Interviews From Another Zero:

Yaegel T. Welch is Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird, playing at the San Diego Civic Theatre from November 29 to December 4.

"If I can put my words and thoughts into art, I feel heard. People connect, people, listen, and understand me better".
Actor Yaegel T. Welch

by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

To Kill a Mockingbird will have its premiere San Diego engagement at the San Diego Civic Theatre from November 29 to December 4. Academy Award® winner Aaron Sorkin’s new play is directed by Tony Award® winner Bartlett Sher and based on Harper Lee’s classic novel. ´Mockingbird was originally a part of Broadway San Diego’s 2019-2020 Season. While the touring company was performing in Seattle, I had the opportunity to engage in a wonderful and insightful conversation with Yaegel T. Welch who is reprising his Broadway role of Tom Robinson now on the tour. 

Welch, a Cali boy, went to John W. North High School in Riverside California and remembers his high school theatre teacher Michelle Grotness, fondly. She taught me so much about theatre and ingenuity. When I was in the program there, it was not necessarily the most major program but she did it all on her own. She could take paper towels and make a whole set for us, do the lighting, direct the show, cast it, and make sure that the music was together for the musicals and the sound. It was pretty much a one-person show that she was curating in terms of production and really showing all of us the ropes on how we can do theatre, different styles, and what you can do on stage. I was the only Black kid in that theatre program at the time because Black kids really didn't do theatre. It wasn't something that culturally was a part of our lives at least, during the 90s I should say. I was introduced to a world that I probably would have never seen or known about because of what this woman taught me. It wasn't even doing theatre that I learned... I always feel like I can be impassioned and sometimes misunderstood but, if I can put my words and thoughts into art, I feel heard. People connect, people, listen, and understand me better. I also feel a spiritual catharsis after a performance where I feel like I've given something to people that made them better. That, all started in a high school theatre program... 

The theatre addiction as he calls it, continued when he went off to college, then did more college to continue to another college. He has three degrees! Studied at Morehouse CollegeBrandeis University, AND the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Academy for Classical Acting (ACA), in conjunction with George Washington University. 

For the people who are not familiar with and/or did not learn about Harper Lee's 1960 book, To Kill a Mockingbird what does this play entail? and let us talk about your character and the changes the production has had from Broadway to the touring version... 
(please note there might be some spoilers for people that are unfamiliar with the book/play and trigger warning about physical abuse).

Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”) and Yaegel T. Welch (“Tom Robinson”). Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Essentially it is about how racism impacts communities both Black and white, it basically trails the Finch family and their journey trying to save a Black man's life who has been charged with raping a white girl. He clearly did not do it, but because of the system of Jim Crow that's been set up in the 1930s in America, he's on trial and basically, they are going to lynch him. Mr. Finch, our main protagonist, is trying to save his life, but there is no way. We see how this event transforms the lives of this lawyer and his three young children who are also in the story, two of which are his son and daughter. My character is Tom Robinson, I am the guy on trial. I think ultimately my character is a guy who has a really good heart! He goes to help somebody out a lot and this young white girl develops a crush on him. Her racist father sees that she is trying to come on to him and proceeds to beat and rape her but accuses him of doing it. 

Ultimately, it is a lesson about how ugly society was at that time because even somebody who is trying to do a good thing, and just helps somebody out as they're walking home, gets entangled in something and becomes a victim of a system that is used to oppress a certain culture of people a.e, Black people. This is a complex synopsis but I hope everybody gets it.

I have seen interviews and pieces here and there, where they say the production on Broadway before the pandemic underwent some changes for the tour and touches upon social injustice, that continues to this day! when we are in this new millennium, century, or whatever, and things still KEEP HAPPENING so, in this sense -without spoilers- can you share what differences or what can audiences experience in this tour?

I also did the show on Broadway and audiences sort of reacted in a very nostalgic way prior to the pandemic it was like "oh this a story that we know and love, that we grew up with" but we treated it like an event that was in the past. Cut to 2020, and we witness George Floyd, we hear about Breonna Taylor, we see these Black people who are being killed at the hands of the law and there is no justice being served for them and in someway we are trying to convict them for their past flaws or their past behavior and saying it is ok that they died because look at who they were and it is like oh NO, we just saw you sit on somebody's neck and let them die as they were saying "I can't breathe, I can't breathe" and you are saying it is their fault and you had nothing to do with it, we call BS on that. You do not sit on somebody's neck for 9 minutes. 

