The Memphis Triumvirate
An Interview with Creative Team Tom Key, Ann-Carol Pence, and Waverly Lucas
By Timothy Whitson
Why produce Memphis now?
WL: I think it’s important now because of the climate of the country, the social issues that are going on. Some of the issues that are going on in Memphis are as relevant today as they were in the 50’s. I think that it’s something that really brings truth to how we all look at things.
AC: I grew up in the mountains of Virginia. I was born in ’65 and I believe we got along better as a group of different people in the 70s and 80s than we’re getting along now. And I believe when you see your community suffering – and when you know that in Gwinnett we’re the most diverse county in the southeast – when you know we could be doing a better job, to me, in theatre, it’s your responsibility to demonstrate how could we do a better job.
TK: A play like Memphis makes hope plausible. This is an example of bringing the past to the future. We’re not going back to be nostalgic— there’s a lot of fun to this show. On one level it’s about the birth of rock’ n’ roll, but on a spiritual, metaphysical level, I think it’s about the journey towards wholeness. Words like integration, or wholeness, can evoke a soft process “isn’t it great that it all comes together like the pieces of a puzzle?” But any growth like this is violent on one level and yet the power of love, the power of listening and attending to the other and embracing that is stronger than those powers within us that tend to pull individual and the community apart.
What does a co-production mean for the audience?
TK: I think when we’re coproducing, what we’re doing on one level is we’re seeking to achieve to do something together that we can’t on our own. I think that we’re just maximizing our resources to make this a stronger production.
WL: I think what having co-productions allows is greater use of resources. What I mean by resources, I don’t just mean financial resources, but overall intellectual resources.
What are the advantages gained from having three artistic directors working on one project?
AC: I think you work at your best when you know [those around you] have a lot to offer. You don’t feel like you’re trying to earn a place at the table. We all have our own tables, and how wonderful that we’re all going to bring our best collaborative work because we don’t have to prove ourselves. And I think that’s to me the incredible gift, I haven’t had to do much work in this at all, because I already trust that Tom is going to tell the story, I already trust that Waverly is going to support the story.
WL: Well, I think the uniqueness is to have three artistic directors particularly from different idioms. I think that’s really important because collaboratively it brings different perspectives. It also allows me to grow with the other directors that come from other realities, and I’m sure they grow from the reality I’m coming from.
TK: As artistic directors I think there’s our individual lower-case goals of ourselves as individual artists and our higher-case goals to succeed with our individual gifts in the context of our companies. And then you stretch that out a little bit further and it’s the context of our community. I think that we’re bringing to the table is three companies wanting our whole community to be greater served.
How does having someone from the dance world enhance this production?
TK: Well, it’s a musical so there’s movement and just listening to Waverly, he was talking about the difference in how people, like James Brown, moved it was more internal and tight and now everything is so external and in your face and on all the time: there’s no beginning, middle, and end. You don’t go from 0 to 60 you just stay at 60 all the time. Waverly has just [been] preserving the historic authenticity of how people moved and why. You’ve got to have someone who’s not just giving entertaining dance steps but telling the story through movement.
AC: Waverly’s used to telling the story through movement only, with no help with words. And he’s been so successful in that venue, that to me it’s interesting to watch him to have the benefit of having words and melodies that he doesn’t deal with on a regular basis.
WL: In dance we have ways of doing things. Generally dance has fewer resources than theatre or music, and so we’re forced to do things a certain way. We’re more dependent as an ensemble on the ensemble when it’s ensemble work. And it’s so visual so that when we’re off or when we’re wrong it’s very obvious, because what we do is visual, you know?
How can this show awaken hope in the audience?
TK: I think theatre doesn’t tell you what’s right or wrong or true or false or a doctrine of how to behave or how to vote, it just tells a story. It just says “once upon a time”, and it’s up to the audience to decide, this might be a fiction, it might not have really happened, but is it true? If we can be given examples of the people that do make the choice like Felicia does, it’s not because she’s not scared or has no reason to give up or surrender to cynicism, but when we see her make choices that things can get better that’s very moving if it’s very authentic.
WL: Well, I think the thing is, this production offers, maybe not necessarily solutions, but it offers, you know, I think a few suggestions in dealing and coping with situations. With any situation of despair you need hope. If you don’t have hope then obviously it’s going to be unsurmountable. I think if you have that motivation of hope then you are in a place to begin healing.
AC: I think, for us, we choose shows because of what we need to do as a community, a member of the community. I think we need to start talking about the elephant in the room. We’re self-segregating in 2015. We’re saying mean things that we would never have said to each other ten years ago. And so to me, if I’m going to honor another point of view, I need to put a story about another point of view on my stage, and say that every single one of you all that come in here needs to be a part of this.
TK: I’ll add to that, it’s not necessarily that people are supposed to leave the theatre feeling good, because hope can be very frightening. When you read any headlines of any newspaper anyone could be justified in just going into a hole to survive. In these stories [when] we demonstrate what it is to be human, there is inevitably a sense of “Wow, if that character could do that I’m without an excuse now.”