DESSA ROSE – Interview with Eunice Woods
Eunice Woods (actress and creator of the theatre vlog TalkBack) joins Bailiwick Chicago for the first time with our upcoming production of Dessa Rose. She shares some insight about her character, the current state of race relations in America, and the women in her life that inspire her:
Tell us about your character:
I play Rose, Dessa Rose’s mother. Rose is a fearful woman. She’s lived a hard, hard life of many disappointments mostly tied to the fact that she’s seen all but one of her twelve children die, run away or be thoughtlessly sold off. These horrific events have beaten her into submission. Needless to say, having a headstrong daughter like Dessa Rose is a source of worry. However, I think as much as Rose is afraid for Dessa, she is also immensely proud of her. She sees in Dessa a spirit much stronger than her own; a spirit that will not easily be broken. And this gives her hope.
I also play Tina, Ada, and Auntie Chole, several other female slaves of varying ages and backgrounds, who the audience will get to me along the way.
What have been some of your challenges (both personally and as an actor) to bringing your character to life?
The biggest challenge is putting myself in the moment-to-moment mindset of a slave. We all know slavery was this terrible thing that happened, but to actually embody the constant fear, anxiety, and uncertainly of slave life is very difficult.
It’s also been tough working with such difficult historic material and then leaving the theater and seeing that many of the issues caused by slavery are still very much present in the world around us.
Racial tension is an inherent theme in the show. How do you think racial tension has changed since the 19th century (better and worse)?
This is a fantastic question. We often look at how far we’ve come regarding civil rights (and don’t get me wrong—we have come a long way and I am eternally grateful to those who have and continue to make that possible), but we forget that racial tension still keeps people from building healthy relationships and communities. Our ability to embrace and celebrate each other has certainly improved since the 19th century. However, there continues to be a discomfort when looking at the race lessons of the past. We want to “get over it” and “move on” as a society, but we don’t want to discuss how it is that we’ve arrived to where we are today. We are content to uphold laws and policies about racial discrimination, but we are also content to perpetuate stereotypes about each other. I could go on about this for days, but in a nutshell, I think we’ve come a long way and we have a long way to go. All it takes are willing participants.
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 sister, Phebe, is an inspiration to me. The way she cares for her family, her friends, and even total strangers is incredible. She approaches people with a genuine openness and kindness that is a constant reminder to me that a little bit of love goes a long way.
What do you hope audiences will get out of the show?
I hope audiences are challenged to rethink their opinion about someone they consider as not their “type of person” (for whatever reason that may be).
Also, I would be so happy if audiences walked with a sense of hope. Sometimes I get really overwhelmed and disheartened when I think about the various barriers that divide our society because they seem too big to handle. This show reminds me that change starts with people, even just one person, taking the time to look at things differently.
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.