Most people will be familiar with award winning actress Regina Taylor from her stellar work on TV series such as The Unit, I’ll Fly Away and in several films including Courage Under Fire and A Family Thing.
But of course she is just as well known as a stage actress, acclaimed playwright and stage director with several plays to her credit; Drowning Crow, Magnolia and The Trinity River Plays and certainly, Crowns.
Now this month, The Goodman Theatre brought back a much-anticipated, new and re-imagined production of Crowns, which Taylor is also directing.
EBONY recently had a chance to talk to the actor/director about how the play has changed—and changed her. Psst, she gives the low down on the inspiration for the “hat queens."
EBONY: So the first obvious question is why bring it back and why did you think it was a good idea to?
Regina Taylor: Well, because the Goodman Theatre asked me and because I thought it would be great to come back to a piece that I love so much. A piece that has had a wonderful life and continues to have a great life, and to come back to it as both the writer and the director.
EBONY: You directed the first production of the work so now after all these years how has your vision changed?
RT: I live in Chicago now and I wanted that to inform the piece as well. One of first things I wanted to do is to take look of the character of Yolanda, who was originally from Brooklyn, who is sent down south to live with her grandmother for a year. I wanted to make a connection with Chicago and so now she’s from Englewood. I show how violence touches the lives young people there. To look at the world from her eyes, a young 17-year-old girl whose brother was shot down in the streets. Her mother wants to refocus her daughter’s life so she sends her to her grandmother who introduces her to her circle of “hat queens” and they baptize her in her history. Teach her her history and traditions in order for her to rise back up again.
EBONY: Did you any rewrites for this new production?
RT: The storyline is the still same, but you have new music, you have new choreography, you have new dialogue, it’s different. A different perspective.
EBONY: Speaking of “hat queens,” your mother was one, wasn’t she?
RT: While I was researching first researching the work I went to visit my mother in Dallas and she walked me to a closet and my mother was a “hat queen”. She had over 100 different hats lining the walls and each hat had a story, a wedding, a funeral, a baptism and I learned so much about my mother during that afternoon. All these memories and she was passing on these stories complied under these hats that were her life that she passed down to me.
When we had the first production at the McCarter Theatre (in Princeton, NJ) that’s when I bought my first real hat. A big brimmed hat with beautiful feathers that moved. That became the same hat that I wore to my mother’s funeral. What my mother passed down to me was her stories. And that’s really what this play is about, what passed down one generation to another, and what that generation does with it to make it its own.
EBONY: The thing about Crowns and the way you describe it, it feels organic as say compared to your other plays such as Trinity River Plays or Magnolia. It has a life of its own, it breathes on its own, It deals with history, culture, language and music.
RT: It does. It’s a collage. It stared out inspired by artist Romare Bearden, a modernist who using collages was looking at African American culture, both secular and sacred looking at it through an artists's eyes and re-framing it using his imagination. His collages are of the past, present and future, not only of African Americans but of the world. So basically that’s what I’m doing. I took the book the play is based on, Crowns, and made of collages of words and memories, other people’s memories, a collaging of the music, a collaging of dance. I wanted to create a layered experience. We have the set, we have music, we have dance, we have the words, we have video. This is all a collaged experience.
EBONY: So you see it more as an experience than a play?
RT: I want it to be an experience. More than a play, I want to bring different people together, bring different communities together. I want to have dialouge with the young women of Chicago, the Yolandas of Chicago.
EBONY: Tell me if I’m wrong, but I get the feeling that you get more satisfaction from writing for the stage than you do from acting.
RT: Oh no, that’s not true! I love all of it. I’ve always been a writer. It’s always been a back and forth. I’m writing certain periods. I’m acting. When I was on the series The Unit I wrote a couple of plays and directed at the same time. For me, they’re all part of my whole body, the arms and the legs. I like my hands and I like my feet! (laughs)
You can find out more about Regina Taylor at her website www.reginataylor.com