Prometheus Bound at Uprising Theatre - Interview with Director Denzel Belin
On April 21st Uprising Theatre is opening its newest show Prometheus Rising.
Upon first learning about Uprising theatre I was told "The thing that makes Uprising unique is that they combine quality theatre with actual partnerships with community organizations to channel the energy and empathy created by theatre into concrete action for change. The community partners table at every show and invite the audience to participate in one specific thing (beyond giving money). For this show the partners are Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), Womens’ Prison Book Project, and Minnesota Freedom Fund (a group working on community bail bonds)."
After hearing about this I was instantly curious about the theatre company and their new work. Luckily for me, the director of Prometheus Rising, Denzel Belin, was kind enough to answer some questions for me, so that I could learn more.
TCS: What attracted you to working with Uprising Theatre Company and this project in particular?
DB: Word of mouth is an artist’s best friend. I heard about Uprising from a good friend and fellow freelance director Shalee Coleman who not only raved about the company, but recommend me to get into contact with the artistic director, Shannon TL Kearns. It was when I met Shannon for coffee to learn more about the company did I realize the scope and impact that the company’s vision has and how I one day wanted to be a part of it. When Shannon approached me with the project of Prometheus Bound, I was excited to take it and in fact, there are few other companies I would do Prometheus Bound with. It is because of the vision of Uprising Theater Company did I feel that a Greek play would be able to resonate within out contemporary society. As someone who is usually drawn to contemporary work, I was grateful for the opportunity to explore and bring my particular flavor and thoughts to this piece. Uprising allowed me to make bold casting choices, such as casting Prometheus as a 21 year old woman of color, and marry both new and old aesthetics that make the show feel both new and old. I do believe that this timelessness and the timelessness of Prometheus’ struggle is why Uprising was attracted to the show and what I find striking in the script.
TCS: Prometheus Bound is such an ancient story and play, were there unique challenges that came with this? Can you speak to them?
DB: A particular challenge for me regarding this show is my relationship with the concept of “history”. As a queer person of color, history is not the best thing and is often riddled with struggle and hate. Throughout my education, I found that I had to be in specific classes to learn about people like me while I could rarely see myself in the general thought of “history”. It was during discussions with Shannon that I found my grounding for the show and why a company so forward thinking would look to the past for a script. The struggle that Prometheus experiences and the interactions that Prometheus has in Prometheus Bound with friends, foe, and people bound by their duty is easily reflected in today’s society, especially in regards to American prison systems. This gave me a way to access the relevancy of the Greek tale, and stage a story about gods through a modern day eye. The vision I established is a blend of Greek storytelling and physicality mixed in with a modern edge of relationships and character dynamics. There is a story and point to be made with every choice one will see on stage, from costuming to casting to staging. My hope is that the story will pop for all kinds of audience members for a variety of reasons.
TCS: I know of you more from your improv and comedy work, how would you describe the tone of this piece?
DB: It is funny that I spend some nights working on a Greek tragedy for Uprising and others making sex jokes and singing Disney parodies at The Brave New Workshop. If you add in the fact that I do science-based short plays and demonstrations at The Science Museum of Minnesota during the day, I run the whole gambit of theater experiences. The tone of this piece is still definitely a Greek tragedy but within tragedy there is some humor, which often comes from some shared experience between what is being presented on stage and what we have experienced. I think my improv and sketch work leads me be a stronger director, including with dramas and tragedies. All live performance, in my opinion, wants to strive for connection; that is what makes is special, unique, and different from other performative mediums. Comedy and tragedy is doing the exact same thing, just focused on different aspects of the human experience.
TCS: Was there any reference material that you used as a touch piece during development that you would recommend to audience members?
DB: This will sound like a plug, and to a certain degree it is, but people should really check out the Uprising Theater Company’s Facebook page. It is curated to not only let you know information regarding productions, but Uprising will share articles and think pieces that relate to the upcoming show. I have found myself during my personal research going to the page and finding an article about the effects of solitary confinement on one’s brain that GQ wrote.
TCS: If you had to give a one sentence pitch of the show what would it be?
DB: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana
TCS: Do you have anything else that you would like to say about this piece that I didn't ask you?
DB: This show, though through my vision, was developed and executed by the entire team involved. What people will see is the amalgamation of nine brilliant actors, one stunning assistant director, one sharp stage manager, one dutiful producer, and myself. Together, we will show you the result of our conversations and individual musings. We have worked to shine a light on this production that will show that though the script is old, the dialogue it invokes is fresh, contemporary, and one that we need to be having now.
TCS: When Uprising Theatre works on a new show what comes first, finding the community partners or picking the show? (Artistic Director Shannon TL Kearns answered this question)
DB: It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation, honestly. My criteria for picking plays is that as I am reading a script some very clear ideas need to come to mind about who we might partner with. If I can’t think of a partner then no matter how great the script it’s not one that Uprising will choose to do. So we usually pick a script with at least a couple ideas in mind. But as we develop a show we might find partners that fit a particular artistic choice. For instance, Denzel chose to cast Prometheus as a woman and that informed our decision to ask the Women’s Prison Book Project to be a partner. We knew we wanted to have at least one partner that directly supports people who are currently incarcerated and with the choice to a woman as Prometheus that made the ask to WPBP a logical and exciting one.
Thank you to Denzel Belin and Shannon TL Kearns for answering my questions.
I'll be seeing the show on April 24th, I hope to see you there.