Theatre in the Now features Ella Turenne
Spotlight On…Ella Turenne
Name: Ella Turenne
Hometown: Laurelton, Queens NY
Education: BA – Stony Brook University, MSW, Boston University
Favorite Credits: The Black List, Sister Mary Explains it all for You, and of course Love, Locs & Liberation!
Why theater?: Theatre has always been my original love. There’s nothing like being on stage and being totally immersed in the world and in your character. That is a feeling I crave all the time. Also the connection it brings to people in the audience…it’s viscral and it’s a language everyone understands.
Tell us about Love, Locs & Liberation: This is a solo show that blends poetry, song and humor to unlock the hairstory experienced by Black women, revealing mishaps and triumphs. Through the eyes of 21 different characters which I play, including a 5th grade bully and Madam CJ Walker, I expose the hair connection – to politics, identity and culture – illustrating why hair is an intimate and essential part of Black life. Love, Locs & Liberation weaves together stories of struggles with identity and beauty. From rituals that Black women hold in relation with their hair, to my experience as an American woman with strong ties to my Haitian culture, this show asks the question: Is my worth tied to my hair?
What inspired you to write Love, Locs & Liberation?: There was a documentary on HBO a few years ago called “The Black List.” Black celebrities were asked to tell their stories. In the second installment the producers asked for stories from the public. I decided to submit a story about my hair. It was one of the five pieces that they selected for the documentary. When I got to tell my story, it crystalized my thoughts about self-image and it encouraged me to write more stories. I also remember seeing Chris Rock’s documentary “Good Hair,” which made a big impression. But it was still telling the story from a man’s perspective and also it was feeding into the Hollywood image of what Black women “should be.” Black women are complex and I wanted to show that. Somebody else is always telling our story instead of us. I felt this was my chance to provide not just one image but the complexity of images we as women hold.
What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love theatre that speaks to social justice issues…or just reflects real life. Plays that challenge you to think about what is going on in society. People like Anna Deavere Smith, Katori Hall, Dominique Morisseau, Roger Guenveur Smith, Paul Oakley Stovall, Sarah Jones and Dael Orlandersmith and the work they produce really inspire me. They are telling stories that need to be heard but don’t often see the light of day. I also am a musical junkie. I love song and dance and the magic that happens when you put that on a stage. And I love Shakespeare. I enjoy the beauty of the language and the complexity of the stories.
If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I could fill a few pages on this one. If I could only pick one….Ava DuVernay. Although she’s a filmmaker, her creative eye is phenomenal. I would love to see what she could do with a staged piece.
What show have you recommended to your friends?: Inside the Creole Mafia Written and Performed by Mark Broyard and Roger Guenveur Smith. One of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a long time. Not only well written and performed but does a great job of breaking the fourth wall and involving the audience in the ride! It challenges the audience to think about issues such as race and identity in really interesting ways.
Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Queen Latifah or Jill Scott. It would be called “The Blerd Chronicles”.
If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: The Wild Party directed by George C Wolfe. I missed it when it was on Broadway and it’s one I always wished I had seen.
What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Singing “Defying Gravity” at karaoke.
If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: A filmmaker. I have to get the stories out somehow.
What’s up next?: I’m really excited that I will be taking the show to Haiti in June! This will be a very different audience so I am curious as to how it will be received. Regardless, I know it will be a great time!