Going it alone
There's no mincing words where DAEL ORLANDERSMITl-I is concerned. Her latest one-woman show brings her to Scotland to work with NVA.
Words: Jackie McGlone
Dael Orlandersmith is big. Dressed from head to toe in ﬂowing ethnic prints of lilac and purple, with lips and eyelids to match, she stands almost six feet tall. Like a ship in full sail, with ﬂowing blonde and scarlet dreads and skin the colour of melted molasses and honey, she is truly Amazonian. And in the American theatre world, Orlandersmith is also about as big as you can get — a poet, a playwright, an actress and ‘a black woman of the world’.
The 40-year-old — who brings her one-woman show The Gimmick to Scotland later this month under the auspices of the Glasgow-based NVA organisation — numbers Paul Newman and Robert Redford among her admirers. However, it has been a long, hard struggle from ‘the village of South Bronx and Harlem’ to the bohemian gentrification of the East Village, where she has lived and worked for almost two decades.
Orlandersmith was barely in her teens when she knew she wanted to act. ‘I was going to the Met, seeing stuff on Broadway, off Broadway, off-off- Broadway,’ she says. ‘It was easy; I used to see the second half of all the plays - you just sneak in after the interval. That’s how I saw Anthony Hopkins in Equus. I would have seen Richard Burton, but he was so pissed they had to bring the curtain down that night. All I ever wanted was to get out of Harlem, and I knew that theatre and acting was the way to do it. I grew up around a lot of heavy violence on the streets. There were lots of dope fiends in my neighbourhood and, man, did I feel stifled.’
Orlandersmith studied at the Actor’s Studio, but felt that the teachers were focused on the class ‘stars’. ‘But I was getting work, so I stopped,’ she adds. Almost ten years ago, she started turning her writing into plays, one-woman shows like Liar, Liar, the Obie Award-winning Beauty 19 Daughter, and Monster.
‘Why did I write these one-woman plays? Because I wanted to work, that’s why. I tell you, if I didn’t write my own stuff I would never work. Sure, I could play crackhead hookers and all that shit for the
'58 THE us: 18 Nov-2 Dec 1999
'There's a whole lot of women of colour who can't get work as performers in New York, unless they want to play whores.’
Dreadlocks and doom schticks: Dael Orlandersmith
rest of my life, but that’s it. There’s a whole lot of women of colour who can’t get work as performers in New York, unless they want to play whores.’
This is her third trip to Glasgow, where she met NVA’s Angus Farquhar after a poetry reading at the CCA in the late 805. ‘He saw me play this old Jewish man, a holocaust survivor, and an Italian guy from Brooklyn,’ Orlandersmith remembers. In The Gimmick, which she developed at Robert Redford’s Sundance Theatre Laboratory in Salt Lake City, she plays six characters. ‘It’s about childhood, the dreams of children, about how kids from similar backgrounds fare so differently, how some beat the odds and some don’t. My work is definitely getting deeper and darker, but that’s cool. What interests me is the darker side of human nature — because it gets us into the light. So, yeah, I operate from the shadow.’
The show has won rave reviews in the States, with audiences left ‘gasping, crying, cursing and cheering’, according to one critic. How will Angus Farquhar change it? ‘Who knows what a crazy man will get up to’, Orlandersmith shrugs. ‘I just love his visual imagination — and I can’t wait for a few pints of heavy with my bro’s in Scotland.’
The Gimmick is at The Tron, Glasgow, Fri 19-Sun 21 Nov; St Bride’s Centre, Edinburgh, Tue 23 8: Wed 24 Nov
Prompts from the wings SCOTTISH COMEDY WILL receive a boost as of Thu 18 Nov, with a new website devoted to providing information, profiles, news and reviews of the local comedy circuit. Scottish Comedy, located at www.5cottishcomedy.com is the brainchild of local writer, performer and reviewer Jason Hall. When at full power, the site will provide much needed instant access to the comedy scene, even giving future performance dates for individual performers. SCOTTISH YOUTH THEATRE'S unique, nationwide work has been rewarded with the creation of a new building in Glasgow. The building, which SYT plan to have completed in three years, will incorporate three workshop spaces and a studio, all of which should provide the children and young people of the country with an unparalleled resource for the exploration of theatre and stagecraft. The site of the building, formerly the Stagecoach bus garage in McPhater Street, Cowcaddens, was purchased from the RSAMD, which plans a nearby Hall of Residence to provide maximum creative collaboration with SYT. Funds of £600,000 are currently available for the project, but £3 million is required. SYT are hoping for lottery money to provide some of this, and also plan to launch an appeal next year. The List hopes that the private sector is feeling generous, since the building should be of unquestionable value to generations of future Scottish theatre workers. THE EXCITEMENT FOR Scottish Youth Theatre has tempered the loss of one of its most prominent patrons. The recent death of Ian Bannen, one of the outstanding performers of Scottish film and theatre and one of the country's rare Oscar nominees, will be sorely felt by audiences everywhere. DUNCAN McGHIE HAS been named as the new Chairman of Scottish Ballet/Scottish Opera. Currently a Partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers Management Consulting Practice, the native Glaswegian has previously worked with British Steel and Wm Collins Publishers. He takes on the position as the new joint company enters a key period of its controversial merger.
Next stage: the proposed new Scottish
Youth Theatre headquarters