So, after the pandemic, we got back to Broadway, and remounted the show last October; what we saw were audiences that were so in a call-and-response mode, there were like "this is so wrong!", there were boos and hisses, people were impassioned because this is no longer a story that is encapsulated as part of our past, this is still happening! So, it made the story current in a way that we hope it should not be, but it is, and it is sad that it is. 

This gives credence to the fact that we need to tell this story because people need to learn that this was happening this long ago, this book was written in the 1960s, and this is the story about the 1930s, we are now in 2022, and guess what? WE SEE IT HAPPENING, there is so much truth in it! 

Another one of the big changes that happened, on Broadway, when Tom Robinson dies, Aaron Sorkin (playwright) cut it down to him getting shot five times in the back, originally... now this is a one-armed man who they say, was shot five times in the back climbing a fence, tell me, how a one-armed man is going to climb a fence? it is not likely! you need two arms! In the book originally, Harper Lee the author says he was shot seventeen times in the back and Aaron Sorkin put it back in. Originally he said it was too dramatic, seventeen times but actually, no it is not. That is what they did! It was not an accidental killing, they shot him seventeen times! Because they murdered him and to tell the rawness of that is to really tell the truth of the time that they were just murdering Black men then, it wasn't anything and they did not have to justify it. They can make up a story that a one-armed man was climbing a fence. Though the story is fictional, there are true accounts of these things happening to Black men at the time and it brings truth to that. Alternately I think what it does is create a larger sense of empathy. To be white in America and witness George Floyd, you do not have to be Black to empathize with the fact that that is wrong. How can we start to empathize with others' pain though it does not affect us? and what we can see in a moment, it does affect our community and our psychology in the long run. How can we empathize with the struggle and pain of others? an injustice to one person is an injustice to us all. Especially for kids, this story really addresses how kids have to deal with seeing and witnessing these things. What does that say and teach them? How do we reprogram those injustices from being normal? We are putting the injustice in the audience's face and asking what do you think? That is why this story unites.

Yaegel T. Welch (“Tom Robinson”) and The Company of To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo by Julieta Cervantes

In an interview with Broadway World piggybacking on what we are talking about now, Welch shared some beautiful words saying that he is part of something really transformative for society. He has been with the production for three years acting along with Ed Harris and Jeff Daniels, sharing as well that he will have worked in this production for about 4 years total and it is the longest he has been part of one project.

As Yaegel points out the Broadway audiences' reaction to the piece, I ask him how has the reaction been specifically with the audiences on tour across the US...

Surprisingly, it is different. Sometimes we go to cities that see a lot of theatre, get a lot of big plays and shows, and have a thriving theatrical regional theatre/theatrical community that is there, their reaction tends to be still and to listen, and there are other communities we go to where THIS is the big event! This is the Super Bowl for the weekend, it is packed! 

On Broadway I think the Shubert Theatre was 1,400 seats, sometimes we are playing places that are 3,000 seats and it is a big communal event and the place is packed every night. When you think about it, you are like "wow, we were here for two weeks and we brought in 3,000 people every single night!". It is really great that people are coming out to see the play and that it is being received so well. Communities are different, sometimes communities know this type of injustice because they are in parts of the country where it is a little more visible and they really relate. Also, audiences are different from night to night, a Sunday night audience will be different from a Friday night audience. It is a great challenge and also a great privilege to get to play in all these different venues, America has some beautiful theatres. 

Your theatre training is pretty hefty...what advice would you give to young aspiring kids that want to pursue a career in theatre? what would your words of wisdom be? 

I would say try it out, take a class, get into an improvisation class and I think ultimately if you decide that you do want to do it, figure out why you want to act and what stories you would like to tell. Some days it is fun and easy and you are just excited. On other days it is a job, but I think that when you have a purpose behind it, you keep going. Purpose sort of fuels you to stick with it when it gets hard. When the meals aren´t coming in as meaty, full of protein and steaks, salmons, and shrimp. You need something to fuel you to keep going because like anything, it is going to get hard. Watch lots of plays, read lots of plays, and go to lots of movies. Find your favorite actors, your favorite playwrights, and your favorite style of movies. 

