Proof, David Auburn‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a college-age math whiz who may have inherited the mental illness of her mathematician father, gets a fresh production featuring a multi-cultural cast Sept. 2-13 in Manhattan. The co-production by Quick Silver Theater Company and Classics in Color: A Theatre Company will be directed by Johanna Day, who played older sister Claire in the 2000 world-premiere production of the play. Classics in Color co-founder Nafeesa Monroe will play Claire.
Broadway veteran Count Stovall (2012’s A Streetcar Named Desire, 2008’s Cat On a Hot Tin Roof) will play impaired father Robert. Lolita Foster (“Orange Is the New Black”) will play unstable sister Catherine, in whose possession a complex math proof is found. Alejandro Rodriguez, a core company member of QSTC, will play Hal, a suitor and math student.
Director Day is an Obie Award winner and Tony Award nominee for her role in Broadway’s Proof. She created the role of Claire Off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club and moved to Broadway with it. She makes her directorial debut with this production.
“We intend to reveal a new perspective of this Pulitzer Prize winning play,” Quick Silver and Classics in Color announced in a joint statement. “Without altering the text in any way — and casting Proof with actors of color — a conversation is generated that speaks to the issues of gender and racial privilege in global mathematic programs.”
Tyrone Henderson, the playwright and actor who co-founded Quick Silver Theater Company with Lizan Mitchell, the busy New York and regional actress known for Brownsville Song (b-side for tray) at LCT3, shared information about a gap that exists in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education and careers. Women and minorities are under-represented in that world.
“This play really gets at the meat of a problem in the world of STEM programming,” Henderson said. “It’s male-driven. The gender gap is vast and then when you take a look at the percentage of women of color in STEM jobs it becomes vastly disproportionate.”
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women hold nearly half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, but hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. According to Harvard Business Review, “77 percent of black women in STEM who report that they have to provide more evidence of competence than others to prove themselves. 48 percent report that they’ve been mistaken either for administrative or custodial staff.”
(Check out my Q&A with Quick Silver’s Henderson below. He talks about the goals of the new company, which has a core company of artists.)
The Proof creative team includes costume designer Karen Perry, lighting designer Jennifer Reiser, set designer Perrine Villemur and sound designer Iman Hinton. Haylee Scott is the stage manager.
Quick Silver Theater Company’s mission “is to produce theatre that invigorates, educates and generates conversation. We believe that an audience arrives at the theatre to view a moment in time captured by a playwright. Universal story telling has long been a part of the human experience. We will push the boundaries of universality, by casting our productions with actors that reflect the community at large. In doing so the playwright’s work will in turn connect with a much larger audience base.”
Here’s Classics in Color‘s mission statement: “Classics in Color focuses on producing vibrantly cast classic works for the stage, expanding the perception of classical theatre. As a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic ensemble, Classics in Color embraces the theatre of inclusion, on stage and off, opening up and extending the understanding of classic tales, tales of the human experiences that touch us all: the depth of despair, the sensation of success, the heart-driven love, the beauty of forgiveness, and the need to belong. Classically trained actors of all colors and backgrounds grace our stage with power and insight under the guidance of world-class theatre artists from around the country. Classics in Color: classics by all the people, for all the people.”
Performances for this Equity showcase production of Proof will run Wednesday through Sunday at 7:30 PM Sept. 2-13 at 4th Street Theatre, 83 E. 4th Street, First Floor, in the East Village. Tickets are $18. Get tickets here.
Proof is fiscally sponsored through Fractured Atlas.
Quick Silver’s Tyrone Mitchell Henderson answered a handful of my questions about the company he co-founded with Lizan Mitchell.
First things first: Tyrone, your middle name is “Mitchell.” Are you and Lizan Mitchell related? What’s your history with Lizan?
Tyrone Henderson: Lizan and I are not related. I did play her son in The Trip to Bountiful directed by Timothy Douglas, at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Lizan is generous of spirit. She has been constant source of strength. She is a force of nature on stage.
All great theatre companies and movements grow out of a need, a lack of something in the community. What inspired Quick Silver?
Tyrone Henderson: It has long been a desire of mine to present classical and contemporary works with actors of color. The business side of creating a theatre company was a mystery. I felt that I needed a partner in crime to realize the vision. Upon our return from Cincinnati, Lizan and I began to talk over dinner. We were going to see a Lucy Thurber play [at] Rattlestick. At some point we began to discuss what was being produced in the New York theatre community and decided to do an in house reading series. Just for us. We read three four-handers that dealt with families: The Glass Menagerie, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Proof. We wanted to hear the sound of these plays through our voices. It was enlightening. I pulled together a group of actors that I knew and respected to do the readings. Quick Silver Theater Company is an ensemble of 13 actors.
