Press Release: Lou Bellamy Directs
Renowned Pioneer Director Lou Bellamy Returns to SCR for What I Learned in Paris
Award-Winning Director Brings Knowledge, Passion To Best-Selling Author Pearl Cleage’s Romantic Comedy
COSTA MESA, Calif. (Feb. 8, 2022)— As the leading African American theatre director in the country, Lou Bellamy views his directing legacy as evangelistic, as a way to show future generations of theatre directors the art of storytelling comes with a responsibility to show the wisdom, courage and humanity of his characters in a respectful, honest manner for both audiences and actors.
“I’d like people to see my work and say ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to tell stories like that,’” Bellamy said. “I’m like Johnny Appleseed. I’m trying to spread the word.”
Bellamy’s latest attempt at spreading the word brings him back to South Coast Repertory (Artistic Director David Ivers, Managing Director Paula Tomei) for his direction of What I Learned in Paris by Pearl Cleage. The production runs Feb.19-March 19 on the Segerstrom Stage.
What I Learned in Paris reunites Bellamy with one of his former students at the University of Minnesota: Ivers, who earned an MFA from Minnesota. Bellamy taught in the theatre department there for 32 years. It reunites the pair for the first time since Bellamy directed SCR’s production of Fireflies in 2020. And it reunites the pair on a project both are passionate about introducing to SCR’s audiences—especially during Black History Month.
“When he was here before, I’d say to him, ‘What’s next? What should we work on next?’ Because there was always going to be something in consideration,” Ivers said. “We both share a passion for Pearl Cleage and I’ve always wanted to produce Blues for an Alabama Sky. He kept pushing me on Paris and was equally passionate about it. I caught it at the right moment. … After some other theatres announced they were doing Blues, I sat down and read Paris again. And I said ‘Good, old Lou. He’s right again.’
“It’s a great thing as an artistic director when you have an artist you want to hire and they become passionate about a project you haven’t thought of. And you say ‘Oh, wow.’ I’ve always admired and wanted to produce Pearl Cleage. We have never produced her work at SCR.”
The timely marriage of Cleage’s romantic comedy with Bellamy is the perfect theatrical vehicle for Black History Month. What I Learned in Paris takes you behind the scenes to the ordinary people behind the scenes of Maynard Jackson’s 1973 election as the first African American mayor of Atlanta. Love triangles mix with office politics to create a fast-paced romantic comedy that addresses the intersection of race, class and gender.
It merges Cleage’s remarkable ability to tell a compelling, entertaining story through the eyes of ordinary people with Bellamy’s incomparable skill directing plays with timely and relevant messages.
“African American writers perceive the position of African Americans in the U.S. as tenuous and fraught with issues and these playwrights write within the context of the world they’re in. They have to address that,” Bellamy said. “Pearl Cleage has done exactly that in centering her play in 1973 around Maynard Jackson’s election. But it’s a rom-com. You get all the info, the stakes are all there, the consequences of racism and all those things are still around. But yet, she’s found a space for joy around that. People have babies and affairs. It’s a relief. This remains true to what’s happening in the world. But it’s happy. You laugh. And we need to laugh.”
This illustrates Ivers’ statement that Bellamy possesses a total command of the material he produces. He understands on every level the lessons his productions impart and how the characters of his plays can best deliver them. As the founder and artistic director of Penumbra Theatre Company in St. Paul, Minn., Bellamy built the nation’s premier theatre dedicated to exploring the African American experience.
In 1977, Bellamy first produced and directed celebrated African American playwright August Wilson. He established Penumbra as a leading producer of Wilson’s work, starting with that 1977 production of Black Bart and the Sacred Hills. Bellamy won an Obie Award in 2007 for directing Wilson’s Two Trains Running.
During the 1999-2000 season at Penumbra, Bellamy produced and directed Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky. In 2015, he directed What I Learned in Paris for Indiana Repertory Theatre. He’s read all of Cleage’s works and says he talks to her “more than occasionally.”
“She’s been lovely and very, very helpful in the process. I love her writing,” Bellamy said.
The fact he gets to work with one of his former students further deepens Bellamy’s commitment to introducing SCR’s audiences to Cleage’s works. They crossed paths in school, at theatres in Denver and Oregon, but never worked together before Fireflies. Bellamy said being hired by a former student ties the whole experience together.
“It’s really satisfying to be a teacher and be hired by a student. It’s fun. This is why you did it. This is a labor of love,” Bellamy said.
“I’m excited he’s back and the play is in good hands,” Ivers said. “That’s really the highest compliment I can give him. It’s in the best hands and it’s in the right hands.”
More information on What I Learned in Paris and all SCR’s production is available at www.scr.org.
ABOUT SOUTH COAST REPERTORY: Tony Award-winning South Coast Repertory, founded in 1964, is led by Artistic Director David Ivers and Managing Director Paula Tomei. SCR is widely recognized as one of the leading professional theatres in the United States. While its productions represent a balance of classic and modern plays and musicals, SCR is renowned for its extensive new-play development program—The Lab@SCR—which includes one of the nation’s largest commissioning programs for emerging, mid-career and established writers. Of SCR’s more than 500 productions, one-quarter have been world premieres. SCR-developed works have garnered two Pulitzer Prizes and eight Pulitzer nominations, several Obie Awards and scores of major new-play awards. Located in Costa Mesa, Calif., SCR is home to the 507-seat Segerstrom Stage, the 336-seat Julianne Argyros Stage and the 94-seat Nicholas Studio. www.scr.org