“Life is short, and it’s up to you to make it sweet.” – Sadie Delany (1889 –1999). Goodman Theatre revives Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, Emily Mann’s “warming theatrical event” (Variety)that celebrates the lives of “two strong, vibrant women dispensing joy and wisdom” (Chicago Tribune). Goodman Theatre Resident Director Chuck Smith’s production features Ella Joyce and Marie Thomas as the Delany centenarians, Bessie (1891 – 1995) and Sadie (1889 –1999), respectively, as they trace their lives in a heartfelt reflection of their family history and triumphs over prejudices in times of social unrest. The creative team includes Linda Buchanan (set), Birgit Rattenborg Wise (costumes), John Culbert (lights), Ray Nardelli (sound) and Mike Tutaj (projections). Kimberly McCann is the production stage manager. Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years appears May 5 – June 10, 2018 in the Albert Theatre (opening night is Monday, May 14). Tickets ($20 - $75; subject to change) go on sale at GoodmanTheatre.org/HavingOurSay, by phone at 312.443. 3800 or at the box office (170 North Dearborn) on March 16. ComEd is the Major Corporate Sponsor, Conagra Brands Foundation is the Major Production Sponsor and ITW and Pwc are the Corporate Sponsor Partners.
“Whether it’s two or 10 years from now, the Delany sisters’ heartwarming and honest account of 20th century America will remain one of the most important stories of our lifetime—and a timeless reminder of what life was like for individuals of color in this country,” said Director Chuck Smith. “I’m excited to reunite with two remarkable and accomplished actors, Ella Joyce and Marie Thomas, for what I know will be a riveting experience.”
In 1991, Hearth interviewed both sisters for a feature length article for The New York Times. Following the article, the trio stayed in contact and later co-authored Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years. The book, which chronicled the sisters’ 10 decades of life and served as a narrative of a century-long swath of American life, spent 113 weeks on The New York Times Bestsellers list. It was subsequently adapted for the stage by Mann and premiered in 1995 at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, New Jersey and was later transferred to Broadway, where it ran for 317 performances.
"I’m very excited about returning to my second hometown to work again with the brilliant Chuck Smith on this important classic and challenging piece of theater,” said Ella Joyce, whose previous work with Smith includes Lynn Nottage’s Crumbs from the Table of Joy. “I’m looking forward to sharing this adventure with the astute Chicago audience who will embark on an erudite and surprisingly wonderful profound literary visit to the past 100 plus years."
The Goodman production marks the second collaboration between Joyce and Thomas, who most recently completed filming the 2017 independent film Sweet Dreams, Mama.
“For me this production is very personal and feels as if I will be portraying many of my relatives—many of whom have lived to be 100 and older,” said Marie Thomas, who makes her Goodman debut. “It reminds me of the history of survival of African Americans in the south, which is what attracted me. I’m excited to return to Chicago and work alongside Ella Joyce and Chuck Smith.”
About the Delany Sisters’
Born in 1889 and 1891 in North Carolina, Sarah “Sadie” L. Delany and A. Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany lived together for more than 100 years and were two of 10 children born to Henry and Nanny Delany. Their father was born a slave in 1858, and later became the country’s first African American Episcopal bishop and vice principal of St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, NC. Their mother also worked at St. Augustine’s as a matron, and the sisters spent their childhood on the campus before moving to New York City to pursue educations and careers.
Sadie was a schoolteacher in New York City---the first African American permitted to teach high school-level domestic science in the city—until her retirement in 1960. She passed away at the age of 109 in 1999.
In 1923, Bessie became the second African American woman to work as a dentist in New York City. Throughout her tenure, she never once raised her prices from $2 for a cleaning and $5 for a silver filling. She retired in 1950 and later passed away at the age of 104 in 1995.
