Syracuse Stage opens the 2019/2020 season with the world premiere production of “Thoughts of a Colored Man.” Performance dates are Sept. 4-22. Tickets are available at www.SyracuseStage.org or at the Box Office 315.443.3275.
Written by Keenan Scott II and directed by Steve H. Broadnax III, “Thoughts of a Colored Man” is co-produced with Baltimore Center Stage and two commercial producers, Brian Moreland and Ron Simons. Moreland and Simons anticipate moving the production to New York after its run in Syracuse and Baltimore.
As the sun rises on an ordinary day in New York, seven men are about to discover the extraordinary. “Thoughts of a Colored Man” blends powerful language, music and dance into a daringly universal new play. Welcome to the vibrant inner life of being Black, proud and thriving in the 21st century. Set over a single day, this richly theatrical mosaic goes beyond the rhythms of the basketball court and the boisterousness of the barbershop. It sheds brilliant light into the hearts and minds of a community of men searching for their most triumphant selves. And what they reveal are the deeply human hopes, dreams, fears and sensitivities of all men, all people.
The cast is led by Jerome Preston Bates (“American Son”), Brandon Dion Gregory (“Let The Church Say Amen”), Tony Award nominee Forrest McClendon (“The Scottsboro Boys”), Reynaldo Piniella (“The Death of the Last Black Man”), Ryan Jamaal Swain (FX’s “Pose”), Jody Reynard (“Summer”) and Garrett Turner (“Half Time”). They are joined by dancers Ashley Pierre-Louis and Hollie E. Wright and DJ Chesney Snow (“In Transit”).
The production will also have music by Te’La and Brother Kamau, set design by Tony nominee Robert Brill (“Ain’t Too Proud”), costume design by Tony nominee and Drama Desk winner Toni-Leslie James (“Come From Away”) and Devario D. Simmons (“In The Next Room” at Theatre VCU), lighting design by Ryan O’Gara (“A Night with Janis Joplin” national tour), projection design by Tony and Drama Desk nominee Sven Ortel (“Newsies”), and sound design by Mikaal Sulaiman (“Fires in the Mirror” at Signature Theatre Company). Casting is by Calleri Casting.
The Syracuse Stage production of “Thoughts of a Colored Man” is an important step in the play’s development. With the producers’ ambition for a potential Broadway production, the Syracuse Stage run is in many respects akin to the out-of-town tryouts of an earlier theatrical era when producers previewed shows for audiences in Boston or Philadelphia before moving to New York. Nowadays, it is increasingly common for commercial producers to partner with not-for-profit regional theaters like Syracuse Stage to ready new plays for a New York opening. But what is crucial remains the same: the chance to perform a new work in front of an audience is the only way the show’s creators and backers can really know whether it works or not.
“As a producer, I needed to find partners that share a hunger for new work with a willingness to be bold and daring,” Moreland explains. “Coming to Syracuse Stage provides just that bold and daring opportunity for a new play to succeed. It is exciting because Syracuse Stage patrons get a rare opportunity to see a show being developed for Broadway and an opportunity to play an active part in a new show’s life.”
Syracuse Stage is presenting “Thoughts of a Colored Man” under the artistic umbrella of Cold Read, the term designating new work at the theater, as in the Cold Read Festival of New Plays, now in its third year, and last season’s production of “Possessing Harriet.” For artistic director Bob Hupp and associate artistic director Kyle Bass, the ability to present new plays is essential to the artistic vitality of Syracuse Stage.
“Our mission is to bring engaging and diverse stories to life on stage for our Central New York audience,” says Hupp. “The exciting and accomplished team of actors and creative artists assembled for this premiere embody stage’s commitment to artistic excellence. Following last season’s much-lauded premiere of ‘Possessing Harriet,’ I’m thrilled to include a new play in our 47th season. New plays are the lifeblood of our craft, and ‘Thoughts of a Colored Man’ is the perfect complement to a season that includes classics, crowd pleasers and appealing contemporary works.”
In addition, presenting “Thoughts of a Colored Man” allows Syracuse Stage to foster partnerships with community organizations. Centerstate CEO/Generation Next, 100 Black Men of Syracuse and Hillside Work Scholarship Connection will participate in events related to the production.
Broadnax is well-known to Hupp, the pair having worked together while Hupp was artistic director of Arkansas Repertory Theater. Broadnax’s recent credits include two plays by Dominique Morrisseau, “Pipeline” at Actors Theatre of Louisville and “Blood at the Root” at National Black Theatre. He is slated to direct the world premiere of “The Hot Wing King” by Katori Hall at New York’s Signature Theatre in early 2020. Broadnax took over directing duties from Syracuse University alumni Taye Diggs. Originally slated to direct “Thoughts of a Colored Man,” Diggs had to leave the project due to his shooting schedule for “All American,” which was renewed for a second season on The CW.
In Keenan Scott II, Moreland believes he has found a new and important voice whose writing has touched him personally.
“Keenan Scott II is a young man with an old soul and giant vision,” Moreland explains. “He writes for our present day experiences. A playwright who writes from the viewpoint of ‘now’ and who has an uncanny way of creating dialogue that allows me to ask hard questions and explore cultures in an open way. I was immediately drawn to ‘Thoughts of a Colored Man’ because the show gave me an experience and understanding of human beings I have grown up with. Never having seen these humans on a stage sharing their lives, I was drawn and compelled to share it.”