Jackie Alexander: writer, director, producer . . .

Even though he initially began working as an actor, Jackie Alexander has successfully established himself as a writer, director and producer. Last August, he joined the North Carolina Black Repertory Company (NCBRC) as our new Artistic Director.

A native of New Orleans, Alexander’s exposure to the arts began early. As a young man, he first encountered his role models, legendary actors Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier through movies and, later, through books detailing their activism. He appreciated Harry Belafonte as a constant crusader for social change and Sidney Poitier as a groundbreaking artist. Through Harry Belafonte’s effusive praise, he discovered the late performer Paul Robeson. He admired Robeson’s artistic courage.

Alexander’s love for the arts followed him into college at Louisiana State University. Although he majored in Communication, he took multiple acting classes throughout college after attending an introductory one in which he was assigned a scene to perform from the James Baldwin play, Blues for Mister Charlie. “The biggest thing I remember,” he wrote in an email, “was the feeling of empowerment while performing. The acting bug took over.” His love for acting inspired him to further pursue an education in acting at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York.

After college, he began his relationship with the Billie Holiday Theatre (BHT) where one of his first professional jobs was an understudy in the Rob Penny play, Good Black Don’t Crack. From there, he eventually landed a role as Prophet Solomon Jones in the premiere production of Smokey Robinson’s Raisin’ Hell. Over time, he formed a relationship with the company’s Executive Director, Marjorie Moon. He credits Moon as the reason for his career. “She nurtured my work as an actor, director, and playwright.”

Through his work with BHT, he met the late jazz legend Weldon Irvine, another profound influence on his career. Irvine worked as the musical director on Raisin’ Hell. During the production, Alexander and Irvine became friends. In addition to their personal relationship, they developed an artistic one as Irvine eventually became Alexander’s mentor and they continued to collaborate on various projects. Alexander performed on Irvine’s Spoken Melodies as well as his self-financed tribute to slain African immigrant Amadou Diallo, The Price of Freedom: The Amadou Project. During the latter project, Irvine pushed Alexander to take control of his artistic life and create his own stories that explored the African American experience with authenticity. As a result, he wrote, directed and starred in his first film, Joy, in 2002. Continuing their collaboration, Irvine served as the composer for the film.

Joy, a story about a well-to-do lawyer who must redefine his ideas about class and privilege in the wake of tragedy, turned out to be a critical success. Even though the film only played to festivals and art houses, it received the prestigious Best Feature Film Award from the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame as well as Best Screenplay and Best Actor prizes for Alexander from the festival circuit.

After the success of Joy, he transitioned to directing theatre.

In 2004, he directed the world premiere of Plenty of Time at the New Federal Theatre in New York. This production began his relationship with the NCBRC as he was invited to the National Black Theatre Festival® (NBTF) the following year. During his visit, Alexander remained awestruck by the breadth of the festival. “I was totally blown away.  I could not understand how Mr. Hamlin had gotten all these people to come to Winston-Salem, a place I really knew little about before the festival. The atmosphere was electric, shows were great, and energy so positive.” Additionally, Alexander met theatre artists from all over the country, many of whom he still keeps contact to this day. Over the next ten years, Jackie directed productions at all but two of the festivals. Due to the height of acclaim for his play, The High Priestess of Dark Alley, he was even asked to bring it back as part of the company’s regular 2010-2011 mainstage season.

His relationship with the BHT expanded to director as well as writer. Upon the suggestion of Marjorie Moon, he directed the world premiere of his first play, The Desire, which deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, at the theatre in 2007. Subsequently, he helmed the world premieres of his plays Birthright, The High Priestess of Dark Alley, Brothers From the Bottom and The Legend of Buster Neal at the BHT. Based on the success of these shows, the company decided to dedicate an entire season to his work, the only time in their almost fifty-year history that they have done so. As a part of the season, the theatre commissioned Alexander to write The Reverend Dupree in Exile, a searing drama about a religious leader who struggles to hold on to his faith and dignity while suffering the effects of ALS, a disease that affects the nervous system, which he also directed.

Unlike most writer/directors in the theatre, Alexander seems to express an ease at both understanding and staging his own work. Furthermore, he loves how malleable he can be when dealing with an actor’s interpretation of his script. “The biggest reward as the director is the freedom I can grant actors to improvise/explore because I am also the playwright.”

In 2013, he became the Artistic Director of the BHT. Under his leadership, the organization broadened its season to include staged readings, development deals and film broadcasts among other things. Moreover, the company was awarded the renowned Mellon Grant for the first time in thirty years and won nine prizes for excellence in Black theatre from the AUDELCO awards.

After his tenure with the BHT ended, Alexander joined the NCBRC as its Artistic Director last year, continuing the relationship he first formed eleven years prior. His first act was to develop a theme to guide the season. Based on the huge faith-based community in and around Winston-Salem, he decided to title the inaugural season under his leadership The Comfort of Faith as it addresses the impact of spirituality on families in times of illness.

He began the season by directing the world premiere of The Sting of White Roses, a play about one family’s resilience after discovering that one of their own has cancer, by emerging playwright Angelica Cheri. Now, he is directing the North Carolina premiere of The Right Reverend Dupree in Exile. The play is based on the life of Alexander’s late uncle, Matthew Stephens, a preacher who lived with ALS for eight years. Alexander also interviewed multiple religious leaders as research for the play. Due to the personal and heavy nature of the story, writing the play proved to be a most difficult undertaking for him. ” The biggest challenge was finding humor and hope while dealing with such a weighty subject matter, ” he adds.

Ultimately, Alexander believes the play will be a rewarding experience for audiences. “I promise they will leave this show with a smile on their face!” he says.

Here is a brief interview with Jackie about the 2016-17 season theme, the productions, and more..

Note:  Ivan Mosley is the assistant to the Artistic Director and Dramaturg with the NCBRC and a 2013 WFU graduate with a BA in Theatre.
By | 2017-03-08T15:37:12+00:00 February 17th, 2017|Categories: Featured, Latest News, Productions|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

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