DESSA ROSE – Interview with Jayson “JC” Brooks
Actor and rockstar Jayson “JC” Brooks (of JC & the Uptown Sound) returns to Bailiwick Chicago in our upcoming production of Dessa Rose having previously appeared in a Jeff-nominated performance in 2011’s Passing Strange. He shares some insight about his character, the current state of race relations in America, and the women in his life that inspire him:
Tell us about your character:
Nathan is an upstanding guy, despite being a hustler. An ethical survivor. He also has a very varied experience which has fostered in him a kind of out-of-the-box thinking and a social ease not usually found in slaves.
What have been some of your challenges (both personally and as an actor) to bringing your character to life?
Trying to balance Nathan’s wit and cunning with the psyche/outward carriage of a man who has been beaten his whole life. Also, figuring out his attraction to Ruth: is it just convenient (without being mercenary/cold-blooded) or is there something deeper there that Nathan refuses to let fully blossom because the realities of the period lead Nathan to see the inevitable (and probably bloody) tragedy of their love. It’s a love that would have to stay hidden and Nathan (someone fully apprised of his value and personhood) can only hide/and pretend for so long.
Racial tension an inherent theme in the show. How do you think racial tension has changed since the 19th century (better and worse)?
I think that the “tension” part of racial tension is now equally visited upon the perpetrator as well as the victim. It’s an unpopular thing to be a racist now as opposed to then when one could be openly bigoted and suffer no social decline. However, “sundown towns” still exist in 2014 and as the media (over the past year, especially) has shown, black skin is still a target for wanton murder, whether you’re playing loud music, walking home with candy, or injured and seeking help.
Another inherent theme in the show is the celebration of women and our lineage. Can you share a story about a woman either in your family or in your life that has inspired you?
My mom gave up her performance dreams to be present for me and worked unfulfilling jobs to make sure I had the things she never had growing up.
What do you hope audiences will get out of the show?
That it’s important to remember where and who you came from.
Dessa Rose is adapted for the stage by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty from the novel of the same name by Shirley Ann Williams. Based on both fact and fiction, the musical weaves together the stories of two real women, one white and one black, who struggled for different kinds of freedom in an era defined by men.
Performances begin March 6 at the Victory Gardens Theatre – Richard Christensen Space. For more info, click here. For tickets, click here. For a behind the scenes look, follow #DessaRose on all social media channels.