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Auditions for ‘Intimate Apparel’ promising

By Alana Hodson

Section: Arts

November 6, 2015

This year, the Brandeis theater scene welcomes two plays by the renowned Brooklyn playwright Lynn Nottage, whose refined works have examined cultural and personal identity, political injustice and the subtle effects of unexpressed intimacy in social interactions. Auditions for one of her plays, “Intimate Apparel,” were recently held on Saturday, Oct. 31, drawing in a talented crew of passionate Brandeisian actors.

“Intimate Apparel,” written in 2003, was inspired by a photograph Nottage found of her great-grandmother, whose life and character was entirely unknown to Nottage, aside from the fact that she had been a seamstress. Determined to understand the life of this familial stranger, Nottage embarked on a journey to discover the missing link in her lineage, and, as a result, “Intimate Apparel” was created.

The play is set in 1905 and is centered on a black seamstress named Esther who makes elegant pieces of lingerie for both high-end Fifth Avenue boudoirs and the more salacious scene of Tenderloin brothels. It deals with themes like gender and independence while Esther is torn amid the struggle of a love hindered by the societal restraints of social status. “Intimate Apparel” and its accompanying play “Fabulation” (2004) have earned an impressive collection of awards and commendations, including the 2004 Steinberg New Play Award and the OBIE Award.

There is really no question as to why Nottage’s most famous work inspired such an impressive turn out for auditions; “Intimate Apparel” has certainly won the favor of audiences across the country. Her creation of dynamic and captivatingly deep and unique characters is another alluring facet of the play.

Laura Goemann ’19 auditioned for the role of Ms. Van Buren, the mistress of the rooming house in which Ester lives, remarking, “She is a wonderfully complex character and her scenes with Esther are really interesting, filled with unspoken motives and subtle undertones.”

Another actress, Keturah Walker ’18, pursued the lead role of Esther. “She seems like she is unaware of herself and is still fighting to find herself,” Walker explained. “That is an issue to which women in my family around her age can relate, so I thought it would be cool to play a character who is searching for herself and on a journey of life.” For the challenge of taking on a new type of role, Walker also auditioned for the deviant role of Mayme, a fiery “lady of the night,” who wears Esther’s lingerie well. Both Goemann and Walker also recently starred together in the BET presentation of “The Love of the Nightingale” as Niobe and Philomele, respectively.

Boston’s Jacqui Parker is directing “Intimate Apparel” and has taken on many roles in addition to being a director, including being a playwright, an actress and a founder of Boston’s annual African American Theatre Festival. She has received the Elliot Norton award, the 2004 Boston Theater Hero Award, and she is a six-time winner of the Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Award.

Parker’s vision for the play is to display all of the intricate aspects of “Intimate Apparel.” “Every scene of ‘Intimate Apparel’ is titled after fabric. Beautiful, fragile, complicated fabric that is hard or almost impossible to get. This spoke to me because all of the characters are these things; their relationships are layered in all of these ways,” Parker said. “My vision is to work really hard to show how fragile, complicated and beautiful we are as human beings, their soft and rough exteriors.”

With her extraordinary collection of honors and impressive range of skills, Parker is a inspiration to many, and her presence has already influenced several Brandeis students, including Goemann. “This show, particularly, seemed like a great opportunity because a professional director from Boston is directing … [she] worked with me in the initial audition, giving direction and suggestions, which doesn’t always happen,” said Goemann. “It’s also more fun to work with the director in the audition, especially when she is as warm and encouraging as this director was!”

The auditioning process can be an arduous and nerve-racking process for both the auditionees who laboriously prepare for their roles and for the director who must decide the ideal person for each role from the unique pool of talent. However, it can also be an enjoyable endeavour.

“Auditions for every show are different depending on how the director works,” explained Management Assistant for the theater department Alyssa Avis. “Sometimes the director wants to see a memorized monologue, sometimes the director wants the actor to read sides with a reader in the room.” For “Intimate Apparel,” Parker chose to hold group auditions in which people auditioned by reading their lines together. The people auditioning were given eight scenes selected by Parker that showcased each character, and then they, depending on the role they were trying for, could choose which scene to use. Although the scenes did not have to be memorized, familiarity with the text was highly encouraged.

Some auditionees also relied on additional methods to prepare. “I prepared for auditions by reading the play and researching YouTube videos on the scenes that I liked and watching how the actors delivered certain lines,” said Walker. Group auditions have many advantages over the traditional reading of monologues, because, “I wanted to watch them learn and adjust in the moment. I looked for courage, hunger, patience and how well they listened to me as well as the other actors,” explained Parker. “In the end, I cast those who I felt would take this road of hard work, giving of themselves to others. Especially since this play is all about relationships.”

“Intimate Apparel” will hit the stage on March 3-6 in the Laurie Theater in Spingold. Another of Nottage’s plays, “Ruined,” goes up this weekend Nov. 5-8 in the SCC Theater.

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