Try to write yourself, play around on YouTube, and see if you can create stories, and really understand camera angles, light, and sound, learn everything you can about the business. Volunteer, sit in the rehearsal process, the more you put it out there, I am sort of a spiritualist and I believe that the universe gives all of that back to you, you just have to put it out there, people have to know that that, is what you want.

Be bold and be willing to not be so good at first because that is how you get better.

Do you teach? if you do, it shows, if you do not, you should... laughs... 

Anything that you would like to add?

Come out, see, and support our show we have some great performances, there is the legendary Richard Thomas who everybody knows is John-boy from the Waltons, he's been on Ozark recently but he has done so much it'd be impossible to list his resume and he is a fantastic, wonderful actor to work with. Then there's Mary Badham who is the original Scout in the movie To Kill a Mockingbird and now she is playing Mrs. Henry Dubose. Melanie Moore a fantastic young actress who won So You Think You Can Dance I think in 2012, she plays Scout, and Jacqueline Williams a legendary Chicago actress who plays Calpurnia, there is just a lot of talent in this play and people should really come witness it. If you come, we hope you leave more in tune with empathy and transformed into a better individual and person.

Digital Lottery

There is a Broadway Direct Digital Lottery for $35 TICKETS for every performance this week

Entries for each performance will be available from 10am-3pm the day prior to the performance. Entrants will be notified if they are selected via email.

Enter directly through the Broadway San Diego App on the Apple Store or Google Play

You can also enter the Lottery directly through the Broadway Direct website HERE.

La Jolla Playhouse Stages Shakespeare Like it is 2022

In Association with Diversionary Theatre, the Production of As You Like It is a Wonderfully Reconceptualized Piece with Trans, Non-Binary and Queer Performers. 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Members of the cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s production of AS YOU LIKE IT, by William Shakespeare,
co-directed by Christopher Ashley and Will Davis, produced in association with Diversionary Theatre;
photo by Rich Soublet II.

What a wonderful take this is of the rom-com that started it all. The vision of this reimagined As you Like It co-directed by Christopher Ashley and Will Davis is creative and just make-you-feel-good-happy. The cast, most of them in their La Jolla Playhouse debut is also an accomplishment to celebrate. I am all for supporting local talent and nourishing it. These performers come from everywhere and that is just exciting.

Alrighty, let us get to the play: The scene starts with a pop in a wrestling ring and most of the cast onstage to get a feel of who is who. Oliver (Tairekca L.A) and Orlando (Esco Jouléy) are brothers and their father has passed. Oliver the oldest sibling, takes advantage of their father's absence to leave Orlando without means or education so he challenges the reigning champion Charles to a wrestling match to set his own future. Oliver is so jealous and does not want his brother to succeed so he decides it is better for Orlando to be dead.

Rosalind (Peter Smith) lived with her uncle Duke Frederick (Rachel Crowl) and his daughter Celia (Jen Richards). Frederick banished his brother Duke Senior (David Greenspan) to the Forest of Arden, years ago. In the wrestling match, Rosalind sees Orlando and falls for him. Frederick goes paranoid and banishes Rosalind but Celia does not agree and decides to go with her to the Forest of Arden to look for Rosalind's Dad. They go in disguise, change their names, and are now siblings. Celia is Aliena and Rosalind, Ganymede. Scared to go by themselves, they bring Touchstone (Cody Sloan). Orlando catches wind that Oliver wants to kill him so he flees to the forest too. There, Duke Senior lives with lord Jacques (Rami Margron). 

