JACQUELINE LAWTON: To begin, why did you decide to get into theater? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
Meredith Noel: I have wanted to be an actress for as long as I knew what one was. I remember talking to my mother when I was five years old and she asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I told her, “I want to be a Ballerina-Motorcycle-Queen!” and she said, “I don’t think that’s a thing” and I said, “Well then I want to be in movies”
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?
MN: At the center of the play are character’s struggling to find their place in society, to find their own voice as artists, and to relate to each other as human beings and not as stereotypes. It’s a very relevant story as the struggles and triumphs of the characters are timeless and relatable to people in any generation and of any age.
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.?
MN: As of late, it would seem that we did not pass go nor did we collect our $200 in terms of race relations in this country. While it may seem that way, it isn’t true. The same struggles we’re having now are the same struggles we’ve always had as a nation. Except now, we have the information readily available to us at anytime and its right in the palm of our hand. We cannot turn a blind eye anymore or pretend these injustices aren’t happening. We are all now faced with the truth, which makes us all accountable. We have to do our best to not be apart of the problem. We have to be the ones who facilitate solutions and change.
JL: Which character are you playing? What, if anything, do you have in common with this character’s passions, values, intentions or belief system?
MN: I am playing Samella Sanders, now Lewis, in the show. I have much in common with Samella. She is a young woman who, throughout the play, goes on this journey of self discovery and is delivered from the words and prejudices others have placed on her to find who she is and her own voice as an artist. While being an actress is the only thing I ever really saw myself doing I allowed my family, much like Samella allowed Professors and scholars, to persuade me that I couldn’t and shouldn’t do that. It took the support of people who believed in my talents and for me to have faith in myself to finally admit and pursue my passion. Samella had Viktor and Elizabeth in the world of the play to help her realize her potential and I had Dr. Clarence Murray, Brando Lindsy and Anthony Stockard to help me realize mine.
JL: What do you hope audiences walk away thinking about after experiencing this play?
MN: I hope audiences realize the rich culture and history of the Tidewater region, I hope they walk away ready to have honest and productive dialogue about art, relating to each other with understanding and patience, and about ways to affect positive change in the city around them and I hope they research these brilliant characters more to find out about who they became and the phenomenal work that they have done.
JL: What’s next for you as an actor? Where can we follow your work?
MN: Well I am a student actor. I am a senior at Norfolk State University so you can always visit our website, nsutheatre.com, to see what we’re up to next. Some coming attractions: will be doing an original piece which is a tribute for Martin Luther King, Jr. and we will also be holding a Sonnet Salute for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Also we will be having a one act play festival where each student in our directing class will be responsible for casting and directing their own one act play. In addition to that I have professional auditions coming up in March for SETC. If you care to follow me on social media my Instgram handle is meredithnoel, my Facebook is Meredith Noel Johnson and my Snapchat is themeredithnoel.
Meredith Noël Johnson is a native of Baltimore, Maryland and the youngest of five siblings. She is a senior at Norfolk State University studying English with a concentration in Theatre. At Norfolk State, she is a member of the NSU Theatre Company and has performed in such shows as: A Raisin in the Sun as Ruth Younger, For Colored Girls as Lady in Red, and Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill as Billie Holiday. She is very excited to be performing in her first production in The Wells Theatre with the Virginia Stage Company.
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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!