Director of WT Education Kelsey Chigas sits down with Anglea Alise, who portrays Alaya in the 2019 Tour of The MLK Project: The Fight for Civil Rights to learn more about the artistic process that’s required to create a one-woman show that tours schools and community centers all over the Chicagoland area.
Kelsey Chigas: This is your first year performing in The MLK Project. Will you talk a little bit about what draws you to the project?
Angela Alise: I’m drawn to this project for many reasons. The fact that I get to play real live Civil Rights Leaders and tell their amazing stories was the first thing that drew me to this piece. It’s a real honor. I also love that this piece is not just traditional storytelling, but that I get to sing, rap and do spoken word as well.
KC: In the play, the character Alaya meets many local heroes, both well-known and lesser-known, of the Civil Rights Movement. Since this is a one-person show, you have the challenging job of transforming yourself into so many different characters. How do you, as an actor, tackle this?
AA: I start by researching the people I’m going to play. I watch videos and read articles. The team at Writers Theatre also gave me some awesome resources. I start to make some choices on my own, but then we break things down by character in rehearsals. I work on how they would speak, stand, talk, etc.
KC: In theatre, the actor, director and designers work together to tell the story. Can you say anything about how this process has worked in rehearsal?
AA: This has definitely been a team effort. My director Tasia and I worked together on refining each of the characters. She’s had me do different exercises to make sure I understand the characters and can carve out each person’s journey. The designers then help me set up the world of the piece by giving me cool props, costumes and projections. My stage manager keeps it all running smoothly, so yeah, I couldn’t do any of this without all of us working together.
KC: One of the play’s central messages is that Alaya realizes she has to use her mind and her art instead of her fists in order to reach her dreams. How and when did you know you wanted to be a professional actor? What did you need to do, or keep in mind, in order to achieve your goals?
AA: I’ve known that I wanted to be a professional actor since I was 5 years old. I did my first play then and fell in love with the theatre. I always try to remind myself that even though I may have set goals for myself, sometimes they don’t work out the way I planned. However, I tell myself to keep going, keep working hard, what’s for me will be for me and that someday all my wildest dreams will come true.
KC: What has been the biggest challenge working on The MLK Project?
AA: Memorizing all the lines and raps. I’ve had to spend a lot of time running lines with people.
KC: As a professional actor, you have been in many kinds of productions. What is your favorite kind of play to work on?
AA: If I had to pick, I’d say new works and comedies are my favorite kinds of plays to work on.
KC: What are you most looking forward to about working on The MLK Project?
AA: I’m really looking forward to sharing this piece with students every day, all over Chicago because each show will be a unique and special experience.
KC: Have you learned anything new working on The MLK Project?
AA: I learned about several local heroes and activist right here in Chicago. They played a major part in the movement and I had never heard of them before.
KC: Do you have any message you’d like to leave with the students who see The MLK Project?
AA: Whatever it is you are passionate about doing or if you know what you want to be, then do that and be that. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t achieve your dreams.