If you don’t already know Ansley Valentine, get to know him now…
In general, how did you become a director? Why Theatre?
In high school, I was a musical theatre junkie. I became a director, in part, because I wanted to be the one to shape how the big sets and things moved around on a stage. It wasn’t until later that I started to realize the pure power of storytelling and doing that with only a few resources could be just as dynamic and exciting as a huge production. While I do camera work as well, I am still a junkie for the theatre. The shared experience reshaped and recreated night after night is still the most thrilling to me.
Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that theatre- making was not just a hobby, but that it would be your life and your living?
When I left college, I could not find a job in my chosen profession: graphic design. I saw a notice for auditions at the Indianapolis Shakespeare Festival and got hired for their touring company. Ever since then, I have made my living in the theatre (with only a brief stint waiting tables).
What makes a play great for you? What are the certain qualities that you look for in a play?
I am most interested in creating an experience for the audience…a thoughtful, emotional journey to places unknown. For me, a great play is one that allows the audience to think and respond and reflect on their human condition. I love plays that generate an authentic response from the audience. Laughing and crying are equally wonderful.
I would argue that theatre-makers have a responsibility to culture. Would you agree? If so, how? If not, why?
I tell my students to recognize the power they have as actors and theatre artists. They have the power to change people’s lives. And those who try to reduce artists saying that we are simply “entertainers,” do a disservice to themselves and the artists. The works we choose to share with our communities should challenge, embrace and affirm our human existence. There is no higher responsibility.
Ansley, tell us about Barbecue by Robert O’Hara…
What was it about this play that ultimately struck you?
I was most moved by the clever storytelling. Robert O’Hara created something that is inherently theatrical but also takes on current issues in a creative way. I love satire and it’s ability to help us unpack the problems in society and culture.
Did you recommend this play for the current season? If so, why?
We were looking for a play that could be minimally produced with a small budget. At that point, other than the new play by Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin, our season did not have a piece written by a playwright of color. I recommended “Barbecue” because it fit the bill and also offered some great roles for students of color in the department.
Do you identify with any of the racial politics that Robert O’Hara evokes in this play?
I’m not sure what you mean by “identify.” If you mean do I see things in the world as he portrays them in the play, then the answer is a definite YES. O’Hara asks a lot of questions about race, identity, and stereotypes. He doesn’t provide many answers or course of action. I enjoy engaging the questions and hope the audience will think about what the answers might be.
Can you tell us a bit about the original vision and the journey to get to where you are today?
I don’t really have a good “sexy” answer for this question. I wanted to do a clean and simple production of an excellently written play. I wanted to put the words in front of the audience and let them decide what the lives of these characters mean. There wasn’t a heavy concept for the production. The playwright gave us concept-enough in his writing.
What was the casting process like?
Casting was a bit of a whirlwind. After the general audition call for all of the fall productions, we only had a couple of hours for callbacks. There were A LOT of people I called back as I was searching for folks with the right sense of innate comic timing and pathos. I was also interested to see new students and give new people a chance to shine. I think we found actors who fit the bill!
What has the rehearsal process been like?
It was a bit like a 3-ring circus. We had two rehearsal halls going, two assistant directors and one associate director. Because of the structure of the play, we could have more than one scene rehearsing at the same time. Also, we rehearsed the play in ways to encourage the actors to be creative and discover their characters. The comedy grew out of them organically and we spent the rest of our time refining and sharpening the moments.
What were some of your inspirations?
I actually had a random assortment of things and pop culture references that inspired the production. Everything from George C. Wolfe’s “The Colored Museum” to television shows like “Golden Girls” and Tracee Ellis Ross on “Girlfriends” and the lives of singers like Beyoncé and Whitney Houston, all found their way into the work.
What can a person expect when they go to see Barbecue?
People should expect to be surprised, to laugh AND to think.
When can YOU catch Barbecue by Robert O’Hara?
DATES: October 12-13th & October 16-20th at 7:30pm, and on October 20, 2018 at 2pm.
WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre, Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave.
TICKETS: Regular admission is $20 for adults, $10 for students. 812.855.1103 or theatre.indiana.edu.
*Interview by Christin Eve Cato, MFA Playwright Candidate 2021.