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DALLAS SOLO FEST 2019

Sacha Elie

Solo Fest Q&A: Sacha Elie

Next in our interviews with the artists of the fifth Dallas Solo Fest, Sacha Elie on Who You Calling a Bitch?!?



published Friday, June 7, 2019

Editor's Note: The 2019 Dallas Solo Fest runs June 6-16 at Theatre Too, the downstairs space of Theatre Three in Dallas' The Quadrangle. Our coverage of the event will include interviews with all eight artists, and we'll also review each show as well. To see more info about the performers and their shows, as well as info on tickets, go here. All of our DSF coverage appears in a special section on TheaterJones. You can click the Dallas Solo Fest 2019 section title at the top of this page to see more articles. A full schedule of the festival appears at the bottom of this interview.

Here, Sacha Elie of Who You Calling a Bitch?!?, which begins Thursday, June 13 at 8:30 p.m.

 

Photo: Courtesy
Sacha Elie

Dallas — Sacha Elie is a Haitian-American actress, director, and producer currently based in Southern California. In her final year as an MFA Acting Student at UCLA, she came across an interview in which Diahnn Carol (of Dynasty and Julia fame) excitedly discussed playing the “the first black bitch!” The quote sparked Elie’s curiosity about how the term has evolved and intersected with her own identity as a black woman working in entertainment — enough curiosity for a solo show, in fact. Elie brings that show, Who You Calling A Bitch?!? to Dallas Solo Fest’s closing weekend, and TheaterJones caught up with Elie over email to discuss the piece.

 

Could you tell us a little about “Who You Calling A Bitch?!?”? You've made some revisions just before bringing it to Dallas, right?

Who You Calling A Bitch?!? is the story of a young African-American actress as she navigates her identity through iconic African-American characters and entertainers in black history. It’s a 55-minute interactive solo dramedy that chronicles the story of a young African American Actress, Raquel Mills as she struggles to find her identity through three iconic African-American characters. Dominique Devereaux, the wealthy and beloved scene stealing vixen of the 1980’s [prime time soap opera] Dynasty; Ms. Ray-Ray, loosely based off of several housewives of the Desperate Housewives’ franchise; and Mammy, the grounded, wise and lovable and the very controversial archetype from Gone with the Wind. The play examines the mental, emotional, and psychological hardship too often accompanied with the non-diverse and often two-dimensional roles written for women of color, that many black actresses far too often have to endure in order to secure visibility in the entertainment industry.

Yes, that is correct, as a writer you are ALWAYS making revisions. Society is constantly reevaluating and redefining race and gender politics in this country and with this show in particular, I’m always asking myself how relevant are these words, themes, characters and revelations are? It's a constant checking-in with myself in the terms of what story am I really telling and what is the best way to tell it.

So yes, there have been changes because the world was a very different place in 2016 when I originally wrote the show. I think what humanizes people is humor and through humor we can see humanity and real people and since things change so fast so quickly, I’m always checking in to keep the show grounded and human. It’s my responsibility as an artist, the writer, director and producer.  

 

The show explores various "bitches" from recent history, specifically through the lens of how that term or trope relates to Black women. There's a lot of really thoughtful research behind this piece — what was the most exciting or surprising discovery you made while researching?

It was actually a very emotional experience, which I think is very much in the show. I discovered that my personal experiences: the macro- and microaggressions, the misconceptions, and all the uphill identity battles within the industry, were rooted in troupes that have followed Black women throughout history both in society and in Hollywood.

Black women are often portrayed, more so in the 1800’s and 1900’s, in Hollywood as women with attitude that berated both their children and husbands, which are still, even in the age of “diversity,” are found in Big Hollywood, Oscar winning films today. Black women caricatures also include the “sassy mammies,” the fixer, a.k.a the “magical negro,” and the overly sex-crazed, angry, aggressive black woman that derived from the blaxploitation films, to name a few.

Even in the age of “diversity is in!” — which is, in my opinion, a horrible industry statement that I hear more than I would like to. These tropes exist in almost every role in 2019.  

I had a revelation about myself and my place in the industry while doing the research. The show became about reclaiming my “self-identity” and awakening to the lies that society had me believing was the truth about my identity and self-worth.

 

You've talked about feeling like an outsider in the acting industry. What is it like for you to move from "outsider" to front-and-center in this show as a solo performance artist? Has it shaped the way you relate to or understand the industry?

Wow! Front and center! Well, I think putting up a solo show you rarely feel front and center because, especially if you don’t have a big organization or a group behind you, it is a very “solo” experience. I still feel that I have to pound on doors just to get seen and heard when it comes to my show! I know people perceive me as being aggressive, but what most people are missing is that black women are rarely seen, so we, I, have to go the extra mile to be heard, for someone to say, “Hey! Here’s a helping hand!” Which is why it’s so nice to be a part of the Dallas Solo Festival; it has definitely taken some of the producing pressures off, which has allowed me to focus on the artistic journey.

Whenever I put up my show it reminds me actually how much of an outsider I really am. In order for me to truly be challenged artistically and to work as an actress, I have put up this show! It says a lot; it says a lot about our culture and industry.

 

You've mentioned that the show takes on new life with each audience interaction. What makes a "great" audience for your performance? What should audiences prepare to offer you in aide of creating the most "alive" version of this show with you?

That’s a great question! I think that every audience is different and one of the great things about improv and live performance is that it becomes a synergy between you and the audience. Every audience member makes it a different, unique and special run. I think people who take the time to purchase tickets and drive down to see you is great, Honestly!

