I CAN’T WAIT TO WRITE FOR HER AGAIN //
BY HARRISON DAVID RIVERS
Playwright Harrison David Rivers finds an actor who “gets him”: a rare gift.
I suggested her to the team. Or, well, I’d texted a friend—“we’re looking for an actor, do you have any recommendations?”—and he’d responded immediately, “Danyel Fulton.” She’d been the Sarah Brown to his Coalhouse Walker, Jr. in a production of Ragtime in Seattle two years earlier and ever since, he’d been a believer. “She’s the real deal,” he texted. “Cast her.” And thank God we did.
In my theater-making experience, actors usually develop a strong connection to a project’s director—not so much to the writer. After all, the director is the one who sets the artistic vision for the production. They collaborate with designers, block the movements, lead rehearsals, and monitor the production’s pacing. As a writer, I’m usually in the background, responding quietly to the emergent needs of the production with a cut here or an addition there; the re-ordering of a sequence or the clarification of an idea. I have a relationship with the actors, but my role is to listen more than it is to speak.
I knew from the first rehearsal of Broadbend, Arkansas—from the very first read-through—that this piece would be different.
It is a tremendous gift for a writer to hear their words being spoken by an actor who “gets them”—who understands the specificity of their syntax, the ebb and flow of their cadence. It has happened to me a handful of times: an actor has started to read my work aloud and I’ve gotten chills, the hairs on the back of my neck have stood on end and I’ve held my breath not wanting to break the spell.
It is a tremendous gift to work with an actor who knows, innately, when to breathe and when not to breathe; when to slow down or speed up; and when to stop. An actor who understands that the text should move, that it should tumble tumble tumble until the pause has been earned. An actor who sees every line of dialogue as an opportunity to reveal something new about her character; who understands that there is revelation in the pulling back of layers.
It is a tremendous gift to find such an actor. A tremendous gift and a tremendous opportunity.
I knew from the first rehearsal of Broadbend, Arkansas—from the very first read-through—that Danyel would make me a better writer and that I would write her a role that she would not soon forget.
Danyel brought all of herself to Ruby, the single mother who discovers that her fifteen-year-old son has been beaten by a cop. She brought a matter-of-factness and a strength. A compassion and a wit. She brought her glorious voice and her luminous smile. Danyel brought all of these characteristics that were so unique to her—and she shared them with Ruby. She gave her life. And I am grateful to her for that.
At the closing night party, I asked Danyel, “What have you always wanted to do onstage?” She’s still thinking. I can’t wait to write for her again.
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