By Jill Harper, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Cue6 Theatre in Toronto
Thoughts on the first read of Byhalia, Mississippi with her cast
Byhalia, Mississippi. First read.
Short a cast member, because of course I’m dealing with one cast member rehearsing a show during the day while another is running a show at night.
Official rehearsal space? Not available yet, so we’re reading in a tiny basement with a bathroom as hot as a sauna but no heat anywhere else for some reason.
I’d just spent an hour on the floor of that basement, trying to shuffle new pages into scripts we printed too early, and losing track of which pages are new, and which are the discarded pages I’ve just removed (though for the two actors I tried to let add their own new pages, the new pages just didn’t make it in…which we discovered during the read…so…)
More or less a typical Thursday.
Except that’s not true at all. Why? Because there was a feeling in the air, right from the beginning, that we had something special on our hands.
I knew going in that this play was beautiful. I knew that this cast was amazing. But combining this play with this cast? Bringing it off the page for the first time in Toronto, and talking through everything it brought up for us? This didn’t feel like just any first read.
Cue6’s Toronto production stars Dora winner Claire Armstrong, two-time Dora nominee Kyra Harper, Dora nominee Virgilia Griffith, former Degrassi: The Next Generation star Mazin Elsadig and indie theatre mainstay Joshua Browne. Direction by Jill Harper.
We talked about the issues in this play. Toronto is a city that some like to pretend is immune to racism. This despite debates raging in the media about ‘carding’ – the process by which Toronto police collect personal details from hundreds of thousands of people not directly accused of crimes. Between 2008 and mid-2011, the number of individual young black men, aged 15 to 24, who were ‘carded’ was 3.4 times greater than the city’s population of young black men. Or the fact that two unarmed black men were shot dead by Toronto police, leading to a Black Lives Matter protest that shut down Allen Road a major thoroughfare in the centre of the city.
We argued about whether Laurel’s cheating on Jim was ‘worse’ because she got pregnant, and whether or not it was ‘worse’, we talked about if he should stay with her, never coming to any conclusions.
We just got excited. Excited to open those conversations up to the city. Excited about being in contact with all of these other artists. Excited about dumb things like hats and dialects.
What you don’t see in those photos is the pile of kleenex that slowly built up next to Claire (Toronto’s Laurel)’s script. You can’t see the cast’s inability to drop their Mississippi accents once they’d stopped reading, or the way my own vowels shifted and r’s hardened a bit…because apparently the accent is contagious. You can’t see the plan we started to hatch to road trip it to any city still running the show after ours closes (Chicago and Memphis, we’re looking at you!). And that was just the first read.
This play, and this massive coming together of 8 companies in 7 cities has some real magic behind it. This is just the beginning.
More information about Cue6 Theatre HERE
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