JACQUELINE LAWTON: To begin, why did you decide to get into theater? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
CHANDRA THOMAS: I was first introduced to theatre at a very young age as my mom took me to my first Broadway production when I was maybe 4 or 5 years old. But it wasn't until a middle-school classmate "dared" me to try out for the seventh grade musical production of "The Emperor's New Clothes" that I discovered the thrill and excitement of being part of a play. This all laid the foundation for when I saw the original production of "Rent" and became a fully certified "Renthead"-- yes, the ones who slept outside of the theatre to be first in line for front row tickets [laughs]. The show sparked my "I am deciding to get into theatre" turning point. Despite having seen and been a part of quite a bit of theatre by that early age, it was the first time I saw people who looked and talked and acted like the people I knew and grew up with and faced problems that seemed visceral and contemporary to me. It was the show that gave me the gust to say aloud that i, my voice, and the stories of people who I cherish belong on the stage too.
JL: Set in Hampton, Virginia in the 1940s, THE HAMPTON YEARS examines the impact of World War II on Jewish immigrants living in the United States and their role in shaping the lives and careers of African American students in the segregated south. Why do you feel this play is relevant to today’s audiences?
CT: So many of the themes that you reference in that description and that resonate in the entire play are so alive and at the forefront of "right now": people being displaced because of violent strife in their homeland, the necessity of collaboration in speaking out against unjust systems, the vital role of educational institutions in not only preparing young people to enter the "real" world, but to empower them to define it.
JL: THE HAMPTON YEAR also investigates the various ways in which racism and bigotry negatively impact the arts, academia and military. Where do you feel we are in terms of race relations in the U.S.?
CT: I will respond to this question with two quotes from the play--
My character, Elizabeth Catlett: "One day... our work will transcend race. People, who don't looks like us, who disregard us, will be able to see themselves in our art."
And from John Biggers, one of her young art students of African descent: "I mean no disrespect, but how long are we supposed to be okay with better than before?... some of us can't afford to wait."
JL: Which character are you playing? What, if anything, do you have in common with this character’s passions, values, intentions or belief system?
CT: I play Elizabeth Catlett. There are several points of meeting between Elizabeth and me. The one that's really been playing in my mind of late is our shared belief about how resistance and political movement must come in MANY different forms.
JL: What do you hope audiences walk away thinking about after experiencing this play?
CT: I hope they walk away with the vibration of just how "right now" so many of the questions and problems in this play are...
JL: What’s next for you as an actor? Where can we follow your work?
CT: It's very easy to follow my work via my website: www.chandrathomas.com. You can also find me on Twitter (@truechandra) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/chandrathomas).
Originally from New York, chandra thomas works in theatre, film, television, and new media. Theatre performances include contemporary and classic works Off-Broadway, in New York, and regionally at New York Theatre Workshop, Public Theater, Tectonic Theater Project, Barrow Group Theatre, PS 122, Guthrie Theater, CenterStage, Denver Theater Center, Alliance Theatre, and others. Film, television, and new media credits include Labor Day (with Kate Winslet), Sweet Lorraine (with Tatum O'Neal), Law & Order: SVU, The Good Wife, Too Big to Fail, and Complete Sentences?, among others. She is also a writer and arts educator, including co-founding viBe Theater Experience, an award-winning, arts non-profit empowering teenage girls in New York City. More at www.chandrathomas.com and @truechandra on Twitter.
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!