graveyard shift Offers Returning Creatives the Chance to Dig Deeper for the World-Premiere Production
For 16 years, Goodman Theatre’s New Stages Festival has played a key role in helping playwrights get their work out into the world, but they aren’t the only ones who learn and grow as a show finds its legs. Directors and actors, too, benefit from the process. And when a new play is selected for a full production—such as korde arrington tuttle’s graveyard shift—there’s a deep satisfaction all around.
“New Stages allows for a true investigation of the play, which includes a rigorous exploration of its physical life,” says director Danya Taymor, who also directed the festival’s 2018 rendition of graveyard shift. “I can’t wait to be back with korde and deepen our work bringing this story to light. It is a rare gift for a director to get to attempt a piece more than once. There’s so much more we know about how the play works this time around.”
graveyard shift echoes the story of Sandra Bland, the Illinois woman found hanged in a Texas jail cell after being arrested for a reported traffic violation in 2015. Aneisa Hicks, who is returning to play the character Janelle, relished the collaborative nature of the New Stages experience. “It isn’t uncommon for the playwright to be in the room with new work, but what made this special is that korde was in conversation with all of us and not just the director,” she says. “He looked to us to help him find more of the characters’ voices. I felt that I was more fully invited on the journey.”
After building on her initial exploration of the text, Taymor turned her attention to the theater space itself. “It felt important for the audience to witness this story as a community, because it concerns all of us as Americans and human beings,” shares Taymor. “The audience envelops the stage, evoking to me the sense of a town hall community meeting.”
Looking back at that staged reading, Hicks recalls the effect the play had on audiences. “Black audience members felt very heard and seen,” she says. “In this kind of work, you will also find that there are those who have their lines drawn in the sand about how they feel.” For Hicks, the chance to revisit the thought-provoking role is a special opportunity. “I am really lucky, excited and blessed to tell this story and help to create a space for people to learn, heal, grow, feel and be challenged.”
Thomas Connors is a Chicago-based freelance writer and the Chicago Editor of Playbill.