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Hear from Northwest School of the Arts’ cast of ‘The Color Purple’

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This week, we hear from Northwest School of the Arts’ cast of the Oprah Winfrey Broadway version of “The Color Purple.” The school was the first to receive permission to perform the play, and the second school in the nation to put on the show, which ran in mid-September. The cast also filmed a promotional video, produced by GreyHawk Films.

Recently, the cast was invited to perform at the National Thespian Festival; that’s in the spring semester, in Lincoln, Neb. The school also plans an encore performance in mid-June, at Ovens Auditorium.

“(The performance) exceeded my expectations,” said Corey Mitchell, NWSA theater director. “The students really stepped up and the audience’s reaction took them to another level.”

Preparation: For the September performance, students began in early August, rehearsing 9 a.m.-6 p.m., six days per week. When school started, rehearsal moved to 4:30-8 p.m. every night. In all, they had about five weeks to prepare.

“It was a lot of pressure. It was the premiere in North Carolina and we had to live up to it,” said Mekhai Lee, who played Mister.

Becoming the character: To get in the mindset of their characters, students said they read the book, watched the movie, and often mimicked family members’ behaviors.

Danielle Hopkins played Shug Avery – an assertive, independent blues singer. This was a stretch for Danielle, who said she is not pushy or defiant. She read the text and watched the movie several times to learn Shug’s habits.

“What was unique about the show was that the show was so beyond our years,” Danielle said. “People were in awe at what we were able to convey.”

Stage manager Jordan Medley said he saw the cast come together as a unit during the shows. “Looking from the outside in, everyone in here had a relationship. Everybody was able to pull from something in their own lives.”

Challenges and inspiration: Many said participating in the church and African homeland scenes proved difficult.

Damond Garner went back to his South Carolina roots for inspiration, he said.

“My family is Southern and I wanted to see how they went about things,” Damond said. “I also watched my aunt perform African dances.”

Keston Steele, who played Celie, said she struggled with being the quiet character. “I’m the complete opposite of Celie,” Keston said. “I had to be quiet and that was really hard because I talk a lot.”

Rather than chatting constantly with friends and family, Keston said she quietly listened to conversation to prepare for her role.

Want to try acting? Here’s some advice: Joneke Percentie, who played Nettie, said to be a great performer one has to relate to the character and draw inspiration from life experiences: Put yourself in the character’s shoes.

Monica Nyenkan, in the ensemble, agreed, saying, “It’s really hard, but the outcome is so beautiful. Keep pushing forward.”

Penland: 704-358-6043; Twitter @BrittanyPenland
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