About the Artists
Emily Mann (Playwright ) is a multi-award-winning director and playwright currently in her 26th season as artistic director of McCarter Theatre, where she has overseen over 150+ productions. Her McCarter directing credits include the world premieres of Christopher Durang’s Miss Witherspoon (also at Playwrights Horizon), Theresa Rebeck’s The Bells, Joyce Carol Oates' The Perfectionist, Steven Dietz’s Last of the Boys and Anna Deavere Smith's Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (also at the Mark Taper Forum); Nilo Cruz's Anna in the Tropics (also on Broadway with Jimmy Smits, 2003 Pulitzer Prize winner and two Tony Award nominations); Chekhov's Uncle Vanya (also adapted) with Amanda Plummer; Edward Albee's All Over with Rosemary Harris and Michael Learned (also at Roundabout Theater Company, Obie Awards for her direction and for Ms. Harris' performance); The Tempest with Blair Brown; Romeo and Juliet with Sarah Drew and Jeffrey Carlson; The Cherry Orchard(also adapted) with Jane Alexander, John Glover and Avery Brooks; I.B. Singer's Meshugah (adaptor and director) with Elizabeth Marvel; the American premiere of The Mai by Marina Carr; Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba with Helen Carey; Strindberg's Miss Julie (also adapted) with Kim Cattrall, Donna Murphy and Peter Francis James; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Pat Hingle and JoBeth Williams; Chekhov's Three Sisters with Frances McDormand, Linda Hunt and Mary Stuart Masterson; Betsey Brown (co-author with Baikida Carroll and Ntozake Shange) and The Glass Menagerie with Shirley Knight, Dylan McDermott and Judy Kuhn. She is also the author of Greensboro (A Requiem); author and director of Execution of Justice at The Guthrie Theatre and on Broadway (winner of the HBO New Plays USA Award, Helen Hayes Award, Bay Area Critics Circle Award and nominated for a Drama Desk Award); Still Life (six Obie Awards, including playwriting, direction and production of the season) and Annulla, An Autobiography. Mann wrote and directed Having Our Say, adapted from the book by Sarah L. Delany and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth at the McCarter and on Broadway. The play received three Tony nominations, including Best Play and Best Direction, a Drama Desk Award nomination, a Jeff Award, a NAACP Award, and for the television adaptation’s screenplay, Peabody and Christopher Awards. A winner of the Dramatists Guild Hull-Warriner Award, she is a member of the Dramatists Guild and serves on its council. In 2002, she received an honorary doctorate of arts from Princeton University.
Chuck Smith (Director ) is a member of Goodman Theatre’s Board of Trustees and is Goodman Theatre’s Resident Director. He is also a resident director at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe in Sarasota, Florida. Goodman credits include the Chicago premieres of Objects in the Mirror; Pullman Porter Blues; By the Way, Meet Vera Stark; Race; The Good Negro; Proof and The Story; the world premieres of By the Music of the Spheres and The Gift Horse; James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner, which transferred to Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company, where it won the Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Award for Best Direction; A Raisin in the Sun; Blues for an Alabama Sky; August Wilson’s Two Trains Running and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Ain’t Misbehavin’; the 1993 to 1995 productions of A Christmas Carol; Crumbs From the Table of Joy; Vivisections from a Blown Mind and The Meeting. He served as dramaturg for the Goodman’s world-premiere production of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean. He directed the New York premiere of Knock Me a Kiss and The Hooch for the New Federal Theatre and the world premiere of Knock Me a Kiss at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater, where his other directing credits include Master Harold... and the Boys, Home, Dame Lorraineand Eden, for which he received a Jeff Award nomination. Regionally, Smith directed Death and the King’s Horseman (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Birdie Blue (Seattle Repertory Theatre), The Story (Milwaukee Repertory Theater), Blues for an Alabama Sky (Alabama Shakespeare Festival) and The Last Season (Robey Theatre Company). At Columbia College he was facilitator of the Theodore Ward Prize playwriting contest for 20 years and editor of the contest anthologies Seven Black Plays and Best Black Plays. He won a Chicago Emmy Award as associate producer/theatrical director for the NBC teleplay Crime of Innocence and was theatrical director for the Emmy-winning Fast Break to Glory and the Emmy-nominated The Martin Luther King Suite. He was a founding member of the Chicago Theatre Company, where he served as artistic director for four seasons and directed the Jeff-nominated Suspenders and the Jeff-winning musical Po’. His directing credits include productions at Fisk University, Roosevelt University, Eclipse Theatre, ETA, Black Ensemble Theater, Northlight Theatre, MPAACT, Congo Square Theatre Company, The New Regal Theater, Kuumba Theatre Company, Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, Pegasus Players, the Timber Lake Playhouse in Mt. Carroll, Illinois and the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He is a 2003 inductee into the Chicago State University Gwendolyn Brooks Center’s Literary Hall of Fame and a 2001 Chicago Tribune Chicagoan of the Year. He is the proud recipient of the 1982 Paul Robeson Award and the 1997 Award of Merit presented by the Black Theater Alliance of Chicago.
