Discovering The Road – Personally and Communally: An Interview with Director, Shirley Jo Finney

by Fanny Garcia
of The Los Angeles Theatre Center in Los Angeles, CA
Volume VII. May-July 2013

The Latino Theater Company is currently busy working with the California African American Museum (CAAM), Native Voices at the Autry, Watts Village Theater Company, Center Theater Group, Ebony Repertory Theater Company and 24th Street Theatre Company not just to market the show but also to merge the audiences from each of these organizations to the road weeps, the well runs dry production in Los Angeles. In addition, the California African American Museum and Native Voices at the Autry are in the planning stages of co-curating a Seminole exhibit in the gallery space of the Los Angeles Theatre Center that will run concurrently with the production of the play.

In the meantime, I had the opportunity to speak with the show’s director, Shirley Jo Finney.

Shirley Jo Finney

Shirley Jo Finney

How did you become involved with the road weeps, the well runs dry? Jose Luis Valenzuela [Artistic Director at the Los Angeles Theatre Center] approached me to direct a reading of the play, but my schedule wouldn’t permit so I only glanced at the script. I did not see the page of characters and where it took place. A year a later, Jose Luis approached me again and asked me to take a second look. This time I was in another state of consciousness; I was open and receptive to a new story. I read the script and looked at the title page and read where it takes place and I gasped and this electric energy went through my body because my mother was born in Wewoka, Oklahoma, my family is from there. I looked up at the heavens because my mother is no longer with me and I acknowledged her. I went back to reading the script but now I turned each page gingerly and with great care because it’s like I’m going through ancestral history. This story is truly in my blood, it’s in my DNA.

Why is this an important piece of theater and literature? We don’t see this part of history or this region, the Southwestern stories told. One of the few theaters that tell these stories is Borderlands in Tucson, Arizona and they are specifically regional. But there are many stories about the migration of people, usually in the African American stories we hear about the migration, from the South to the North, the rural to the industrial. Very little is written about our history with Native Americans and our settlements in the Southwest and our contribution to developing this area of the U.S.  Marcus is writing stories that express the energy and heartbeat of today. He is one of the new myth-makers.

What themes do you want to explore with your cast? Family, roots, ancestor memory, the right to love and oral tradition. Marcus uses the African tradition of oral storytelling – a tradition that has been lost for many. The road weeps, the well runs dry is also about family. Community is family. We are looking at two communities coming together – the Seminoles and the Black Seminoles and their journey from Florida – having a home and being uprooted, it’s an immigrant experience.

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