All-star cast rehearsals for a major Broadway show can be filled with pressure and anxiety. But for The Trip to Bountiful cast it’s also about style, Chipotle and history lessons. During the press conference at Sardi’s Restaurant in New York City for the revival of Horton Foote’s classic play actors Cicely Tyson, Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Williams and Condola Rashad shared their rehearsal memories before the show begins previews on March 30.
In the play Williams portrays an emotionally cold daughter-in-law to Tyson’s character who sets about a journey to return to her home of Bountiful, Texas for one last time. Well it was anything but icy during rehearsals as Williams became so fond of Tyson that she bought her an expensive and stylish gift. “I came in one day with a pair of new lace-up navy high heel sneakers from Nike and Ms. Tyson commented on them. So I surprised her and gave her a pair,” says Williams.
But Tyson, a style icon, is in no rush to wear the heels. “I haven’t worn them yet. I can put those on the dresser and they will stay there and I will admire them for years before I put them on,” she says.
Williams also connected with fellow cast member, Condola Rashad as the two revealed their mutual appreciation of Chipotle for lunch. Yet what Rashad revealed that she loves more than Chipotle or acting is: music. The Tony-nominee has formed her self-titled rock band and is preparing for a tentative summer release of her debut album, Letter9. “My music is my first passion,” she notes. “It’s different music and new and what people want to hear. It’s a rock band. My mother [Phylicia Rashad] loves it though. I didn’t know she was gonna like it.”
For Gooding, acting remains his first love. The experience of preparing for this production has taught him new lessons about African-American history as the play takes place in the racially tense climate of the American South during 1953. “I haven’t been this in-depth in creating a character since Radio and Boyz N the Hood. So I've learned more about the civil rights movement.”
There was much to learn at the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce's Quarterly Sponsors Meeting, co-hosted by the Chamber and the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square. The focus was on tourism and its impact on jobs creation, business development and arts and culture. While there was great excitement shared about the economic benefits of tourism, GHCC President/CEO, Lloyd A. Williams reminded attendees not to dismiss local residents in their outreach efforts. “Most of the people who operate businesses in this community are not from this community, and they are not focused on the economic strength of Harlem residents who walk past their business on a daily basis. We spend too much time expecting outside people to support us without asking those inside to be part of it,” he advises.
With over a decade of success, one of the businesses that is catering to the community is Melba’s Restaurants founded by Melba Wilson. She confirmed plans to open another restaurant before the end of the year. “I am opening a new place in Harlem. It will not be an exact replica of Melba’s on 114th street or Melba’s 125 but there is a common thread which is comfort and seamless service.”
It was all about the community at the opening of the exhibition, Harlem Memorabilia: Reflections in Fiber. In honor of Women’s History Month, Community Works and The Interchurch Center presented the work of 18 fabric artists led by noted Harlem artist and quilt-maker, Dindga McCannon. The exhibit which is part of the Community Matters NYC initiative includes a collection of quilts and hand-made books, created with personal mementos that tell visual stories that are part of the fabric of Harlem. “Women are usually the keepers of memorabilia and this project is about women who have some history with Harlem telling our stories. We all have a love of the Harlem that used to be, as we eye the changes that have come,” says McCannon.
One of the most touching stories to emerge from the project is the collaboration between visual artist, Shimoda and her 88-year-old mother, Izola Emanuel, a former hat maker diagnosed with dementia. During the process of helping her mother create a quilt, Shimoda witnessed how the arts can be a healer for those with the health condition. The resulting artwork by Emanuel is entitled Dominica to Harlem, a tribute to her husband of 57 years. “Art really helps to stimulate the brain and give a sense of purpose. My mother now talks about making hats again. I’m thrilled that I can give back to her what she gave me when I was young,” says Shimoda.
It may not be a long-distance journey like that of Tyson’s character in The Trip to Bountiful, but with the story of Shimoda and Emanuel we learn there’s more than one way to get back home.
The Harlem Arts Alliance is a not for profit arts service organization celebrating 10 years of service to a prestigious list of members such as the Apollo Theater, the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, Columbia University, Harlem Stage (Aaron Davis Hall) and over 850 more cultural/arts institutions and individuals. The weekly column, Harlem Arts Alliance Presents: On the “A” w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture and entertainment scene in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of event/media content production company, Souleo Enterprises, LLC.