NAME: Shinelle Azoroh
My role in Gem of the Ocean is: Black Mary.
My previous SCR credits include: Gem of the Ocean is my first production with SCR.
My other credits include: Seven Guitars (Marin Theatre Company), Marcus or the Secret of Sweet (The American Conservatory Theater), You and Betty and Coretta.
How do you relate to the character you're playing in Gem of the Ocean?: It's said in the text that Black Mary is stubborn. Much like Black Mary, I have dogged determination. Although stubborn, she has emotional depth and strength. She cares for the people around her, she's an empath, and she's an independent woman.
What was the defining moment when you decided to pursue acting as a career?: A series of events led to my decision to act. Since childhood, I had a passion for acting. In high school, my drama instructor pretty much dropped a production in my lap. From there, I cast, choreographed and directed my first production. Years later, I took theatre in college as an elective and a professor offered me a scholarship if I joined the university’s theater program.
What play has had a lasting impression on you?: American Buffalo. In graduate school, I hosted a play in my very own home. A few of my peers and I thought it would be interesting to switch the race of the characters to two older black gentlemen and a younger white guy. After dissecting the play and manipulating the characters, we didn’t sleep for days because we were uncovering so much. The play became a mirror and a lens for all of us; we were able to see ourselves in it. The entire process added fuel to our creativity.
Who are your literary and artistic heroes?: My literary heroes are Maya Angelou, Zadie Smith, Lynn Nottage, Suzan-Lori Parks and August Wilson. Artistic heroes are the artists I come in to contact with daily that find a way to make me think and unapologetically navigate this earth.
NAME: Preston Butler III
My role in Gem of the Ocean is: Citizen Barlow.
My previous SCR credits include: This is my SCR debut!
My other credits include: Hecuba (Stella Adler Theater), Cotton Patch Gospel (American Coast Theater), Dead Awaken (Edinburgh Fringe).
How do you relate to the character you're playing in Gem of the Ocean?: The journey of Citizen Barlow is one of purpose and discovery. August has him grapple with the complexity of being an American—What is freedom? What does it means to be a citizen? Oddly enough, it's a century later and I often find myself engaging similar questions. Citizen chooses to become a liberator for the people. Likewise, I believe I chose the same path when I decided to become an artist. These are defining times for America. Much like the characters in the play, we have an opportunity and responsibility to progress the ideas of citizenship and freedom for generations to come.
What was the defining moment when you decided to pursue acting as a career?: I actually wanted to be a professional athlete back in high school, but I ended up trying out for a school play and fell in love with performing. However, I think I realized later how theatre and art in general is the most powerful means for change. After that revelation, I knew that acting is what I was put on the planet to do.
What play has had a lasting impression on you?: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. This play truly illustrated for me the way in which art can so precisely capture the spirit of a character or a moment in history. Theatre is what then makes these people, moments and stories accessible to the world.
Who are your literary and artistic heroes?: August Wilson is one of the greatest playwrights to ever live. I take great joy in the poems of Langston Hughes, writings of Martin Luther King Jr., and the plays and spoken word performances of Aleshea Harris. As a multidisciplinary artist, my artistic heroes range from Denzel Washington to Art Tatum, Antoine Fuqua to Lupe Fiasco, Gina Prince-Bythewood to Common, Idris Elba to Eric Whitacre...I could go on haha.
NAME: L. Scott Caldwell
My role in Gem of the Ocean is: Aunt Ester.
My other credits include: Home, my Broadway debut; The Dreams of Sarah Breedlove, Goodman Theater; Lee Blessing's Going to St. Ives; Neil Simon's Proposals; August Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone. The Case for Christ, Concussion, The Perfect Guy, Gridiron Gang, The Fugitive, Waiting to Exhale, Mystery Alaska, Dragonfly, Devil in the Blue Dress, The Net, Dutch and Lost.
NAME: Cleavant Derricks
My role in Gem of the Ocean is:
Solly Two Kings.
My other credits include: Hair;
Vinette Carroll's Your Arms Too Short to Box with God
; But Never Jam Today; Brooklyn the Musical
. Moscow on the Hudson, The Slugger's Wife, Offbeat, Carnival of Souls, Bluffing It, Miami Magma, Basilisk; World Traveler.
"Sliders," "Thea," Drexell's Class," "Good Sports" and "Whoops!"
NAME: Hal Landon Jr.
My role in Gem of the Ocean is: I play Rutherford Selig.
My previous SCR credits include: I’ve been in more than 100 SCR productions.
My other credits include: The Globe in San Diego, the Mark Taper Forum, and Shakespeare Orange County as well as quite a bit of film and television.
How do you relate to the character you're playing in Gem of the Ocean?: If you mean what do we have in common, I don’t think very much. He is a peddler, the 1904 version of a traveling salesman and he is pretty good at it. I would be terrible in this job. But I prefer playing characters who are different from myself. That is what is fun about acting, creating a believable and interesting character from scratch.
What was the defining moment when you decided to pursue acting as a career?: I decided to become an actor after I was cut from the freshman basketball team at the University of Arizona. I was looking for something else to do, so I took an acting class. It turned out that, while I wasn’t a very good basketball player, I was a pretty good actor, so I stuck with it.
What play has had a lasting impression on you?: I would have to say A Christmas Carol. I have played the part of Scrooge for 37 years, and much of what I have learned about acting has come from trying to get the part right.
Who are your literary and artistic heroes?: There are so many. I’ll go old school on you for this: Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Sam Shepard, Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett and Charles Dickens. As for actors: Meryl Streep and the SCR Founding Members.
NAME: Matt Orduna
My role in Gem of the Ocean is: Eli.
My other credits include: Les Blances, Rogue Machine Theatre; Bars & Measures, The Theatre @ Boston Court; Fences, International City Theatre; Oedipus El Ray and Clybourne Park, San Diego Repertory Theatre; Macbeth, A Noise Within; Stick Fly, Mo'oelo Performing Arts Company. I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore, Grace of Jake, Baby Steps, Better Half: The Story of Tony & Leo, "NCIS: Los Angeles," "NCIS," "Ironside," "Pretty Little Liars," "The Fosters," "Switched at Birth," "Days of Our Lives," "Sons of Anarchy," "Mob City," "Family Tools" and "Legit."
NAME: Arnell Powell
My role in Gem of the Ocean is: Caesar Wilks.
My previous SCR credits include: This is my debut.
My other credits include: The Blacks (The Classical Thatre of Harlem); Othello (Veteran's Center for the Performing Arts); national tour of Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk; Hidden Figures; The Conjuring; "Greenleaf"; "The Mick"; "Bosch"; and "NCIS."
How do you relate to the character you're playing in Gem of the Ocean?: I like the fact that Caesar feels taken for granted and is totally misunderstood. In his own way, he is trying to save his people from themselves. On a lighter note, since I am the dad of two bright and energetic preteen girls, I am constantly encountering behaviors that I find absolutely befuddling. I think Caesar feels the same way!
What was the defining moment when you decided to pursue acting as a career?: As a result of my experience working on a scene from Athol Fugard's Master Harold and the Boys as a sophomore in high school, I decided to pursue acting as a career.
What play has had a lasting impression on you?: August Wilson's Seven Guitars
Who are your literary and artistic heroes?: Ralph Ellison, Octavia E. Butler, Michael Jackson and, of course, August Wilson.
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