Dawn Ursula at Everyman Theatre. -Justin Tsucalas
Tell us about Queens Girl in the World and Queens Girl in Africa, the one-woman shows running this month at the Everyman Theatre that chronicle the life of a young African-American girl during the onset of Civil Rights-era social change.
A few years ago, I did Queens Girl in the World for the first time at Theater J in Washington, D.C., and it was an amazing success. People have been clamoring since then for the revival of it. And then Queens Girl in Africa was written by Caleen Sinnette Jennings and performed by the amazing Erika Rose last year.
[Everyman Theatre founder and artistic director] Vinny Lancisi had the fantastic idea to see if we would be interested in bringing back both shows in a world-premiere repertory experience. It’s fantastic to be back with all these wonderful characters. They’re both solo pieces, so both shows are performed by one actor playing the main protagonist, Jacqueline Marie Butler, but we also do all the different people in her world.
How does presenting these stories in repertory change the experience?
What’s great about these plays is that they stand alone even though they are connected. It takes an amazing playwright to write both plays in a way that they don’t have to be done together; they could be done independently and enjoyed in any theater. They enhance each other in the most helpful way and enrich the experience if you see them in repertory, but they’re also two complete, amazing stories on their own.
What has it been like to develop this character that’s shared with another person?
It’s interesting because Jennings has such a clear voice, and her writing is so rich and poetic and funny and direct. It was a lovely experience for these characters to blossom and find their footing in the language. It’s funny, when I went to see Erika in Queens Girl in Africa I recognized things that she was doing and thought, “My character does that! I do that the same way!”
We created these characters so separately, but that’s just a testament to the writing. And now to have Paige Hernandez directing both of us—the smart and powerful director that she is—she’s allowing each play to stand on its own, and yet creating things that will probably be a lovely surprise or exciting addition for audience members to see in both shows.
How does the arts community in Baltimore differ from other cities?
Baltimore has such a rich art, theater, and music culture to it. I don’t know that it necessarily gets the recognition that it deserves in that way. My experience coming here and meeting people and being engaged in collaborations with other artists is that it just needs a little more spotlight. I would love to see more of that for this city that really appreciates and loves the arts. The vibe and the energy when I come and work in Baltimore—it rivals that of any other place that I’ve been.