Meanwhile, somewhere else, Silvius (Jess Barbagallo) a shepherd, is madly in love with a shepherdess named Phoebe (Alanna Darby) who can care less because she is smitten by Ganymede A.K.A Rosalind. Corin, another shepherd, and friend of Silvius tries to cheer him on and convince him that his courting Phoebe will take him nowhere. Aliena and Ganymede are staying with Corin. Touchstone meets Audrey (Taiwo Sokan), a goat herd, and they find love.
(L-R) Cody Sloan, Rami Margron, Esco Jouléy and Taiwo Sokan in La Jolla Playhouse’s production of
AS YOU LIKE IT,by William Shakespeare,
 co-directed by Christopher Ashley and Will Davis, produced in association with Diversionary Theatre;
photo by Rich Soublet II.

The cast is marvelous in unison with double, and triple threats, they can sing, dance, act and be funny which makes it more enjoyable and easy to watch. There are musical transitions with songs like Fast Car by Tracy Chapman amongst other pop hits masterfully arranged and musically directed live onstage by T. Carlis Roberts. This added touch gives it such a fresh, present feel. Peter Smith has a beautiful voice with a potent range. Smith and Richards make a wonderful duo; you totally get that sisterhood and how they have each other's back, definitely feels like family. Jen Richards is so tender as Celia. Cody Sloan is hilarious and bold as Touchstone. Tairekca L.A and Esco Jouléy are the fierce, feisty duo as the two brothers that do not get along. Esco Jouléy is like a breath of fresh air and mighty in interpretation. Tairekca L.A is too a great mighty force. There is an interesting presence and alternate interpretation exercise where some of the actors play two or more roles. In Rachel Crowl's case as Duke Frederick and Corin the shepherd, it is such a contrast! Frederick is evil and loud whereas Corin is more laid back and even shy. Another cool part going back to the threats is that Crowl also jumps off the stage and joins Roberts to play guitar and base. Just awesome.

Alanna Darby is comical and very sassy as Phoebe. I mean the girl is not getting to her goal, who can blame her?

Once things fall into place and everybody has their person, towards the end, four weddings are celebrated blessed by Hymen de god of marriage (Esteban Andres Cruz) who is bold and a joy to watch.

(L-R, front): Rachel Crowl (“Duke Frederick”) and Esco Jouléy (“Orlando”) with the cast of
La Jolla Playhouse’s production of AS YOU LIKE IT, by William Shakespeare,
co-directed by Christopher Ashley and Will Davis, produced in association with Diversionary Theatre;
photo by Rich Soublet II.

The costume design by Mel Ng 黄敏萍 is as mighty as the performances I even think it gives them some magic dust to enhance the intentions because absolutely every piece is exquisite. Emmie Finckel's scenic design is bright, colorful, and functional as the Potiker Theatre has audiences almost all around and Finckle used the space well so each of the three sides where the audience enjoys the performance can get their own feel and flare of the piece.

The epilogue is a gift that wraps up the great performance and leaves it open for each individual to make it their own.

To more collaborations and more great theatre!

The creative team also includes Cha See, Lighting Design, ien DeNio, Sound Design, Alberto "Albee" Alvarado, Wig and Makeup Design, Chelsea Pace, Intimacy Staging and Fight Choreography, Ursula Meyer, Voice and Text Coach, Charles Means, Stage Manager and Matthew Bantock, Assistant Stage Manager.

As You Like it is currently playing until December 11. For performance dates and times please click here

What are each of us doing for the well-being of the planet and what does it mean?

The Children at MOXIE Theatre sets a vibe between generations with a Millennial Take on Baby Boomer Behavior  

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

The cast of The Children. Photo by Daren Scott

British plays are definitely different in feel and context. At least for me in my Mexican, border, Americanized culture, it takes me a while to understand them. This year, theatres ventured into the British play world. They offered San Diego audiences a taste of a couple of them like the lusty classic Abigail's Party with Backyard Renaissance, The Homecoming, a total rabbit hole presented by North Coast Rep. Now towards the end of the year, MOXIE theatre brings the San Diego premiere of The Children by Lucy Kirkwood. The first two plays have things in common: they were both set in the 60s/70s and written by men. Here, aside from being written by a woman which I think there should be more of in all theatres -produced plays by women playwrights- this is a new piece that premiered in London just 6 years ago and 5 on Broadway.

