When someone drops the F-word … FRINGE FESTIVAL that is, you expect something powerful, unique, and revolutionary.
When looking at the premiere of Long Rail North, expectations are surpassed.
Michael Hagins’ gripping drama – as part of the first fall season of the New York International Fringe Festival – FringeNYC – centers on Pvt. Thomas Morgan, a black union soldier, who must escape via train with a young southern white girl that he rescued from a plantation fire. Morgan (played by Xavier Rodney) continues traveling north getting the young girl to safety – despite her racist views. Add into the mix, both union and confederate forces pursue them.
Choosing a director might seem like a daunting task for this intricate piece. The choice, as well, surpassed expectations. Brock H. Hill, former Producing Artistic Director of the Planet Connections Festivity and current Artistic Director of the Altruistic Theatre Company is recognized – and celebrated – for ensemble based, emotion-packed work. Some of the more powerful indie theatre companies have Hill works on their credentials, including 14th St Y, Playwrights for a Cause, Rising Sun, Tongue in Cheek; not to mention his fair share of Fringes and planet Connections.
Needless to say, our interview with him surpassed expect … well, you get the point.
Tell Us About Yourself as an Artist –
As an artist, I strive to be an activist. I’m drawn to pieces that tackle social issues in subtle ways. There are times to blatantly call out what’s wrong within a society, but that tends to leave an artist “preaching to the choir” as it were. By working on a play that comes at an issue in a less direct way, such as The Long Rail North, it opens you to an audience that may have a different viewpoint and you might just get a chance to plant a seed of change. I also am a big fan of color and gender blind casting; inclusion is one of the most important issues facing theatre today. So many roles are assumed to be this or that, but are easily open to artistic discretion. As artists, we need to reach as many people as we can with our message or we’re not doing a given piece its due. Not every piece is open to this discretion, but when you have the opportunity, it can truly make for an amazing experience for all!
Share the differences (to you) between being an artistic director and being a director – good and bad.
Wow, being an artistic director is very different than being a director, but they really require the same set of tools. It really comes down to scale in a way. I see the role of the artistic director as the person who provides the opportunity for artists to be heard. We are tastemakers, curators, and cheerleaders. We have the privilege of searching out voices that need to be heard, stories that need to be told, and help push them forward into the spotlight. We build communities and drive a vision. We don’t get to have as much direct artistic control, but it isn’t about that, it’s about the art itself. I believe directors, on the other hand, are there to help a group of artist find the truth in a story. Both require vision, people leading, and ingenuity; it all just comes down to how those tools are being utilized. I find each to be equally fulfilling and feel that they are both my calling.
What first spoke to you about this play.
This play couldn’t speak any loader than right now. I was first introduced to the play as Artistic Director of Planet Connections Festivity. I had be told to watch for a submission from Michael Hagins, an excellent playwright who had just had a successful run the previous season with Quest for a Hero. Being it was my first season, I setup meetings with many of the artists from the community, Michael was one of those amazing artists. He spoke a bit about the piece and I immediately wanted it in the festival. The Long Rail North’s conversations on race and gender through a story set in the Civil War was right up my alley. When I saw through social media that Michael was reviving the piece, I reached out that same day to throw my hat in the ring to direct.
Elephant in the Room – why you to direct this play about a runaway slave?
This is the story of a black man in the Civil War, written by a fantastic black playwright and performed by an amazing black actor who has been with this project since the beginning. Who am I to tell this story? Plain and simple…I’m not telling this story. As I said before, it is my job to help these artists find the truth of the piece. Xavier Rodney, who plays the lead role of Private Thomas Morgan, and Michael Hagins are bringing their experiences and knowledge of history together to tell this story. I’m here to take their work and the work of the other excellent artist involved and shape that work together into a cohesive, brilliant work. I’m not making this my story, I’m helping them tell their story in the best way I can!
What do you want the audience to come way with with this piece?
I want the audience to leave wanting to have conversations. Conversations with friends, with family and with themselves about how they look at and treat others. We are in a place, I want to say currently, where the hatred and oppression of the Civil War era are seeming to be acceptable again by certain groups…We need to have those conversations and recognize how each of us plays into these beliefs and combat them.
What’s next for you?
What’s next? I’m currently giving my all to this piece. There are always projects on the horizon, but when it comes to my directing, I like to focus on one piece at a time. People always assume I’ve got a thousand things going on (and a lot of the time I do), but I make sure that each gets the time it needs. That being said, I can always make that time to talk about project one thousand and one!
THE LONG RAIL NORTH is one of a select group of productions opening the new FringeHUB performance space at 685 Washington Street (corner of Charles Street), NYC. Performances are Saturday October 13th – 4:45 pm; Monday October 15th – 9:30 pm; Saturday October 20th – 7:00 pm; Tuesday October 23rd – 4:45 pm (Talkback directly following); Saturday October 27th – 12:15 pm. For tickets visit www.FringeNYC.org or www.thelongrailnorth.com