Theatre Pops’ production of this award-winning political drama follows the tumultuous election of 1964, and LBJ’s unlikely rise to power. Uncanny in its relevancy, this retelling of true events reminds us that 2016 is hardly unique in terms of unbelievable elections—and that we still have a long way to go ensuring equal rights for all Americans.
Robert Schenkkan’s political drama "All The Way" is a bear of a play. Brilliantly written, but dense, lengthy and intense. As I play a relatively small part—Lurleen Wallace, who went on to become the first female governor of Alabama—I’ve been able to do a lot of watching from the wings. I know I’m biased (hell, it’s an election year and we are all biased) but this is an extraordinary cast, and the subject matter is all too relevant. At one point, a senator even suggests he might "build a wall betwixt me and my neighbor." And—spoiler alert—a major plot point involves the police killing of an unarmed black man.
Putting on this epic has been a Herculean feat, between the small, low-budget production team and the massive cast, all in period costume. Tim Hunter, who plays Lyndon Johnson, certainly has his work cut out for him—he has the most text to deal with by far.
"It’s like trying to play God," admits Hunter. "Virtually impossible."
Regardless, he seems to be doing just fine with it—larger than life, imperious, complex, fragile.
"It’s an honor and at the same time it’s very scary," says Freddie Tate, who is tasked with bringing Dr. Martin Luther King to life. "Having the weight of who he is to people and who he was is difficult, but I love the challenge."
Kelli McLoud-Schingen, who plays Coretta Scott King and Fannie Lou Hamer, was brought on only a few weeks ago after two other actresses dropped out, but she is owning it. "It’s exciting, because they’re both iconic historical figures," McLoud-Schingen says of the roles. "But it’s difficult because Coretta King was very calm, very sophisticated and elegant, and than Fannie Lou Hamer is someone who doesn’t have a lot of education—a sharecropper. So you would think they would be two opposite ends to play, but there is something that is constant within both of them and that’s a sense of pride and resilience."
There are more than 20 of Tulsa’s finest local actors contributing their talents to this production, ranging in age from late teens to over 70.
Cast members who aren’t playing the main few roles often have to double up as two, three or even four characters. One of these multitaskers is TU sophomore Holly Harper. "You have to differentiate between all the characters, otherwise the audience gets super confused," says Harper of the unique challenges the work presents. "Mostly, I differentiate with body language, certain gestures that go with different people, voice variations. I have one character with a very low voice, then a loud character." Additionally, Harper mainly focuses on musicals, so this play has been an entirely new exercise.
"It’s been rewarding, watching it come together, and seeing the actors step into these roles," says McLoud-Schingen.
"All The Way" runs this weekend and next at the PAC. Buy tickets here.
Also, because I’m not busy enough already, I’ll be choreographing and performing a dance piece with Portico as part of Philbrook’s Second Saturday event on Saturday. These dances will be performed in the beautiful museum gardens, and are inspired by some of the pieces in the current "Native Fashion Now" exhibit. The performance starts at 1pm. Admission is free for the whole family, and there are tons of interactive activities for kids. See you there!