The play written by Gertrude Jeannette, “Who’s Momma’s Baby-Who’s Daddy’s Child” opened May 27th with two successful runs prior to the official opening today, May 29th to a sold out crowd. I had a sit down interview with the Artistic Director, Ward Nixon. Mr. Nixon’s career spans over 20 years as an actor, director, acting coach, acting teacher and commercial print model. He recently directed Ms. Jeannette’s play, “Gladys’ Dilemma” which was nominated for three 2010 AUDELCO Awards, including best revival of a play. He has an extensive list of plays he’s directed through out the years. He is a proud member of AEA, AFTRA, and SAG.
Syd&Pia: Why “Who’s Momma’s Baby-Who’s Daddy’s Child”?
Ward Nixon: This is a play that has not been presented in over 20 years. The subject matter is timeless. Our family structure and family values (which are ultimately the core strengths on an individualized and national basis) seem to be faltering at an alarming rate. Family is so important in any society. This play focuses on the family unity, and, “why” family is so very, very important. One of the main points stressed in this play is that, through many a crisis, love, perseverance, honesty, patience, caring and understanding, most assuredly conquers all. Our job as Artists is to inform and inspire. It is my hope that this play does just that. This drama has many peaks and valleys, twists and turns, filled with tears and laughter, sorrow and hope. This is a must see play for the whole family. The writing is superb and the Cast is dynamic. We had a sold out house for our opening show last night. Our June 10th and June 12th shows are also sold out. We will play weekends from May 27th through June 19th at The Harlem School of the Arts Theatre, located at 647 St. Nicholas Avenue (at 142nd Street in Harlem). For reservations and information, please call 646-323-0223, or 212-368-9314.
SYD&PIA: Can you share more about the author and play?
WN: Ms. Gertrude Jeannette has operated theatres in community since 1950. Ms. Jeannette has worked as a professional actress in radio, film, TV, and stage for many years. In addition, Ms. Jeannette is a playwright and director and has written such plays as: This Way Forward, A Bolt From the Blue, Light in the Cellar, Who’s Momma’s Child-Who’s Daddy Baby, and Gladys’ Dilemma.
Ms. “J” or Ms. “G” as she is endearing called, received and was honored with the following: 1984 Outstanding Pioneer Award from AUDELCO, and various awards throughout the years. Perhaps most outstanding is the State or Arkansas where she was born. They honored by inducting her into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame on October 16, 1999. Of all her accomplishments and recognitions that have been bestowed to her, Ms. Jeannette is most proud of the work she has done in and around the Harlem Community.
SYD&PIA: When was the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Theater Company founded, do you and the members travel to other locations to put up productions?
WN: The H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players (Harlem Artists Development League Especially For You) was founded in 1979 by Ms. Gertrude Jeannette. We have a full season, running from October through June. We present three dynamic shows per years, consisting of dramas and comedies. We produce published and original (non-published plays). Currently, we do not travel to other locations to present our productions. However, that is an area that we are exploring, due primarily to interest generated by other producers who have seen our productions. I will keep you posted.
SYD&PIA: How did your love and interest in acting/theater spark? Was it always “there?”
WN: Every since I was little, as far back as I can remember (probably five years old), I always wanted to be an Actor. I very much love what I do. I love acting, directing, teaching and coaching. Many times I’m asked which of the areas I love the most, and my truthful answer is, “I love them all equally.”
SYD&PIA: What’s it like going from an actor to an artistic director?
WN: As an Artistic Director, there is a lot more responsibility. I have to plan the Season, oversee the entire creative and production process, from start to finish. As an Actor, my focus is to work diligently in thoroughly developing my character within the Director’s vision. It is not necessary for me to get involved in administrative or production concerns, as the Actor. Again, my responsibilities are greatly expanded as an Artistic Director. I enjoy very much doing both.
SYD&PIA: How was it like working with the cast and crew of the play? Was it more challenging working with younger actors?
WN: It was great working with everyone. We worked very hard, and, as a result, we have a wonderful production. Hard work and perseverance always pays off. I’ve had a lot of experience working with young performers. They have been great. I just recently directed the musical, “Alice In Wonderland”. There was a cast of 120 young performers. The production was a big success. The year before that, I directed the musical, “Willy Wonka, Jr.”. That cast consisted of 75 young performers, a very successful production. This production, “Who’s Mama’s Baby, Who’s Daddy’s Child?” has 5 young performers. It is my hope that they will have fond and warm memories of this production for many years to comes, and, will perhaps one day, tell their families’ about their experience working on and being in, “Who’s Momma’s Baby-Who’s Daddy’s Child?”
SYD&PIA: If you weren’t directing, acting, or getting involved in the theater, what would you be doing this second?
WN: You know, I honestly don’t know. Well, I might travel. I love to travel. There are so many areas in the world that I have on my list of places to see. I also might volunteer more time to pertinent social causes.
SYD&PIA: Which actors would you love to work with? (living or dead) Why?
WN: I’d love to work with my mentor and dear friend, Ms. Gertrude Jeannette, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Uta Hagen, Herbert Berhhof and Earle Hyman. Why?…Because they are all such great Actors. They have such a great respect for the craft. They totally emerge themselves into their characters, and truly “become”, rather than “act” when on stage or screen. You can learn so much by watching and working with such legends.
SYD&PIA: If you can choose one movie or play to direct in your own vision, but keep the storyline as is, which would it be?
WN: I’d say James Baldwin’s, “The Amen Corner”; such powerful, rich writing, and, a play that is very seldom done, with a strong message.
SYD&PIA: Any major theater figures that inspire you?
WN: Yes. Gertrude Jeannette, Uta Hagen, Herbert Berghof, Earle Hyman, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Sandy Duncan, Sidney Poitier and many others.
SYD&PIA: Any future projects that you’re not focusing on, but planning to work on? Anything you want to share.
WN: I’ll begin putting together and ultimately directing The H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players’ Fund Raiser event for mid/late August 2011. I’m scheduled to work on a film focusing on abolition, begin preliminary rehearsals for “Ariel”, appear in one to two productions during the remainder of this theatre season, and, continue to expand my acting studio here in New York City, TCA Acting Studios. And, there are several other projects that I’ve been asked to direct as well (in negotiation phases at present).
SYD&PIA: What else are you focusing on?
WN: I’m in the midst of writing a one character, one-act play that I will ultimately do. I’m still in the very early stages. The play will be historical in nature, a historical figure that is not widely known. I’ll keep you posted on the play’s development.
SYD&PIA: Any advice you would like to give to young aspiring actors, directors, and screenplay writers?
WN: I’d advise them to follow their dreams. Always know that they can do “anything” that they want to do. Set goals for themselves, but don’t let anyone else, but themselves, define their personal success. Enjoy the process of getting to where you want to be. Have a respect for the craft. Don’t get involved just for the perceived money and fame. Nothing is wrong with money and fame. But, get involved in the craft/profession because you have a genuine love and a definite respect for what you are doing. Again, know that through hard work, perseverance, positive thinking and a strong belief in yourself, you can do “anything” that you want to do. All the best to you all, and, continued success!