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Paper Lantern Theatre: Born Bad but doing good

by Lenise Willis

After exploring women’s rights and advocating for female empowerment, the dynamic and involved Paper Lantern Theatre Company is now delving into the intricacies of family – and family secrets. The theatre, known for its insightful productions, has had a successful season and will continue with a production of Born Bad.

“2015 – 2016 was a very, very good season,” said Paper Lantern co-founder Amy da Luz. “One I’m exceptionally proud of. Girls Like That and Ruby Slipper Fringe (Festival) took the theatre to a new level of inclusion and diversity. I felt we broadened our audience, and started some very important dialogues in the Community. Born Bad will wrap up the season doing the same.”

“Not many theatres would tackle a play this compelling, and I’m grateful that Paper Lantern was willing to produce a drama written by an African American, female British playwright, directed by an African American southern female,” said director Donna Bradby, professional director and N.C. A&T University professor.

The play, written by award-winning playwright, screenwriter and director Debbie Tucker Green, is an emotional drama about poisonous family secrets that shines the light on issues, like sexual assault, that often get hidden or downplayed.

“It’s the story of a life altering family secret which leads to multiple family confrontation,” Bradby continued. “Audience members need to be prepared for an emotional hour and fifteen minutes of theatre.”

Both da Luz and Bradby say one of the most compelling aspects of the play is how hard-hitting, hurtful and real the language is.

“The playwright says the unsayable and she’s not afraid to deal with difficult situations on stage,” Bradby said.

“I love everything about it,” added da Luz. “I love Tucker Green’s language; it is a perfect fit for me as an actor-spoken word poet. Her words are delicious to the tongue.”

The cast includes Lalenja Harrington (starring as the lead, Dawta), Xavier Harris, JP Pettiford, Melat Ayalew, Ebony Humes, Jessica Smith and Sha-Reh Reese. And though the confrontation on stage is poignant, da Luz says the staff has developed a close-knit relationship, which isn’t surprising considering the topic they are all working together to expose; it’s a role that requires them to dig deep.

“I think of (my character Dawta) as the truthteller—that family member who is willing to put a name to that which is hidden and or denied in dysfunctional families,” Harrington said. “I believe every family has secrets and the ‘unspoken,’ and I am at a point in my life where some of the secrets in my own family are coming to be known. So I can relate to the feelings that come with such ‘unearthing.’ As a black woman who has been invested in challenging the status quo personally and professionally for my entire life, I am also familiar with the discomfort that comes with ‘telling like it is.'” Harrington says the audience should expect to be intensely uncomfortable, challenged, haunted and moved.

In November, the theatre will continue to play its role in the community by hosting a production in response to the ongoing police shootings controversy and Black

Lives Matter movement.

Da Luz says the specifics haven’t been detailed yet, but it will give artists and audiences a chance to communicate in person, “as opposed to the constant and endless on-line banter that is stunting a generation’s ability to connect.”

There are also plans underway to host a second annual Ruby Slipper Fringe Festival, an event the theatre hosted early this year that gave female artists a free platform to share their work.

“The Fringe is easily one of the best things we’ve ever done,” da Luz said. “In fact, we’ll be sponsoring another one in 2017-2018. The friendships, collaborations, connections, support, guidance and love that came out of those two weekends for so many of the women involved in that adventure is something I can’t put into words.” !

LENISE WILLIS, a graduate from UNC Chapel Hill’s journalism school, has experience in acting and ballet, and has been covering live performances since 2010.

WANNA go?

Paper Lantern Theatre Company produces Born Bad at the Triad Stage UpStage Cabaret, 232 S. Elm St., Greensboro, September 15-18. Tickets are $15-$23. For tickets and more information visit paperlanterntheatre.org or call the Triad Stage Cabaret box office at 336-272-0160.

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