Conversation with Colman Domingo
I recently sat down with Colman Domingo to talk about his latest directorial gift to New York, A Band of Angels. This play is being produced by the New York City Children’s Theater Company at Theater 3 (home of the Mint Theater Company). Like all good children’s theatre, it is not really for children. It is for children and adults to enjoy together.
This is the story of Ella (Cynthia Nesbit), a privileged young black woman who is tossing her private school education down the toilet because she is planning on being the next Beyoncé. Who needs an education when fame and fortune are parked outside your door waiting for you to come of age? Her Aunt Beth, unable to knock some sense into her niece, understands that a higher power is called for and pulls in the ancestors: Bryson Bruce, La’Nette Wallace and Sekou S. Luke who play a myriad of ancestors and Sam Ray rounds out the cast. A veritable chorus of grand proportions.
This play was presented to Domingo by Barbara Zinn Krieger, Artistic Director and Founder of NYC Children’s Theater, who had seen his directorial work before. He read over the script and, with the permission of Myla Churchill’s estate, tinkered with the story line. He pulled Ella firmly into the present and gave her an iPhone over which to dawdle as her grades plummeted. From this vantage point he could move her back in time to her roots. From pop to the past. And back again. Domingo has always been an advocate for women. With Angels he saw an opportunity to theatrically inform Ella’s journey so that her empowerment became our discovery as well. Wither she goes, we go.
The rehearsal time was three weeks. Domingo began, as he always does, with a philosophy of I don’t know. Let’s see what happens when we come together. This attitude may be his greatest strength. He brings a clean slate, a sense of humor and a willingness to be open to other folk’s ideas into the room. He believes that, as a director, he sets the tone for everything that happens on and off stage. I figured out how to lay the foundation and ask everyone else to bring whatever they have and build off that. I create a safe space into which everyone can pour themselves. As a result, the entire rehearsal process was always ahead of schedule with nary a hissy fit.
As to the actors, there is an agreement, he says, that we are going to unlock some things and get into each other’s souls. At some point I will say to the actors – great technical work, and now I need your souls. Our collective job is to leave something on that stage we won’t get back, because the audience receives it. It belongs to the audience.
Domingo has been rewarded many times over with this company and their work that had me misting up more than once – and I am not a weeper. Domingo himself was moved to tears many times over during the rehearsals. When he saw the actors taking care of themselves, each other and the work he realized that he could not tell where his work was located. It had crystallized. It had become one entity made up of many parts, and left his hands to take flight. After the first preview, he had no notes for this extraordinary Band of Angels, because it was all theirs.
From this production Domingo has rediscovered his director’s legs. Which is good because he is now in Louisville directing Seven Guitars by August Wilson. Because of his work on Angels, Domingo understands even more so about being generous in the room. It’s supposed to be fun. We have an obligation to lift each other up because we are all connected.
Yes indeedy. We are. Colman Domingo puts his money where his mouth is, onstage and off.