity to sing on stage, so that’s what first drew me to the piece. I also love that it’s a story about two strong women, how they pursue their goals, and how they negotiate their relationship together. This play passes the Bechdel Test and then some.
Who do you play in the show and how do you relate to her? Did you base you performance on someone you know or knew? Did you bring any personal experiences to your performance?
Roz: I play Alberta “Pearl” Johnson. I pull elements from my Mother, Grandmother, and Great Grandmother for Pearl’s strength, faith, and enduring spirit.
Teresa: I play Susannah Mullally, a musicologist who discovers a great singer in a Texas prison. She’s a self-reliant and determined woman. This is a phrase that could describe many of the characters I’ve played, so there may be a bit of a theme here…
What is the show about from the point of view of your character?
Roz: From Pearl’s point of view, the show is about expanding one’s vision past the immediate needs/wants. Through the journey Pearl learns to “think big.”
Teresa: It might be about learning how to pursue one’s ambition while still staying open to the people who are important in our lives.
How did you prepare for your role? What research did you do to prepare for your performance?
Roz: I listened to singers from the Gullah Island of Hilton Head, South Carolina. My Great Grandmother took me to South Carolina every summer until I was 10, so I have real life memories of the culture, and of the environment.
Your roles are based on the legendary folk singer/guitarist Huddie William Ledbetter, -‘Lead Belly – and Harvard folk musicologist John Lomax.
What did you know about them before you accepted your roles, and what were the most fascinating things that you learned about them since you became involved in the production?
Roz: At one time during my undergraduate studies, considered being an Ethnomusicologist… Studying and becoming well-versed in the music of multiple cultures. So John Lomax was fascinating to me. As far as Lead Belly. I have my studies at Howard University to thank for a course called Blacks In The Arts where we were challenged regularly to be well informed of legendary pioneers in various genres of music. I became enamored with the blues, and Lead Belly was certainly one of the blueprints for the blues…
Teresa: I knew very little about them before working on this play. I learned that they became lifelong friends and toured the country for a time. I sort of loved that.
What have been some of the challenges you have faced while rehearsing the show and how did Director Sandra Holloway and Musical Director William Hubbard help you to resolve them and to mold your performance?
Roz: The biggest challenge for me was to get out of my own head and body and to fully embrace Pearl without any judgment. Sandra Holloway paints beautiful pictures, and her attention to detail pushed me to release my inhibitions and move freely in Pearl’s skin… William Hubbard understands what makes a musical moment work. He is in tune with the way history affects the turn of a note or phrase. I trust him implicitly. I just listen, learn and execute.
Teresa: Sandi is one of the warmest directors I’ve worked with, full of optimism and positive reinforcement. She has really helped us pull on certain threads of the characters and their stories to make sure each element of the story is getting its full due. And when it comes to throwing in a little bit of choreography to go with the songs, she can’t be beat.
I can’t say enough about William Hubbard and his ability to find the heart of a song. Add to that his expertise and precision, and I felt as if I was in excellent hands all the way along.
How would you describe each others performances and what do you admire most about working together?
Roz: Teresa is great! She has a wonderful energy and vulnerability that makes for powerful moments on stage. She helps me explore all of the facets of my character as seen through her character’s eyes….
Teresa: Working with Roz has been terrific. She’s funny, and emotionally available, and has a great stage presence. And, I know I’m not the first to say it, and I’m sure I won’t be the last, but that voice? That voice alone is worth the price of admission.
There are many themes in the show that are still relevant. What has changed for women today and what has not changed? Would they still face similar challenges today?
Roz: Certainly women have made great strides… We control a great deal, from politics to education, to finance, journalism and more. What is still a struggle is the fact that some don’t realize the strides we’ve made… Or they resent them to the point of belittling them.
What song moved you the most?
Roz: The song “Six Feet Of Earth” moved me from the first time Teresa sang it in a read through. e hadn’t even gotten up on our feet, but I fully understood that the song very literally states that no matter one’s color, or status, we all are human and when we come to the end of our journey on earth, all of the labels go away and we are truly equal.
Teresa: I get to sing a little piece of the Irish folk song “Barbara Allen,” in Gaelic. It’s no surprise to me that that song has stayed with us for so long, and inspired renditions by so many great singers. It’s one of those melodies that pulls at your heartstrings, whether you like it or not.
Roz: You have played so many roles at MetroStage. Which ones share similar characteristics and challenges and journeys with Pearl?
Roz: I can relate Pearl to so many characters… But two really stand out -Sadie Pettway from Gee’s Bend, for her loyalty to the people of a land full of history and tradition, some of which she didn’t agree with, but she never stopped loving her people. Also the great Alberta Hunter from the show Bricktop who had to pull away from the life she knew and create another completely different way of living until it was her time to shine again.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing you perform in Black Pearl Sings!
Teresa: I’m hoping our audiences are going to experience the many ways music can move us. The songs in this show are by turns sexy, funny, holy, and heartbreaking. It’s quite a ride, and I hope they’ll leave the theatre feeling just a little more alive.