Every performance is a whole new experience, so the pressure of trying to “recreate the magic” is taken off of you as the performer. That’s the fun part for me, letting go and diving in with the audience, they’re terrified, but so am I, so let's do this, no need to prepare, just come be you and I promise we will create a shared experience. I mean we might as well have fun while doing it!

 

I read that the spark for writing this show came from you feeling "othered" by the character you were asked to play in your thesis show, and as such this show is meant to speak to anyone else who has felt that way. I think so many artists can empathize with that feeling. I wonder if you can speak to your experience of making art inside of, and then through, that emotional space. How do you personally take care of yourself as an artist on days you feel ousted, or othered, or misunderstood, or confined? What is your hope for artists who find themselves in that space right now?

That’s a loaded question. I think for me and I hate to sound like a broken record, but again, it’s my experience as a black woman. I feel marginalized, “othered” daily. Daily. So, my art truly comes from that deep place of pain and frustration that I truly work hard to turn into joy for myself. It’s nothing new, that is the foundation of black culture, black art —turning pain into joy, jazz, dance, hip-hop, etc.

I surround myself with my super-small community, my family and friends that see my worth and really protect my spirit. It’s really important to me. I think society tends to put the complexity of humanity and individuality in tiny boxes that suffocate the wonder of who we are. We all can relate to that feeling of not being seen or heard and frankly misunderstood. I hope that through our personal journeys as human beings on this earth, we can connect and find empathy in watching someone else’s journey; That’s the hope I have for other artists who may feel misunderstood. Tell your stories, really take control of your narratives, shine a light on what the world has been trying keep in the dark.

 

You've said the play offers no answers but offers a conversation and asks questions. What are some other big questions you are thinking about right now? Will we get to see a piece about them someday soon?

Honestly… “Who am I? Really?”

Throughout this process I’ve discovered that I’ve been trying to fit into other people's narratives, of who I am, for so long, that I’ve never taken the time to fit into my own narrative.

The other day I found old headshot pictures of me posing as two characters. The first, an urban street, homeless kid. The second, an urban, rough, and unattractive hooker. These pictures were actually suggested and described to me verbatim by a “Big-time” Hollywood manager a few years back.

He believed that this was my believable “type” (true story) and it would separate me from the crowd because only his clients had these pictures, who worked all the time by the way!

I actually went to my theater company, raided their costume department, found clothes that fit the above descriptions and took these headshots. I remember scouting “urban” locations with my photographer, which to “make it look real”, again another suggestion from the “Big-time” Hollywood manager, I rummaged through the trash bins.

So, I have headshot pictures of me literally going through trash. Trash.

When I looked at those pictures, I cried. And then something happened. I’ve been struggling with a fear during this run: That because so many headlines and news articles are filled with things like, “Diversity is in!,” “Blacks actors are working and are in power now more than ever!” Will people find my show relevant? Does it still matter?

But looking at the younger version of myself, playing roles that come with a huge burden and history attached. It reminded me why my show is so important.

I let someone/the industry see me in ways I never imagined for myself. I’ve been trying to fit into other people’s narratives of who I am, that I've lost track of who I really am.

So much of that comes from hundreds of years of stereotypical caricatures that affect, on a subconscious level, how “they,” “the industry” sees me. But most importantly how I see myself.

I hope that if a young bright-eyed girl, with big dreams finds herself in a similar circumstance that she has a much deeper sense of who she really is, so that she can make a better choice.

So, I’m left to ask myself the big question, “who am I? Really?”

 

 

DALLAS SOLO FEST 2019 SCHEDULE

 

Thursday, June 6

7:00 pm... Sexology: The Musical! by Melanie Moseley

8:30 pm...  Girl Dad by Justin Lemieux

 

Friday, June 7

7:00 pm...  Cyrano A-Go-Go by Brad McEntire

8:30 pm...  Sexology: The Musical! by Melanie Moseley

10:00 pm... Based on Actual Events by Jaye Lee Vocque

Saturday, June 8

5:30 pm... Cyrano A-Go-Go by Brad McEntire

7:00 pm... Based on Actual Events by Jaye Lee Vocque

8:30 pm...  Critical, Darling! by Brigham Mosley

10:00 pm... Sexology: The Musical! by Melanie Moseley

 

Sunday, June 9

3:00 pm... Based on Actual Events by Jaye Lee Vocque

5:30 pm... Critical, Darling! by Brigham Mosley

7:00 pm... Cyrano A-Go-Go by Brad McEntire

 

Thursday, June 13 

7:00 pm... The Marvelous Mechanical Musical Maiden by Carmel Clavin

​8:30 pm... Who You Calling a Bitch?!? By Sacha Elie

 

 

Friday, June 14

7:00 pm... Girl Dad by Justin Lemieux

8:30 pm... Keeping Up with the Jorgensons by Jeremy Julian Greco

10:00 pm... The Marvelous Mechanical Musical Maiden by Carmel Clavin

Saturday, June 15

5:30 pm...  The Marvelous Mechanical Musical Maiden by Carmel Clavin

7:00 pm... Who You Calling a Bitch?!? By Sacha Elie

8:30 pm... Critical, Darling! by Brigham Mosley

10:00 pm... Keeping Up with the Jorgensons by Jeremy Julian Greco

 

Sunday, June 16

3:00 pm... Keeping Up with the Jorgensons by Jeremy Julian Greco

5:30 pm... Who You Calling a Bitch?!? By Sacha Elie

7:00 pm...  ​ Girl Dad by Justin Lemieux Thanks For Reading





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Solo Fest Q&A: Sacha Elie
Next in our interviews with the artists of the fifth Dallas Solo Fest, Sacha Elie on Who You Calling a Bitch?!?
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