Thursday, July 12, 2018

A British Playwright Makes World War II Meet the Impact of African-American Nurses


HOW DID SHE PRODUCE AND OPEN STAGE PLAY IN HOLLYWOOD?

BY MANIKO BARTHELEMY 

The cast of the stage play Fort Huachuca appears in a scene during its June debut in Hollywood.
Photo courtesy of Darnell Rhea.
It is not a musical, yet there is a tone in Fort Huachuca that is profound.  It is not a movie but the emotions, clarity, and sincerity that cloak your attention span give you the impression, the stage play is beyond just a story that moved from imagination to lights, cameras, and action. It is not a movement in the traditional sense, yet the African-American nurses battle an invisible war, during the World War II era. “They’re fighting to be seen instead of taking up space and it’s much like the reality of women around the world today,” said director and writer, Ailema Sousa.
British playwright Ailemna Sousa appears in a scene during its June debut in Hollywood. Sousa's inspirataion
to produce, Fort Huachuca: A Tale of Sisterhood, Patriotism, and Race is the result of a dearth of stories like it that feature African-American in lead roles. 

Photo courtesy of Darnell Rhea.
Sousa is also one of the production’s five stars. “It was quite challenging trying to not be bias, and not be limited because you know you’re going to play it,” she said. Her motivation to write the play instead of hitting the marathon of auditions for her big break, shortly after finishing the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, comes from clearly seeing a blind spot in the industry. “I noticed things on television and there were few movies with leading roles for African American women with prominent speaking roles,” she said.

Set on a U.S. Army base of the same name in Southern Arizona during World War II, Fort Huachuca has the drama and full evolution of characters you expect to see, when you think about the time period, racism, skepticism, and defiance. The three-act stage play balances fact and fantasy with a revolution folded into a love story.
The cast of the stage play Fort Huachuca appears in a scene during its June debut in Hollywood.
Photo courtesy of Darnell Rhea.
The three-act play by the British native is told from the perspective of the nurses. The characters have the education, experience, and enthusiasm that define a soldier suited to serve America. But there is something in the way of their ability to live their dream.  Think of Taraji Henson in Hidden Figures, and Alfre Woodard in Miss Evers Boys. Imagine their situations being worse and you get a sense of what Mayvee, Marjorie, Georgia, Elinor, and Thelma face in Fort Huachuca. “A lot happens to them,” said Sousa. “You see relationships between the women, different dynamics, and a lot of support.”

Actors Ashlee Jones (Boston Public), Charles Nkrumah Jr. (Northbound in New York), Natalia Elizabeth (Fatal Attraction) and Nicole Sousa (Bridecon) bring the play to life.
It is a universal story of women embracing their victories, determined not to be vanquished by strict limitations on and off-base. In the midst of the violence and injured soldiers returning home aftermath of the war, their roles in the military are convoluted. 
The cast of the stage play Fort Huachuca appears in a scene during its June debut in Hollywood.
Photo courtesy of Darnell Rhea.
At certain turning points in the play, because of their diverse backgrounds, they are at times, misguided, unapologetically confident, naïve, and fumble as reality and fantasy collide.
Where are the rest of the stories like “Fort Huachuca?” That’s the question Sousa believes the audience will ask, after crying, cringing, and cheering, when the curtain closes.

Ailemna Sousa’s story is one of several weekly stories you’ll see here throughout July, as part of “How Did She…?” The series will focus on women who are defying the odds in various industries. 

Fort Huachuca is on tour in California. It hit its first stage June 2 in Santa Monica, CA. For more information about the play and to find out when it may come to a theatre near you, visit https://www.forthuachucaplay.com/.

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