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Regina Taylor Examines Legacy & Digital Technology In Stop. Reset.

Broadway Black was honored to speak with Regina Taylor about her new production, Stop. Reset., and the importance of legacy in this age of digital technology. The following are excerpts from that conversation.

Broadway Black (BB): Stop. Reset. is your 12th Goodman Theatre production. You are celebrating your 20th anniversary at the Goodman Theatre as an Artistic Associate. What is the secret to your longevity?

TaylorRegina_288x375Regina Taylor (RT): I feel that it’s been such a rare and wonderful treat at the Goodman Theatre and having longevity with an institution such as the Goodman. It is rare for any artist, especially a Black person, especially a Black woman, to be able to grow each year in developing one’s own voice. What is unique and special about that which you bring, what is your authenticity of full self that you bring to life and to your pieces? My pieces are markers in my life. I have been challenged in life and I challenge life with each and every piece. There is an opening to dare in each and every piece. With this one, I feel like I’ve learned everything along the way that I’m bringing fearlessly with my own tongue. Think about Miles Davis, you know who he is by that first note. That takes sounding like other people until you hit it and know that it’s yours. With this piece, I know that it’s mine. It’s an idiom of jazz. Each character is mine. In this piece there is an element of Afro-Futurism that harnesses both past and present when looking at who we are and how we survive into the future. It resonates with how we deal with what we’re dealing with right here and now and who we are. Who are children will be.

BB: Tell us about your latest work, Stop. Reset.

RT: Stop.Reset. is about 70-year-old Black bookstore owner Alexander Ames. He is trying to determine how to keep his business from being extinct. He is a lover of books. What they hold, their weight, smell and feel. Memories from the ancestors is what they hold. How they are transferred, palm to palm. He’s trying to figure out how that moves forward in the digital age. What does he need to hold onto and what does he need to let go? All of Ames’ bookstore workers are over 40 except one, J the 19 year old, who is semi-literate. So there is a generational conversation about the present and the future. Ames sees promise in J and recognizes himself, but J is interested only in the present and the future, not the past. 

It’s about books but also about how we deal with change. There are so many changes we’re grappling with in the present moment. People don’t change easily. People dig in their heels to figure out where they stand and fight for what they believe in and what they know, as the terrain is shifting, and we can’t trust the dirt under our feet. People either dig in or dive headlong into the unknown and embrace it. Stop. Reset. is not just about technology, but about where we are. It’s about race, gender, sexuality, the economy, all of these issues as they are shifting right now in terms of how we look at things. Who are we becoming? Who do we want to become?

The play is about what the audience brings to it in terms of their own history. What I set is conversations, arguments, dialogue, about how you deal with change. I try to give equal weight to various perspectives. Some will enter and be moved in terms of where they stand. Others may dig in and not move. What I hope to spark, to provoke, is the dialogue to look at the world and themselves. The question of the ground that we stand on. That’s the first spark of change. Or not. {Referencing Dr. Martin Luther’s Speech after the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965}: How long? Not long. How long has it been? We keep coming back to that phrase in different increments in time. Is it possible to escape one’s past and all that it brings? To escape the shadows that we drag behind us? I present the question for the audience to answer for themselves.

BB: Stop. Reset. is, in part, about the digital age and how that reflects the information we receive from various sources. How do you perceive the role of digital technology, especially as it relates to breaking news that reflects the African American community?

RT: There is great possibility. Digital technology has changed how we talk about race. Who owns the narrative? How Black males have historically been presented in the media. Here and now, there’s a transformation in terms of the tongue. Who’s speaking about it, who gets to frame the narrative? There is a “Stop and Reset” in the narrative that came from the ground, meaning the grassroots and social media. Once the floodgates opened, the mainstream had to follow. So there were more layers to that story than we expected. We’re seeing how these devices are being harnessed for our community, like #BlackLivesMatter. This is where we want to talk.

