Theatre students at the University of Memphis will perform “Intimate Apparel,” a play written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and black theatrical figurehead Lynn Nottage, starting Thursday.
Nottage, known for her Broadway plays “Sweat” and “Ruined,” typically depicts marginalized groups in her plays.
The U of M Department of Theatre and Dance collaborated with Rhodes College and Southwest Tennessee Community College to celebrate the work of Nottage by putting on three different plays throughout November.
The director of the play and U of M professor Dennis Whitehead-Darling said Nottage has become a important figure in the black theatrical community.
“She acquired two Pulitzer Prizes for two previous productions she has written,” Whitehead-Darling said. “She’s a voice for the African-American community, who is writing about strong female leads of color.”
Whitehead-Darling said Nottage has paved the way for women of color to write and produce their own stories. He also said he is excited to direct “Intimate Apparel” and hopes the audience can relate to the play.
“I feel very honored to be able to direct her work because I like theatrical voice to speak about issues that matter to people who are marginalized or people of color, minority groups, people who are disenfranchised,” Darling said. “[I like to] use my artistic voice as a tool to bring out those stories on stage.”
As the director of the play, Whitehead-Darling wanted to depict issues the United States had in the early 1900s and show how those issues still affect society today.
“It’s a beautiful story,” Whitehead-Darling said. “It’s historical in nature. It gives a perspective of the United States in a time where minority groups were extremely disenfranchised.”
Director of Publicity and Promotion Alice Berry said the three colleges planned their respective plays separately to be performed by theatre students.
“Rhodes is doing ‘Fabulation Or’ and ‘The Re-Education of Undine,’ which we actually did about four years ago here at the U of M,” Berry said. “Southwest Tennessee Community College is doing ‘Crumbs from the Table of Joy.’”
Once the theatre departments from each campus discovered their play had a common playwright, they decided to jointly promote their events.
“It was just purely accidental, but it seemed that all the colleges were doing one of her plays all here in a particular time period within a few weeks of each other,” Berry said. “It just kind of happened that all of the colleges picked one of her pieces to be doing right now ... When we all looked at it we were like, ‘Wow, we should make a little festival’ because we were all doing her work.”
The student-actor who plays the character George in the U of M production, Novell Steib, said Nottage played an important role in the black theatrical writing by communicating the challenges of other cultures.
“Seeing African-American stories on the stage gives young black artists a chance to see that they can tell their stories on stage,” Steib said. “Whether as an actor, director, as a playwright, as a designer, and with theatre being an outlet that is supposed to able to communicate the human condition.”
U of M theatre students will perform “Intimate Apparel” at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8-10 at the Mainstage Theatre in the theatre building. Rhodes College will perform the playwright’s “Fabulation Or’ and “The Re-Education of Undine” at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9-10 and 15-18 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 18.