by Oscar Wilde
Directed by Kevin Connell
Produced by Take Wing And Soar Productions
Nominations: Debra Ann Byrd is nominated for Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role and Gail Cooper-Hecht is nominated for Outstanding Costume Design
Photos by Hosea Johnson
About this Production
In order to give classically trained actors of color center stage opportunities Take Wing And Soar Productions, in partnership with New Heritage Theatre Group, created a main stage production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. This production of is transported to 1920's Harlem with high style, dynamic dialogue and the music that changed a nation.
Producer and actress Debra Ann Byrd and Costume Designer Gail Cooper-Hecht discuss how they brought a fresh perspective to Wilde's classic story of social hierarchy and class structure by transporting it.
What attracted you to working on this project?
Debra Ann: I was attracted to working on this production of The Importance of Being Earnest for two reasons. First, I really love this play and it's quirky characters and secondly, it was while performing the show, as a senior in college that I was inspired to start my production company.
Gail: Since I like working with Debra Ann and Take Wing And Soar Productions, I decided to do this play that I love. I had done several projects with them including Lorey Hayes’ Massinissa.
What was your favorite part of working on this production?
Debra Ann: My favorite part of working on The Importance of Being Earnest was having the opportunity to work on period and style with the director Kevin Connell. He is an exceptional teacher of this style of heightened language theater and I loved every moment of collaborating with him to find the similarities in upper class British manners and those of the American Black Bourgeoisie.
Gail: Taking this play, set in England at the turn of the century and changing it to Harlem in the 1920’s was already an interesting project. The idea that I was possibly designing the first all-black production of this Oscar Wilde play made it even more challenging and fun.
What was the most challenging part of working on this production? And why?
Debra Ann: The most challenging part of working on The Importance of Being Earnest is linked to my favorite part of working on the project. I had a difficult time working on Oscar Wilde's text and not using a British dialect because that is how I learned it at college. The challenge was to find an American way of saying these words while still keeping the pace and rhythm of the style they were written in. I eventually got it by finding a living American person who I thought matched all of Lady Bracknell's qualities, BIG, BOLD BRASSY, WEALTHY and WISE. I found her and she just so happened to be someone I loved and admired. A woman who had mentored me. It was perfect! Challenge conquered, it became a great joy to perform the role with her in mind.
Gail: Scheduling a fitting with Debra Ann Byrd, who not only played Lady Brackenell, but was also the Producer and Company Manager was the most challenging part of designing this play.
What do you want the audience to come away with after watching your production?
Debra Ann: Our production of The Importance of Being Earnest was wildly innovative and funny. It called for many creative artistic minds to conceive it, create it, produce it and perform it. It was great reimagining history by taking a classic and transmuting it to create a new American classic. I really wanted the audience to come away with joy in their hearts at experiencing such a funny show. But, I mainly I wanted them to come away with the thought that we have more in common than we do differences. I wanted to inspire understanding and unity through the arts, and we did that by setting a traditional British play in a new Black American setting. It made people think. It gave great history lessons. It made many proud.
The best part is... It did what it was intended to do.