Why was Proof chosen as your inaugural production?
Tyrone Henderson: When we read the first three plays, we would talk about each one afterwards. When we spoke about Proof the folks in the room found that a.) They were drawn into the story because it was a cast of color and the play itself became more relatable; b.) The story line of an aging father with bouts of mental illness was palpable; c.) Women — and specifically women of color — are not taken seriously in STEM.
Why do we go to see a play? For many reasons. We want to connect. We want to learn. We want to witness the telling of a story that we can relate to. Someone at the reading said something like — I am paraphrasing — “I didn’t know this play, but now I do and I care about these people.” That’s what struck a chord with me. The play became more engaging. The conversation expanded. That’s our mission. To shift the perspective.
Does Quick Silver have a primary goal? The quick “read” of the company, especially given Proof as your inaugural production, is that the company offers actors of color the chance to play classics and modern classics that were originated by white actors.
Tyrone Henderson: Primary goal: To produce plays that will generate conversation and engage an audience of color. Casting classical and contemporary works to reflect society. An inclusive vision of community. A key thing to know about Proof is that nowhere in the description of the characters does it specify the race of the individuals. It is not our purpose to cast actors of color simply because the roles were “originated by white actors.” I have a strong desire to create theatre that reflects the audience at large.
When we say “artists of color,” are we talking about an even wider range of backgrounds — African-American actors and Asian, Latino, disabled, transgender, etc?
Tyrone Henderson: Correct, and all of the above. We have a slew of ideas spinning in our minds right now.
Are you reaching out to playwrights of color to build a new generation of voices and stage literature?
Tyrone Henderson: We have received a number of original works that we are considering for our winter reading series. We will investigate new plays and one-acts that have never been produced. So many plays today are rushed to production. We want to nurture the playwrights as they continue to develop their work. Next summer we will launch our Playwrights of Color summit in upstate New York. Three plays will be chosen and Quick Silver Theater Company will host a weeklong play development process that will conclude with a weekend of readings and talkbacks with local community members. Each playwright will work alongside a director, dramaturg and cast to really dig deep. [We want to offer] time, space and support. We are looking to foster the works of new and engaging playwrights.
How much of your mission is about reaching out and developing non-traditional audiences?
Tyrone Henderson: As we develop and grow, I would like to see a more racially blended audience in the house. I feel that ticket price is an important qualifier. Signature Theater has it right. Affordable pricing is one of the variables that we are aware of. We [aim] our pricing at $23. Why twenty-three? The average human body temperature measured with a mercury (Quick Silver) thermometer is 98.6 degrees. 9+8+6= 23. Ultimately, audience development is about building relationships, not just ticket sales. It’s about getting into the community and listening. Not just the theatre community, but the community at large. What is missing? How can we feed the need? We are finding new ways to answer these questions.
Is there a student outreach component to the company? Are you working with young artists or schoolkids to teach them about the power of theatre?
Tyrone Henderson: This year we hosted a Theater Gym as a way for actors of color, new and established, to come together and work out. We offered classes on audition technique, storytelling through song, stage combat, Linklater technique and movement for the actor. This will become a staple of our work as a company. Mentoring and theatre education is a big part of my mission.
We are developing an in-school touring project. These tours will focus on historical figures of color. The idea is to present solo works that can be presented individually or as a collection of works. Tours can be scheduled for schools and universities. Theatre is a great teaching tool. We teach, we learn.
Given the mission of the company, what led you to having a white director, Johanna Day, direct your first production, beyond the fact that she created the role of Claire in Proof? I am guessing a commitment to multi-cultural artists doesn’t mean shutting out other artists?
Tyrone Henderson: I have known Johanna for thirty years. She is someone that I “grew up with” as an actor in New York City. I trust her. She’s smart. She knows this play. Again, it’s about inclusivity not exclusivity. We all learn more about ourselves and others this way. I wanted to have a female at the helm and we have surrounded her with an all-female design team.
What production plans do you have beyond Proof?
Tyrone Henderson: We are looking to do one show a season.
Proof is a co-pro with Classics in Color. How are you a match?
Tyrone Henderson: Both companies are aligned with a mission of diversity on stage, and a theatrically inclusive environment. It has been a fruitful collaboration.
Where did you grow up and what was your exposure to theatre as a kid? Were you an actor in high school?
Tyrone Henderson: I grew up in upstate New York. I have been involved in theatre since fourth grade, where I played Mr. Big Tree opposite Lauren Holly as Wiggly Worm. That’s how I got hooked. I did a lot of musical theatre during that time. My high school drama teacher would bring us to New York to see shows. The Smith Opera House in Geneva, NY, brought New York talent to my small town.