Quick Chat: Gavin Lawrence on "In the Wake of Our Shadow: Black Voices: the Podcast!

Posted February 15, 2022

In The Wake Of Our Shadow Web 01

The popular video series is now a podcast! We checked in with Core Company member and host Gavin Lawrence on what it was like to make the leap to podcaster, and a bit on his chat with theater phenom Greta Oglesby.

You may recall, about a year ago, we released the first episode of this video series, featuring Core Company Member Gavin Lawrence speaking with African American artists about their lives and work. Since that time, the series has migrated to a fully audio format, and recently dropped its first podcast episode! Gavin joined us on a break from his rehearsals of Quan Barry’s The Mytilenean Debate, (produced by Forward Theater Company at the Overture Center February 24 – March 13, 2022) to chat about the shift to a full audio format and his conversation with Greta Oglesby. Listen to the first episode, and follow, like and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify!

APT: How did you come up with the idea for the original video series, "In the Wake of Our Shadow: Black Voices"?
Gavin Lawrence: Well, the idea for the series grew out of conversations that I had been having with Brenda about classical theater and what we seek to achieve at American Players. I've always wondered why we continue to only define classical theater or classical writing through the lens of Western playwrights or Western writers. There are many other artists, many artists of color, many women, who write in the vein of beautiful, poetic, muscular language, but we haven’t really been looking to them. I mean, it was just recently in 2019 when we did our first August Wilson. Right?

The first question I had when I first came to APT, before I even worked here, was why have you all not done August Wilson? He's one of our greatest writers. So as the theater is in the process of revisiting what we would call classical, we are looking at artists who may not fit the traditional image of that word. And it was during that conversation with Brenda that we thought I could create a video series where I’d specifically speak to writers of color, Black writers, African American writers, about language and about their idea of poetry, or their idea of timeless writing, and just have a discussion. I believed that at the end of those discussions, we, as an audience, might have a slightly different idea or definition of what classical writing is.

APT: While you were creating the videos, what did you learn, maybe through the conversations or the process, about the series? And what made you decide to pivot to audio only?
Gavin: Well, here's the thing. The title of it is "In the Wake of our Shadow: Black Voices." And so the more I spoke with people like Carlyle Brown, Amy Quan Barry, or especially Dianne McIntyre, the more I realized that our voices are not only projected in the form of the written word. You know, actors, dancers, singers – they are also our voices. I realized that it was really important to investigate all the different mediums, not just the world of literature or playwriting specifically.

We'd always hoped that we could transition to a podcast. Because I personally feel that when I listen to a podcast, I can concentrate and understand more of what is being discussed, as opposed to when I watch a video. Sometimes you get a little distracted by what they're doing physically. I just love the podcast format. I think it allows you to use your imagination, and to get a fuller kind of one-on-one experience with the speaker. And we’ve been able to make that transition, thankfully.

APT: Let’s talk a little about the first episode of the podcast, and your conversation with Greta Oglesby, who’s coming back to APT this season for the first time since 2016.
Gavin: Sure. Greta started out not as a theater artist, and didn't really come to the world of theater until later in her life. So she was very happy working as an accountant for most of her younger adult life, and had heard about some audition for a musical at a church, if I'm not mistaken and decided to try. It was at that point that she somehow realized that theater was her passion, but she hadn't really been looking for it. Since then, she has had this really amazing, successful career in which artistic directors around the country who know of her want her to come work at their theater. So we traced her journey.

We also talk a lot about her book – she's written a book that then she adapted as a play, called Mama 'n Nem: Handprints on My Life. It was recently produced at Ten Thousand Things Theater in Minneapolis as a stage production and then filmed so that it could be presented virtually. It’s about her family life, growing up in Chicago, and dynamics with her father in particular. And the journey that brought them to a place of understanding and love as she was about to go off to college. So yeah, Greta is funny. Greta is engaging. And it's just a wonderful story to share. I think our audiences will be really moved by her story.

APT: I didn't realize the two of you had such a long history, or that she acted in one of your plays.
Gavin: Yeah, yeah. We did a play in Minneapolis, wow, I think it was 2002. An autobiographical piece about my grandmother called Salt Fish and Bakes. And in that play, cooking happens in real time on stage. And so Greta had to learn how to make what is a somewhat complicated dish. There are two parts to it – she has to make this dish out of codfish and boil it and fry it up, and then she has to make these bakes, which are like these biscuits. And then we have to feed them to the audience at the end of the play.

So Greta was nervous. It’s not an easy dish to make, and she wanted to make sure that tasted right. Also, while she's making the meal she’s also talking to the audience about her life, and taking care of her daughter, my aunt, who’s about to join her ancestors. So she's preparing her for that journey. Greta was doing a lot of things at the same time while trying to master the accent from my home country, which is Guyana - a Guyanese accent. I think Greta mentioned in the podcast that it's probably the hardest thing she's ever done. But yeah, we go back. We worked quite a few times together in the Twin Cities. Yeah.

APT: As the podcast progresses, what are your hopes for what you want to get from this project personally, and what do you want the listeners to take away from it?
Gavin: Well, it's interesting because I think we are at a crossroads as a country, and it feels like we're also at a crossroads as a theater community with so many theaters responding to the We See You White American Theatre moment, post George Floyd, the land acknowledgements, etc. I believe the part that we, as a theater, play in this story can be significant. The decisions being made about how to move forward in terms of inclusion, in terms of diversity will affect our landscape for years to come, and I believe that "In The Wake Of Our Shadow: Black Voices" can play an important role in this. I'm hoping that introducing our audiences to a more diverse group of artists – many of whom they don't know, or had not known of before – will ultimately bring them to a richer experience as they see their own stories reflected in the stories of our guests.

And that is not to say that what we've done in the past wasn't worthy. But I think we will be even more enriched and come away from these experiences fuller, because we will see people and experience plays that come from a different perspective than ours. When we experience a new perspective, told beautifully and honestly, we realize that it's not that different from our experience. That’s what I think good art does – it creates a human connection, and it breaks away walls of race and ethnicity and gender. So that's what I'm hoping to do with this podcast - to introduce our audience to other artists whose work can then be embraced and valued by our community.

APT: What has been the biggest challenge creating the series, and shifting to the podcast format?
Gavin: Oh, wow. That's a good question. I don't like seeing myself on screen. So the fact that it's a podcast is really good for the self-conscious me. And there are certain skills, I think, that one has to develop to do good audio work. It’s just your voice and the voice of the person whom you're interviewing. I'm trying to learn how to sound a little more natural, but without sounding too conversational. Yeah, it's a delicate balance. You don't want to make the audience feel like they're not included in what you're talking about because it’s so personal, and at the same time, you don't want to sound stilted. I certainly don’t want to sound like I’m interviewing someone on, you know, the David Frost Show. Not that there was anything wrong with David Frost. I just aged myself. But anyway. We're learning. And that's one of the things that Brenda keeps reminding me - this is new for us. We're learning as we go. We all are.