Recently after seeing Zach Theatre’s amazing production of “All The Way” about President Lyndon Johnson’s first year in office as President, Editor Olin Meadows wanted to get the scoop on what it takes to perform in such a poignant show in 2015. Mr. Meadows took some time to chat with friend and Austin Native Actress Michelle Alexander. Ms. Alexander plays several roles in the historical play, namely Mrs. Coretta Scott King, and Fannie Lou Hammer.
Here is a bit about Ms. Alexander:
Based in Austin, Texas, Michelle Alexander is an actor and singer performing on all stages from community theatre to professional theatres, from churches to cabarets. Vocally, Michelle sings mezzo soprono, alto and tenor. Her specs? She’s a 5’5 African American actor whose specialties include: storytelling, baby cries, Jamaican accent, shot-put and roller skating (yep, she starred inXanadu).
Here is the Q&A with Michelle!
AEW: Wow, what big shoes you are in now, how does it feel to be portraying such well respected women, Coretta Scott King and Fannie Lou Hammer?
Ms. Alexander: To play such well respected women has been quite the honor. During the show I find myself constantly thinking about their demeanor and their personalities, what they may have been actually thinking in these moments. I hope that I am honestly respecting their legacy. I am not sure if I even have the words to describe how it feels to tell their story. Perhaps, awe-inspiring.
Ms. Alexander: Before even auditioning for the role, I found out that ZACH Theatre was planning on doing this production. I thought, I have to read this play! And, I did. I went to BookPeople bought it and then never put it down. When it was over, I thought, that is all? That is ALL!? I was hungry for more so I watched PBS’s documentary Freedom Summer, If you haven’t seen it….you NEED TO! It features just about everyone in Robert Schenkkan’s All The Way. I also watched several interviews with Coretta Scott King. One that rings out to me still, is the Holiday interview she gave just months after her husband’s death. All of her children are there and they are all so well spoken and classy, and composed. She was full of such poise. I listened to podcasts, I listened to music in that era, I lived the 1960s. Which, was not too hard considering the way the world is right now.
AEW: What does this show mean to you personally?
Ms. Alexander: This show means so much to me personally. I appreciate this opportunity because as an actress it challenges you in the most beautiful way. We were chosen to tell the story of such monumental historical figures! To not have been there to march at the Democratic National Convention, to not have been able to march in Selma, this was one of the closest opportunities I had. There have been protests here in Austin, supporting causes all over our Nation and that was and is beautiful. Wendy’s filibuster, Black Lives Matter etc…So, to be able to present a theatrical protest, representing real life events, events that shape who I am, who I get to be today. It’s so profound to me. I can only hope to do it justice.
AEW: Have you personally been affected by racism or the lack of equality as it stands today?
Ms. Alexander: I have absolutely been affected by racism personally, as well as the lack of equality as it stands today. One of the most disappointing things that I have come to realize is that some of this ignorance or unequality is exerted by my own people and my own gender. The idea of someone misunderstanding who I intend to be because of the way I sound, walk, talk or dress…is ridiculous, yet so relevant especially among women. We (women and black women) often forget the importance of being uplifting especially to the things we don’t understand.Our ancestors literally fought and died so that we would be able to read, and write, and some of us pride ourselves on sounding, or acting as if we have never opened a book, or never learned what respect was. As far as racism, yes, it still exists, especially in Austin. There are not many things in our community that are geared towards African Americans, and the things that are are poorly advertised. There is gentrification happening all over the city, and being an Austin native, it makes things difficult at times. There is nothing like cruising down the east side with your windows down and white people glaring at you like you don’t belong there. When, you practically grew up there! Going to restaurants and praying that people are decent is a common prayer we have before eating or arriving somewhere. Not everywhere and everyone here is racist or sexist. However, when it happens it stands out! I do think the face of Black Austin is changing and I think it’s beginning right here with this play. This show breaks down the struggle we went to just to be able to vote! That is an important struggle that people of color need to witness.
AWE: Even though you were not alive when LBJ was president, has this show made you want to be more involved in politics and encouraging people to get out and vote?
Ms. Alexander: This show has absolutely made me want to get more involved in politics. I will admit that voting, and politics in general was not of interest to me. I had always felt that our voices and opinions really did not matter. Until this production, when I see how the people do have a voice and can control the way this country is run IF there is unity, and compromise. It inspires me to want to be aware of my surroundings and to respect what so many of my ancestors fought and died for. I am so hungry for political knowledge thanks to this production, and…Jon Stewart too of course.