Live Garra Theatre is showcasing Dry Bones by Ivy Hawkins — its first production since the pandemic — in the midst of devasting conditions and ongoing fiscal and cultural challenges. I asked Wanda Whiteside, founder and artistic director, two questions: How and why?
Wanda Whiteside: It’s important to take the journey. We’re storytellers, and after so much time away, it was important to get back in the mix, so I was able to pull together like-minded theater folks who were also aching to get back in the business; got an awesome cast of actors and designers, and a terrific script.
Sounds like that’s what gets you up and keeps you going in these challenging conditions. Some of us had trouble just getting out of bed! What kept you going?
[Laughing] Sure, I hear you, believe me, I had those moments too when I wondered, how in the world are we really going to pull this off? But the stories meant so much to me, knowing that we had an opportunity to share these stories with others. The people who actually lived the experiences didn’t stop despite the adversity, they kept going; so no matter what, I knew I had to get up and keep going too.
Tell us a little about the script, Dry Bones. This will be one of the first productions of this show by local playwright Ivy Hawkins. According to the program, the phrase is based on scripture: “The Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life (Ezekiel 37:4).” Why did the play resonate so much for you to start the season?
Basically, Dry Bones addresses the lives of men who are learning to transition back into their communities from being incarcerated. It’s full of family stories between an ex-husband and a wife, an estranged father and a son, and two brothers who are fiercely bonded. The play introduces a support group of men who tell their stories and help each other create better lives for themselves.
Many theaters have been inching back with solo performers or duets — smallish casts to get the ball rolling. Did you say there are 14 people in the cast? Not just characters, but actual people?! You sure don’t take the easy road, do you?
Nope, never have! Gotta take the risks, right?
Haha, for sure, but how were you able to keep everything moving along?
Well, first of all, we’re observing safe conditions of COVID protocol with everyone vaccinated; cast and crew and the audience will need to show proof of vaccination and wear masks. We’re assuring safe entrances, exits, and distances on stage so the actors have their space. They’re sometimes looking out into the audience sharing their stories, so the contact is as minimized as in smaller casts.
And several cast members are “returning citizens” — is that a term for formerly incarcerated? It’s definitely more inclusive and inviting. And talk about adding authenticity!
Yes, that’s something I’ve been exploring as part of Theater for Social Change. It’s part of the design for my doctorate studies, to show how theater can foster life-changing experiences, give those returning to society a voice to be heard, reflect their lives on stage, and be part of a theater of service.
That’s incredible. It’s an exciting and vibrant reflection of your mission: “Live Garra Theatre aspires to fill the void of culturally specific theater, preserving the unique legacy of the African American heritage and contribute to the survival of Black Theater.”
Definitely. As we’ve seen in recent documentaries, the country’s policies have made it an “Incarceration Nation.” I felt this could be a way to showcase actual lives impacted to make these people real to our audience community.
Your mission and prior works have been so inspiring, and appreciated — big congratulations on receiving a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County in support of Dry Bones. And also Live Garra has been renewed for what, five more years in the Theater Consortium of Silver Spring? The executors seem to appreciate your legacy reference that garra literally means claws — to hold on and to ‘live Garra’ (Portuguese) means to go-the-distance and never give up.
Yes, we’ve been blessed and are in rotation with three other companies sharing this beautiful space. We couldn’t be happier.
We’re thrilled and happy for you too, and look forward to this return with more planned for summer 2022. Thanks much and keep it up!
Thanks, Debbie and DCMTA!
Dry Bones runs through Sunday, November 21, 2021, presented by Live Garra Theatre performing at Silver Spring Black Box Theatre, 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD. Performances are Thursday to Saturday at 8:00 pm and on Saturday and Sunday at 3:00 pm. Tickets ($20) can be purchased online.
COVID Safety: All patrons must wear masks during the performances and provide proof of full vaccination.
By Ivy Hawkins
Directed by Wanda Whiteside
Starring: Brock Brown, James Curtis Bowers, Autumn Butler, Judy Leak, Adiyb Muhammad, Cody Jones, Lajuan Martin
ABOUT LIVE GARRA THEATRE
Mission: Live Garra Theatre, Inc., endeavors to employ the cultural arts as a way to address universal social-life issues; to illuminate all facets of a multicultural society; foster cross-cultural understanding of the many ethnic voices in the community; reinforcing the value of diversity, strengthening the social connections among people. The word garra literally means claws — to hold on and to “live Garra” (Portuguese for prevail) means to go-the-distance and never give up.
As a resident company of the Theatre Consortium of Silver Spring, the organization operates out of the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre as a performance training studio; an incubator for a core repertory of skilled poets, playwrights, and artists, as well as providing a “safe harbor” for the youth. Live Garra Theatre aspires to fill the void of culturally specific theater, preserving the unique legacy of the African American heritage and contributing to the survival of Black Theater.
ABOUT THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
Wanda Whiteside trained at the Boston Conservatory of Music, HB Actor’s Studio and Usdan Center for the Creative and Performing Arts in New York. She has performed professionally at the Olney Theatre Center, the Arena Stage and the Round House Theatre. She was a judge for the NAACP Actso competitions for two years and presenter at the University of Maryland Black Theatre Symposium on the state of Black Theatre in America. Wanda earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Arts from Howard University, a Master of Science in Business Management, and will receive her Doctor of Education in Leadership for Change from Fielding Graduate University. She is a founding Board member of the Theatre Consortium of Silver Spring, Inc. and the Silver Spring Town Center, Inc., of which she is currently on the Advisory Board. Wanda was employed at Discovery Communications, Inc. for 15 years as a Director/Editor. Wanda and her husband, Arthur Seaman owned and operated the Bonifant Theatre Space in Silver Spring, MD.