Red Fern Theatre Company invited us backstage to learn more about the company and their current production at the Theater at the 14th Street Y, “Since Africa.” The production is apart of the newly launched Theater Series at the 14th Street Y. The Theater Series partners with cutting-edge theater companies to present new work including Red Fern Theatre Company, MT Works, and the jewish plays project. The play has garnered so much buzz and positive attention here at the Y. For more information and tickets click here. The socially aware company gave us insight into their process, history, and current production “Since Africa”.
Q: Give us a little background about Red Fern Theatre Company. When was the company founded, why, and what type of work does the company do?
A: Founded in 2006, the Red Fern Theatre Company strives to provoke social awareness and change through theatrical productions. Each play developed by the RFTC addresses social issues that range in scope from local to global, and it is paired with a philanthropy whose work relates to the social themes of the play. By associating each production with a philanthropic organization, we are able to bridge the gap between the issues we present to our audience and the change we seek to create.
The RFTC has produced a diverse range of programming including the revivals of 10 plays, 3 New York premieres, 4 World Premieres, the World premiere of 4 evenings of commissioned short plays, and countless staged readings. We have also partnered with 17 philanthropic organizations. Since shifting our focus to new work, Red Fern has supported the work of over 40 playwrights.
Q: How do you choose the work that is being performed?
A: We read hundreds of scripts. Obviously we consider the quality of the work, but we want to create a better sense of awareness about the issues we present. Our plays strive to cause conversation about an issue as opposed to presenting a one-sided message. We realize that only through education and conversation true change can develop.
Q: How does your company deal with issues of diversity and cultural differences?
A: Diversity and cultural differences are at the heart of our work, and we expose issues many people do not realize exist. Given the nature of our work, we often address the under-represented in our community. Our current production “Since Africa” includes an extremely diverse cast. We also produce a significant number of female playwrights. Our plays have tackled many issues including AIDS, political hostages, sexuality, childhood development, death row, the Holocaust, Vietnam Veterans, political corruption, environmental issues, bipolar disorder, gentrification, rape in the military, online gaming and its effect on our youth, among many others. We are always looking for topics that other companies might not tackle and we often produce plays inspired by true stories.
Q: What drew you to presenting work at the Theater at the 14th Street Y?
A: We love the community at the Y. We also love that we have been a part of the theater’s revitalization in the past few years. It has been a privilege to grow with the theater, and it has been a pleasure working with the Theater staff. We also love the theater’s commitment to a green space and are happy to have been a part of this programming with the creation of the costume collection.
Q: Tell us about “Since Africa” and the company’s work with the writer, Mia McCollough, and director Nancy Robillard.
A: “Since Africa” follows Ater, a refugee from the Sudanese civil war as he attempts to adjust to cold weather, processed food, and a new life in Chicago. A recently-widowed socialite and an African-American Deacon from the local Catholic parish try to help him embrace his new home and all its opportunity. But assimilation is not that simple and their efforts cause each of them to question their identity. A look at American culture through the eyes of an African, “Since Africa” explores the tensions between blacks and whites, Africans and African-Americans, and the devout and the non-religious.
“Since Africa” came to us through Jennifer Dorr White who plays Diane, the socialite. She had done a reading of the play with director Nancy Robillard a few years ago. This past summer they discussed who might be interested in producing it. Jennifer had been in one of Red Fern’s first productions and thought of us. We then offered them a position in our fall staged reading series and fell in love with the play. The playwright is from Chicago, but she came to NYC during the rehearsal process and was with us during tech and through opening. The last scene of the play was rewritten the day before the first preview!
Q: How do we get involved with the social activism aspect of Red Fern and “Since Africa?”
In addition to supporting new works and hundreds of artists, Red Fern also partners its productions with an organization making a difference in our community. For “Since Africa”, we have partnered with Water for South Sudan, Inc. The organization was started by a Lost Boy to bring safe drinking water to remote villages in South Sudan. You can read more about them at http://www.waterforsouthsudan.org/ .