Ella Joyce (Bessie Delany ) returns to the Goodman, where she previously appeared in Crumbs from the Table of Joy. She also appeared in the play’s world premiere at Second Stage Theater and the West Coast premiere at South Coast Repertory (AUDELCO Award nomination). Other world premiere credits include the role of Tonya in August Wilson’s King Hedley II and Risa in Mr. Wilson’s Two Trains Running, performed at Yale Repertory Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Huntington Theatre, The Old Globe and Pittsburgh Public Theater. Other production credits include Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park at Orpheum Theater and Don’t Get God Started at the Pantages and Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California. She is a regular performer at the National Black Theater Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Television credits include the co-starring role of Eleanor on Roc, and guest star appearances on Seinfeld, My Wife & Kids, Eve and The Jamie Foxx Show. Film credits include Set It Off; Bubba Ho-Tep; Selma, Lord, Selma; Stranger Inside; Her Married Lover; The Old Settler; Reality Bites; and the award-winning music video for “Waterfalls” by TLC. She is the voice of Zora Neale Hurston in the book-on-tape version of Ruby McCollum by Ron Milner, produced by L.A. Theatre Works. Joyce is the author of her self-published book Kink Phobia, Journey Through a Black Woman’s Hair.
Marie Thomas (Sadie Delany) appeared on Broadway in the musical Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope, and at Lincoln Center Theater in The Duplex and Antigone. She played Nina Dubois in Charles Smith’s Knock Me a Kiss at New York’s New Federal Theater, the National Black Theater Festival in Winston Salem, North Carolina, and at Crossroads Theater in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She received the Audelco Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance. Also at Crossroads Theater, she played Sister Moore in The Amen Corner and Dorabelle in The Disappearance with Ruby Dee. She received an Audelco Award for Best Actress for The Talented Tenth in New York and at Atlanta’s National Black Arts Festival. She also received an Audelco nomination for her performance in An Evening with Josephine Baker (off-Broadway and at the National Black Arts Festival). Other theater credits include The Summer House (The Passage Theater), King Lear starring Avery Brooks (Yale Repertory Theatre) and The Dance on Widow’s Row (New Federal Theater and The National Black Theater Festival). Television and film credits include The Cosby Mysteries, L.A. Law, Knots Landing, Amen, The Doctors, One Life to Live, As The World Turns and Hot Shots.
ABOUT GOODMAN THEATRE
AMERICA’S “BEST REGIONAL THEATRE” (Time magazine), Goodman Theatre is a premier not-for-profit organization distinguished by the excellence and scope of its artistic programming and civic engagement. Led by Artistic Director Robert Falls and Executive Director Roche Schulfer, the theater’s artistic priorities include new play development (more than 150 world or American premieres), large scale musical theater works and reimagined classics (celebrated revivals include Falls’ productions of Death of a Salesman and The Iceman Cometh). Goodman Theatre artists and productions have earned two Pulitzer Prizes, 22 Tony Awards, over 160 Jeff Awards and many more accolades. In addition, the Goodman is the first theater in the world to produce all 10 plays in August Wilson’s “American Century Cycle” and its annual holiday tradition A Christmas Carol, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this season, has created a new generation of theatergoers. The Goodman also frequently serves as a production partner with local off-Loop theaters and national and international companies by providing financial support or physical space for a variety of artistic endeavors.
Committed to three core values of Quality, Diversity and Community, the Goodman proactively makes inclusion the fabric of the institution and develops education and community engagement programs that support arts as education. This practice uses the process of artistic creation to inspire and empower youth, lifelong learners and audiences to find and/or enhance their voices, stories and abilities. The Goodman’s Alice Rapoport Center for Education and Engagement is the home of such programming, most offered free of charge, and has vastly expanded the theater’s ability to touch the lives of Chicagoland citizens (with 85% of youth participants coming from underserved communities) since its 2016 opening.
Goodman Theatre was founded by William O. Goodman and his family in honor of their son Kenneth, an important figure in Chicago’s cultural renaissance in the early 1900s. The Goodman family’s legacy lives on through the continued work and dedication of Kenneth’s family, including Albert Ivar Goodman, who with his late mother, Edith-Marie Appleton, contributed the necessary funds for the creation of the new Goodman center in 2000.
Today, Goodman Theatre leadership also includes the distinguished members of the Artistic Collective: Brian Dennehy, Rebecca Gilman, Henry Godinez, Dael Orlandersmith, Steve Scott, Chuck Smith, Regina Taylor,Henry Wishcamper and Mary Zimmerman. David W. Fox, Jr. is Chair of Goodman Theatre’s Board of Trustees, Cynthia K. Scholl is Women’s Board President and Justin A. Kulovsek is President of the Scenemakers Board for young professionals.
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