The first time Greg Williams Jr. saw a production of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “Choir Boy” he wanted to stage it.
“When the show was over, I just sat there for five minutes. I knew I’d seen something incredibly special,” says Williams, artistic director for New Venture Theatre. “It was very simple, very powerful.”
The play was written in 2012 and addresses timely issues including bullying, sex, money and identity crises. The usual adolescent problems can hit young black men harder since they are taught not to express their feelings, Williams says.
“Choir Boy” centers around students at a charter school for troubled African-American teenage boys.
“The boys can’t stand each other because they are all different. Then a professor comes in and forces them to deal with a lot of hard and in-your-face things,” Williams says.
And yet, the play is a comedy.
Much of the humor comes from the way Mr. Pendleton deals with the students, forcing them to confront their own prejudices and throwing their own views back in their faces.
The professor marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He is frustrated that the boys are so focused on hating each other, the exact opposite of King’s message. Mr. Pendleton has to prepare the students for a choral performance, but first he must address their problems.
“Everyone is different and everyone thinks their way is the right way. They can’t get along enough to make the concert happen,” Williams says.
Traditional spirituals sung a cappella are woven throughout the play. Combining the old songs with modern issues makes a powerful statement about the importance of understanding the past in order to deal with the present.
Thirty-year-old Williams plays David, a boy who ends up at the school, not as a result of getting into trouble, but because his parents don’t want him.
All of the actors are at least 20 years old, a necessity given the play’s content. “When it’s heavy, it’s heavy,” Williams says.
When he decided to stage “Choir Boy,” he knew that he wanted to use the intimate Hartley/Vey studio theatre. The small space will be transformed into a classroom with the audience as students, making them feel like a part of the performance.
Williams says that he hopes everyone will also take home some lessons about kindness and tolerance.
“We’re all humans, and, at the end of the day, all we have is each other,” he says.
- CAST: Christian Jones, Pharus; David Sylvester, Bobby; Toi Bonnet, Junior; Greg Williams Jr., David; Marcus Anderson, AJ; Brandon Lewis, Headmaster; Roger Ferrier, Mr. Pendleton.
- ARTISTIC STAFF: Clarence Crockett, director; Kelly Latchie, set designer; Angela Perry, costumer; LaNea Wilkinson, musical director; Nikki Nadkarni, assistant director