North Carolina Theatre’s Producing Artistic Director Eric Woodall shares his experience working on the 19th Amendment Project play festival.
by Emily Clemente
Eric Woodall, Producing Artistic Director of North Carolina Theatre, has taken on a new project as director of Ladies Are Waiting (L.A.W.), a short play by Carrie Knowles in a series of shows produced by Burning Coal Theatre to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the women’s right to vote. For Woodall, the experience has been both rewarding and enlightening, despite several challenges amidst the pandemic. We spoke with Woodall to find out more about his newest project and what it’s been like transforming theatre to a virtual art form.
Give us some background on the 19th Amendment project.
The 19th Amendment project is a play festival being produced by Burning Coal Theatre Company to commemorate the 19th amendment and to celebrate female playwrights. North Carolina Theatre is one of 13 theatre companies that will be participating. When Jerry Davis at Burning Coal asked me if we would like to join the project, I jumped at the chance because it sounded like such a fantastic opportunity and I wanted to be a part of telling these stories.
The project went about assigning playwrights and theatre companies randomly; we put our names in a hat and I was so thrilled for North Carolina Theatre to be matched up with L.A.W.—which stands for Ladies Are Waiting—by Carrie Knowles. I’ve been a huge fan of Carrie’s, and I’d just finished reading her amazing book, The Inevitable Past, which has some connective themes to her play. It was exciting to be matched with her, and now we are working on producing the play.
Tell us a little bit about Ladies Are Waiting.
Ladies Are Waiting (L.A.W) is a fantastic modern look at the figures of King Arthur and Lady Guinevere that explores the themes of women having the right to vote. Essentially, the play portrays these issues and this history through the eyes of this king and his queen. Carrie has infused great humor and contemporary themes—certainly American themes—into these well-known beloved figures and characters. It’s great fun too, and it feels like it comes with a responsibility to do justice to Carrie’s great play. I have cast Rasool Jahn to play Lady Guinevere and Estes Tarver to take on the role of King Arthur. I just know that they are going to be perfect for these roles and will succeed in breathing new life into these well known characters.
What has the experience been like working with Carrie Knowles?
It’s been a fantastic experience, and not only because I have been a huge fan of hers and read several of her books before. It’s always a wonderful opportunity to work with a playwright when you are working on a new piece because you have all of this backstory and history, and Carrie has been no exception. Meeting with her and engaging in phone calls has helped me to gain a better understanding of what she was thinking during the play’s creation; it’s wonderful because Carrie loves to provide her information and ideas that got her to writing the play.
She also embraces and loves a director’s vision and she is immensely fascinated by and supportive of what the actors are bringing to it. Because we are in this wonky time of COVID, we’ve had to have some of our rehearsals through Zoom. What that has allowed is to incorporate and invite Carrie to see some of those rehearsals and gain her feedback. It has been a hugely collaborative experience.
What has it been like translating theatre to a virtual platform?
On one hand, it’s a necessity. It’s where we are—we’re all having to pivot. But on the other hand, it’s difficult because theatre, by nature, is live. It’s meant to be live storytelling. With all due respect to film and television, the live component is what sets theatre apart; once something is filmed, it’s filmed. Although “Ladies Are Waiting” will be filmed, we’re going to keep it feeling very theatrical. It will still feel like a play that has been captured. That’s our goal.
We also have the hurdle of social distancing and safety, and ensuring that the actors in this production will be safe when they are in one place at one time. We are all in masks until we are actually filming, and during filming we have to make sure actors are six feet apart. COVID has brought upon things that we don’t normally need to think about, but have to be cognizant of currently. It’s been a challenge, I’ll admit, but an adventure as well.
What are you hoping that viewers will be able to gain from this performance?
I hope that they will be reminded of and encouraged by the strength of women. From this whole festival of plays, I think it is a hope that we reflect and remember, and that we continue to make positive changes when it comes to women’s rights.
Ladies Are Waiting (L.A.W.), written by Carrie Knowles, directed by Eric Woodall, and presented by Burning Coal Theatre Company and North Carolina Theatre, will be released on August 21, 2020. You can find more information about the 19th Amendment Project here.