Q&A with Gregg T. Daniel by Dan Berkowitz

Okay, this week I have a good excuse for not posting a review: I’m in New York. Seeing Broadway shows. As a Tony voter! Yes, your humble reviewer now not only gets to shoot off his mouth about shows in Los Angeles in The Los Angeles Post, but also gets to vote on who gets those strange little trophies which look like a spinning nickel. I’m such a big shot that some days I don’t even talk to myself.

However, when I got the chance to talk to Gregg T. Daniel, I jumped at it, because I saw his production of August Wilson’s Fences at International City Theatre in Long Beach a few years ago, and it was terrific. I wasn’t the only one who thought that: he won a 2016 NAACP Best Director Award for the show, and nominations for the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, Ovation, and StageScene LA awards as well. He’s directed a ton of shows in LA – most recently Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs for Rogue Machine – and is a Founding Member and Artistic Director of Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble. He’s a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and is also an actor with more than 100 TV and film appearances; he was a series regular on HBO’s True Blood. His production of Samm-Art Williams’s Home will play at ICT through November 5.

Gregg T. Daniel

Dan Berkowitz: In thirty seconds, can you tell us what Home is about?

Gregg T. Daniel: At its heart, Home is a love story. A love story which involves not only two individuals, but also a love of the land, a country, a nation and finally the love of self. As in any love story, there are trials and tribulations life presents before discovering the true value and worth in any relationship.

Donathan Walters. Photo: Tracey Roman

DB: Home was first done off-Broadway in 1979 by the Negro Ensemble Company, and later transferred to Broadway, where it was a hit. You saw that original production – tell us what it meant to you at the time.

GTD: As a young student of drama, I was stunned by the sheer theatricality and talent involved in the production. I experienced three actors sharing a personal and remarkable story which I thoroughly embraced. The fact that it was the prestigious Negro Ensemble Company utilizing a black writer, director and actors made me enormously proud.

L-R Angela K. Thomas, Leilani Smith, Donathan Walters. Photo: Tracey Roman

DB: When you direct a play which you’ve seen – especially in an acclaimed production – how does that affect your production? Do you approach the play as if it’s brand-new to you? Do you consciously avoid replicating any of the original? How difficult is it to forget what you’ve seen and put your stamp on it?

GTD: I take in all the information I can find from past productions (including reading reviews) then I toss it all away. I think it’s important to examine what perspectives those prior productions might have seized on when they mounted the play. I then try to develop my own personal vision of the play. I consider how does the play speak to us today? What resonance might the play have now that it didn’t have in 1979? So much changes in our world from day to day, I consider how I might reflect those changes within the production I’m directing in a highly theatrical way.

Donathan Walters and Angela K. Thomas. Photo: Tracey Roman

DB: You directed a highly-praised production of August Wilson’s Fences at ICT a few years ago. Are there similarities between that play and Home? Between Wilson and Williams? How do their approaches to playwriting differ?

GTD: I think both playwrights use the Great Migration of African Americans as a starting point to explore their narratives. The impact of African Americans leaving the South en masse, then traveling to the North struggling to establish better lives, has deep social, political, and psychological ramifications that we feel even today. These are not just stories of African Americans, they are uniquely American stories which everyone can relate to.

Leilani Smith and Donathan Walters. Photo: Tracey Roman

DB: I understand International City Theatre has formed a partnership with the African American community in Long Beach to raise funds for college scholarships and to bring students to the production. Can you talk a little about that?

GTD: I’m extremely proud to be a part of ICT’s ongoing partnership with Long Beach’s A.A. community. I revel in the knowledge that these rich and impactful stories will be seen by young people of color. A theme repeatedly found in August Wilson’s plays is that a person must be informed by their past before they can determine their future. Presenting these stories in a professional venue can validate and inspire a young person to achievement.

DB: What’s a fun thing about you that no one else knows? (And we guarantee not to tell…)

GD: I’m addicted to Groupon and Travelzoo. I jump on these websites and see what kind of restaurant, travel and hotel discounts I can find. I’ve eaten at numerous restaurants, stayed at various hotels in L.A. and beyond as a result of finding those bargains.

Written by Samm-Art Williams
Directed by Gregg T. Daniel

October 20 – November 5

International City Theatre
Long Beach Performing Arts Center
330 East Seaside Way
Long Beach, CA 90802

Tickets: 562-436-4610 or www.InternationalCityTheatre.org


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