We are the ones who should be telling our stories. There is an opening for books. We have the spoken word and people would gather around the fire for the gatekeeper to tell the story. When books came along, we the masses would hold the knowledge with the ability to read. The hierarchy has been toppled. Who are we becoming with people alone with a book, cut off from the world? On the contrary, people are talking to their devices and these worlds open up to the masses. The gatekeepers are being toppled. Whose voice should be voiced and heard? Everyone has access. That’s the powerful part. How do we harness this power? How do we learn how to learn from this device? How do we teach ourselves the weight of each piece of the information without someone over us telling us which way to go? The opening is amazing. We can and have been telling our own stories. It’s about how we harness them.


BB: One of the questions that Stop. Reset. asks is whether books are obsolete. There are so many fewer African American newspapers and bookstores than there were twenty or fifty years ago. Is it just as important in what medium our stories are told?

RT: I look at adaptation and meeting new audiences. What does this technology bring? Who are these new audiences and how one shapes the others? Ebony, Jet, Haki Madhubuti are all examples of those who champion the written word. And what doors those magazines opened to me as a child in Dallas, Texas. Looking at how they framed the discussion of Black is Beautiful and how powerful those images were to me as a Black female moving forward. The diversity of identity opening that lens in terms of the world and how I saw myself. How those stories weren’t the same as those in the mainstream that reflected who I was, am, and can be. The importance of periodicals giving a reflection of self. How do you reflect that here within? Certain things can be erased if not held in a book. How do you pass that on so the legacy isn’t lost? What do we need in terms of that legacy? We need certain parts of our past, the understanding of how we’ve adapted all along. We will continue to adapt. We have continued to adapt and survived against all odds.

BB: You’ve described yourself as a purist when it comes to books, yet the website is revolutionary in what it offers theatregoers and the community at large with in-theater tweeting and live community discussions. What is your response to those who say that attending the theatre should be a static, as opposed to an interactive, experience that Stop.Reset provides?

RT: We continue to update the site. The audience gets to have the choice, according to their perspective. They can choose where they enter the play: before the show happens, while at the theater, and afterward. It’s organic in that it’s the melding of reality. We are meeting Chicago audiences on their own ground. Stop. Reset. is a piece about Chicago and the dialogue converges so the audience is a part of the play itself, wherever they are. I’m finding this liberating. I’m growing so much. 

BB: There were two Outside the Box events this week in which those involved with Stop. Reset. interacted directly with the Chicago community. What did you glean from those discussions?

RT: The symposia are about change. Everyone has been hit by technology in some way. Having these conversations with people from diverse backgrounds and to engage with artists around Chicago, professionals, and, importantly, students, that they take the themes of the play and create their own pieces and do it through their own medium: play, spoken word, music. All of that we’re doing in these live interactions.

A chord has to be struck that people need to be dealing with what is going on at this time. I don’t think we’ve seen such overall social and technological change since the 60s, when people were walking on the moon and sitting on the ground. All things are erupting at this moment. The LGBT community’s rights still, still gender, still race. Haven’t we been through this? When will we move forward? What do we need to move forward with? Do we cut a1415Stop_Mail2_600x280_newway the ghosts and leave the past behind? What do we need to retain? What are the tools that we need to move forward?

BB: Stop. Reset. is, in part, about legacy. With your decades at the Goodman Theatre and as the only member of the theater’s Artistic Collective to generate work in all three creative capacities as playwright, director and actor, how are you defining your legacy and what advice could you give young Black women creating their own work?

RT: There is a passion and tenacity to it. A seeking of truth to it. An unstoppability in terms of claiming ground and being heard and being seen. To claim the ground that sheds light to your existence. That’s what my work is about, in terms of reaching out to the community to give platforms to people who would not have visibility. That Stop. Reset. is set in Chicago and my relationship to audiences who have witnessed these markers in my life. The challenge is to see how I can extend these portals of storytelling as an artist to work along with the community. It permeates every part of our lives. How to challenge audiences and interact with new audiences.

Regina Taylor is a Golden Globe and NAACP Image Award winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee currently starring in DIG, a new television series on USA Network. She was the first African American to play Romeo and Juliet’s title young lover on Broadway, and gained wide public recognition for her performance on the television series, I’ll Fly Away. Taylor’s latest stage production, Stop. Reset. can be seen at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre from May 23 – June 21.

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