It is the first play I have seen by Kirkwood and I am looking forward to seeing more. The take in The Children has a total older Millennial vibe set on Baby Boomer characters. The story starts out inside a cottage in the middle of nowhere on the British coast, there is no electricity during the day and the day-to-day dynamic has changed due to a major nuclear disaster at a power station. 

Catalina Maynard in The Children. Photo by Daren Scott

Rose (Catalina Maynard) who's a nuclear physicist, comes into the cottage with a bloody nose. Not only did she surprise former co-worker and fellow physicist Hazel (Vanessa Dinning), she gave her a great scare as Hazel thought that Rose was dead and hits her with the door on her way in. Once both are settled and the blood has been toweled off, the old pals catch up. Rose moved continents, worked in the United States for a while, did not get married, and did not have any children. She asks about Hazel's oldest daughter Lauren. They have not seen each other in over 30 years, so Rose also asks, "did you have more children after Lauren?" Hazel had three more children, and all are in their thirties.

Both Hazel and her husband Robin (Neil McDonald) also a physicist, are retired and had a dairy farm that they had to evacuate due to safety and health concerns because of the radiation disaster. Hazel starts making lunch while explaining how their life has been since they left the farm. Robin comes home from precisely being at the farm where he spends every day and greets Rose. Glances are exchanged and once Hazel leaves to tend to a phone call, Rose and Robin start arguing, claims take place and Rose scolds him for having more children after Lauren. With the already existing tension, Hazel comes back to the kitchen and more raw exchanges take place. There is a clogged toilet, truths come out and Rose discloses not only her illness but the real reason she went to see them. 

Julie Lorenz's set design of the kitchen within the cottage is the perfect setting for this puzzling drama. It is detailed, looks, and feels used up which also adds a sense of Hazel and Robin's marriage. There was also the choice of centering the set, putting it right in the middle, and adorning the sides with black curtains giving it as well a 3D feel and deepness. Lorenz's design definitely reflects thought and as an audience member, that definitely is appreciated. The play unfolds mostly with Catalina and Vanessa and even though the exchanges go at a paced rhythm taking their time, the tension is always there. Kim Strassburger's direction is precise and thanks to that paced rhythm, it is curious to say but, you can feel the huge baggage lurking in these women's relationship. I credit that amazing invisible illustration to Intimacy Coordinator, Kandace Crystal. Seeing women in their late sixties hash it out like young girls because of all the unresolved drama was fascinating and relatable. Anyone sensitive enough will get it but mostly, people with baby-boomer parents and I believe Lucky Kirkwood has an issue of her own that she working through the play and layers an interesting quality through this Millennial take I mention both questioning and claiming what the past generation did to the planet and what the future will hold with what is left for the newer generations, the children. I felt it to be very present and wrapping up the piece -not the drama- with the message and you better take care of your mess.

Vanessa Dinning and Neil McDonald in The Children. Photo by Daren Scott

Neil McDonald's performance is shorter but deep. Robin has a million skeletons in the closet that are running out of space. McDonald's portrayal, in the beginning, seems to blend in with his fellow actors but then gets its own space having a direct tacit convo with the audience.

The creative team for The Children also includes Assistant Director Sandy Campbell, Stage Manager Gabby Stryker, Assistant Stage Manager Danielle Dudley, Set Designer Julie Lorenz, Costume Designer Carmen Amon, Lighting Designer: Ally Wood, Assistant Lighting Designer: Minerva Josiff Sound Designer: MaeAnn Ross, Assistant Sound Designer Sasha Gomulka, Props Designer Rai Feltmann, Technical Director Robert Malave, Dialect Coach Jo Anne Glover, Wig Designer Missy Bradstreet and Production Manager Desireé Clarke.

The Children is one of those plays that will leave audiences marinating theories and rethinking about what they saw. I believe it is the perfect deep conversation starter. Go and get your own take on it and have your own conversations. I mean, what are each of us doing for the well-being of the planet and what does it mean in our own generations?

Currently playing at MOXIE Theatre until December 4. There will be an ASL Performance on November 27 and no performance on Thursday, November 24 in observance of the holiday.

There are $15 RUSH tickets available at the Box Office 1 hour before each performance. For more information on performance times and dates please click here.

Please note that MOXIE Theatre requires proof of vaccination upon entering the space.