Actress, poet, and playwright Dael Orlandersmith looks at a room of about 20 graduate and undergraduate students and takes a deep breathe, seemingly from exhaustion.
“Dael just had her first Megabus experience,” a theater professor says to the students.
After a brief introduction, the perfomer, who wrote such plays as “Yellowman”, “Beauty’s Daughter”, and “Monster”, begins an intimate lecture/conversation. She starts talking about what has influenced her work: the novel “Another Country” by James Baldwin, the album “Horses” by Patti Smith. Orlandersmith then discusses the difficulty of humanizing an evil character as a writer and actor.
“People are not born as monsters,” she says. “My job as the actor and my job as the writer is to make him human.”
Orlandersmith is talking about one of the characters in her solo performance “Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men,” which she will perform tonight at the Penn State Downtown Theatre Centre at 7:30 as part of the 2013 Cultural Conversations festival. The play follows the stories of abused children and their growth into damaged adults.
After spending some time talking about the art of theatre and some of her experiences, Orlandersmith tells the group of students to write a monologue using their mother’s voice as a six-year-old during a time she was scared. Six minutes on the clock.
“Go,” she says.
When the time is up, she begins calling on students to read their impromptu monologues. Orlandersmith stares intently at each student who speaks and asks them questions. Moments of intense silence are followed by captivating advice and instructions as she digs deeper into the story and motivations behind the character. Students share personal details from family experiences with Orlandersmith, and the actress shares her own right back.
Forty-five minutes after walking into the room, fresh from her travels, students are still looking at Orlandersmith as if she had just performed. A small applause breaks out, but the modest playwright just throws her hands in the air in an effort to deflect any praise.
Tickets for “Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men” are $3. I suggest you take advantage of this opportunity.