- By gentleguide
- On Fri 10 aug 2018
Next Friday at the Stoner Theatre, Pyramid Theatre Company opens their production of Intimate Apparel. Written by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage, Intimate Apparel is a show that Pyramid’s Artistic Director Tiffany Johnson had been wanting to present to Des Moines audiences from the very start of the organization’s history.
“Intimate Apparel was actually our very first table read as Pyramid Theatre Company,” says Johnson. “It was from that reading that I fell in love with the play. What I liked about it was the vulnerability of the women in the show. It’s funny, how we can all come from different walks of life and different sets of circumstances, but we have very similar wants and desires as women. To love and to be loved. To escape what we feel we have to be, in order to be what we WANT to be.”
“It was also intriguing to see how love manifests itself, and how we often fall in love with the concept of it before we understand whom we are wanting it from. There is a saying, ‘just because a person doesn’t love you the way you want them to, doesn’t mean they aren’t loving you with all they have.’ The traveling of emotions is what caught me in this play, and how little things made such an emotional impact on me. It’s amazing to see classic works be the remedy for current times, but it happens, and this play is a perfect example of it.”
Intimate Apparel is the story of Esther, a New York seamstress in the early 1900’s. We see her search for love and independence in a time where society simply didn’t allow for many of the choices necessary for happiness, and far too many of those choices seem impossible even today. Even if the play is set in 1905, the words and emotions are relevant for audiences in our current times.
“Esther is every woman in some shape or form” relates Johnson. “She may not be well known as Esther, but boy is she well known amongst women, especially from my culture. This woman of extreme talent and ability, who had all the makings of a successful woman, was hindered not by her lack of skill but by simply WHO she was. The American dream she wanted so badly was something they ‘pretended’ could happen, as opposed to what she felt could actually be. How many of us have died dreaming? How many of us have spent so much time dreaming and feeling like it was only possible in a dream, that they forgot or felt hindered by living?”
“In Intimate Apparel, you will literally see Esther moving around in her world, and you will see how the people in her life affect her, and how she affects them. Esther is written as the main character in the play, but I don’t believe in main characters. I believe that every person a playwright chooses has their own story to tell. I have tried to direct this piece in a way that we see all of the sub stories in the larger story. Literally not letting the actors off the hook when it appears the character no longer belongs in the scene. It is when you think people aren’t watching that you often find the reality of a matter. I am challenging the audience to see what happens on both sides of the door.”
As Esther, actress (and recent Cloris Nominee) Davida Williams is the person bringing Esther’s story to life on stage. Working with Johnson and the rest of Pyramid’s talented cadre, she also has found that “everywoman” quality in her character. And even though Esther does desire to love and to be loved, society and circumstances don’t always make that possible....
“Esther’s story is quite simple. She wants to be valued and loved. She finds herself willing to make compromises to attain that. I believe the theme reaches across generations, gender, race, and social class. I concentrate more on Esther’s desire and let it fuel me. She spends a great deal of her life living through others. I know what it is to want what I can’t have, no matter the reason. So I added some of that to Esther and then let her take the wheel.”
“This piece was a new experience for me,” added Davida. “I’ve allowed myself to be more vulnerable than I ever have on stage. I’m grateful to the cast for supporting me and giving me a safe space. Buckle up. We are going to blow your mind.”
This is Pyramid Theatre Company’s third official season (although the group did a few plays before they became an official organization). Previous years included shows at the Kum & Go Theatre at the Social Club and at Drake University, but their current home is the Stoner Studio Theatre at the Civic Center. While each venue has provided different advantages and situations, Johnson is more than happy with their current base of operations.
“We LOVE the Stoner Theatre space. A thrust is a tricky but fun place to navigate. I am challenged to block the show in a way that the audience gets the best viewing of it, and there is so much I don’t want them to miss.”
So far, Pyramid has done two shows each summer. As a general rule, one of these shows is a new, current play (such as the recently performed Prowess, or last year’s Mississippi Goddamn, which was just published and featured the Pyramid cast and crew in the script). The other is a more “classic” play, like this year’s production of Intimate Apparel. As Artistic Director for Pyramid, Johnson realizes the move to the Stoner Theatre could support more works by the group, but she knows where her priorities lie.
“Whereas we would love to offer more shows in a season,” she says, “we are committed to overall artistic integrity and would rather perfect what we have as opposed to expanding and watering it down. We are known for the quality of our work. We’d rather have quality over quantity any day of the week. We commit ourselves to it, so what we currently have we will continue to perfect.”
There is a reason Pyramid has established the “modern” and “classic” structure for their shows. Johnson is dedicated to that system, and it has been embraced by their audiences, who appreciate their efforts. “Theatre is an industry that could easily die with the ways of old,” she observes. “Technology has played a major role in robbing one of the more human experiences. These experiences are vital for a community to continue to grow and care about one another.”
“One of the major reasons we offer both a classic and current play is to cultivate the younger audience and prepare their palate in order for them to still find value in the classic art, and to still offer timeless work that speaks very much to our current world and circumstances. The current work speaks more to the younger demographic, as we do our part to usher them into the world of theatre and one of the last human experiences by way of entertainment.”
“The classics are to then ground them, and hope to set back in place the foundation of how family works, community works, and to hopefully inspire them to become a part of that. It’s wonderful to show our culture who and how we are in a non-stereotypical way. Something about seeing yourself, it changes your view and perception a lot of times in ways that benefit the individual and those around them.”
Johnson’s passion is easily evident in her words. And her actions reflect those emotions, as does her work with Pyramid. Theatre has the ability to move mountains, and she’s going to do her part to create a new view of the world.
“I am not a director to receive an award one day, or to be known by the world as a talent. I’m a director because I started off just being a person that wanted to insert myself into change. I wanted to shift the cultural landscape where I live so that I could see myself in it, so that my children could see themselves in it and not feel like they were just here, but that they were included. I wanted to be a part of reminding people of their humanity and how, despite cultural differences and economic barriers, we all FEEL the same.”
“We all love, get angry, feel hurt, have disappointments and regrets, and we also all feel joy, happiness, and gratitude. All those feelings are the same regardless of where you come from. I wanted to remind people to connect on that level, from the same place. From there, tolerance is more than a notion, from there acceptance is easy. It is from that place that we can all find each other in the dark and be each other’s light.”
You can find some of that light in Pyramid Theatre Company’s production of Intimate Apparel, opening August 17th at the Stoner Studio Theatre at the Civic Center. More information is available through the Pyramid Theatre Company website, and tickets are available through the Civic Center website as well. (But don’t wait, Pyramid shows are very popular, so make sure you don’t miss Intimate Apparel!)