One of Moving Arts’ Resident Artists, Playwright Ross Tedford Kendall, interviewed the cast of Blood and Thunder. Terence Anthony’s play spins a tale of familial bonds and betrayals pitted against the backdrop of the chaos of Hurricane Katrina. Kendall caught up with cast members Keith Bolden (Marcus), Tony Williams (Quentin) and Candice Afia (Charlie) to hear their thoughts on the play, the production and the events of the storm itself.
What drew you to audition for this play?
Williams: At first, the premise of the play in the breakdowns is what caused me to submit. Once I got the script I was hooked. It was such a gripping story that became immediately invested. Simply couldn’t resist.
Afia: I read the synopsis and the relation to Katrina drew my attention. Sometimes you read a script and you’re like, “I could take it or leave it,” but this one I wanted to do as soon as I read it.
Bolden: Quite honestly, there are so few auditions specifically for African-Americans in plays that when they come up I immediately am intrigued. TheÂ description of this play, which I found on Actors Access, further piqued my interest.
How does the set/sound design assist you in your acting in this piece?
Bolden: The space itself is a character in the play. The audience is forced to be a part of your drama, which aids my performance. I am a laid back guy who will joke and talk until I am standing behind that door to make my entrance. I hear Brian’s voice describing the hurricanes and the effects and then his voice is drowned out by rushing waters. Ray Nagin’s newscast voice is heard stating this is the storm we were afraid of and his voice is overcome by waters and then sirens… explosions…I am instantaneously transported to a state of absolute focus and resolve.
Williams: Actually the set and sound are aspects I use in my preparation. They’re so well done, with intricacies that help me get to where I need to be for the performance. There are actually a few things about the set that remind me of my own upbringing and the newscasts prior to the show are such a brilliant addition for the audience and the actors alike.
Afia: The set is so real. It really feels like I’m in this dingy crappy apartment living with a guy. It really puts me there in the situation of wanting more. Wanting a better life.
What knowledge of Katrina did you find helpful?
Afia: How rooted people were to their homes, the poverty and the desperation. It helped me feel where Charlie came from to want to change her situation.
Williams: There are multiple levels of information that really helped me find my connection to the story. In particular, seeing prisoners of the time tell stories of what they went through… like hearingÂ friends trapped in cells on a floor beneath them cry as the water made its way to the ceiling. Seeing visual footage of the storm had a pretty intense affect on me too. I saw one of a huge wave of water come up a bent flight of stairs. Makes my heart rush even thinking about it.
Bolden:Â I have always been interested in natural disasters. I would study tornados and earthquakes growing up. Reading about hurricanes as a child helped me to understand Katrina. The winds from the hurricane didn’t do the damage in the ninth ward; it was the levees not being able to withstand the storm surge. Houses, even the shanty ones, were able to withstand the category two winds. A lot them were still standing. It was the flooding that did people in.
How do you feel about Katrina and its effects on New Orleans and the Gulf coast?
Bolden: Hurt, disgusted, upset, betrayed and denied.
Williams: I’m still overwhelmed by what it did. So many people lost their lives. So many people lost loved ones. So many people suffered and are still suffering. It’s hard to put into words the depth of sadness and hurt I share with the world for what it did to the people of New Orleans. And the fact so manyÂ of them had to go so long without help is disheartening. I don’t want to make this a political statement but I think the government acted inhumanly in its delay.
Afia:Â How it was handled before and after was just a mess. But I think everyone learned from it. The government, Americans overall. Everybody.
How does working in such an intimate space help you with this piece?
Williams: Working in a space that puts us so close to the audience is actually pretty awesome. It forces us to fight even harder for the reality of each moment. When you’re that close to that fourth wall there’s no hiding. I love it.
Afia: The intimate space is a challenge but it makes us focus that much more. The great thing about it though is it allows you to play with more subtleties like you can with film and TV because the audience will be able to pick up on it.
Bolden:Â I have never worked in a space this small. Though we are limited in some technical aspects the show plays well in this space. The audiences feel as if they are in the apartment with the characters. (grinning) Though I think we would get more standing ovations if the space were larger.
What special preparation did you have to do for the more physical actions?
Afia: We worked with a great fight coordinator (Caleb Terray) but I had to really get used to being aggressive physically and I looked to my fellow actors to help me feel comfortable and to let me know where I was hurting them. We have to have a great amount of trust with each other.
Williams: Just prior to the auditioning process for Blood and Thunder IÂ started work on an indie feature as a former Special Forces assassin. ForÂ that and the role of Quentin being in decent shape wasÂ important. There are so many areas in each script that would leave you open to injury. I’m so thankful to have had such a great fight choreographer in Caleb. He’s exceptionally good at what he does and is extremely supportive and patient, two important aspects of such involved fight sequences.
Bolden:Â Stretching, warming up is always good, especially when you are getting old. The great thing about this cast is we care about one another and are always checking in to make sure things are right where they are supposed to be, especially physically. We watch one another every day at fight call and give feed back where needed; we are open to receiving it from one another. The best preparation we have is to respect one another and what each brings to the table.
Any final words on this production?
Bolden:Â The show is a fantastic vehicle for all three of us. Sara Wagner is the most competent director. She talks to us and comes to the show on a regular basis, but not as a director; as a friend who enjoys watching us explore and play every night. I could do this show forever because it plays to my strengths; not only that, it tells the story of victims. Not victims of the storm but of the city and of the economy. These folks were forced into a life of crime because they felt they had no other choices. Katrina or no Katrina this story could stand on its own.
Williams: I can’t begin to tell you how blessed I am to have been allowed to be part of such a fantastic production. From working with such professional, workhorse producers (Cece Tio and Moving Arts) to aÂ genius writer, to a true actor’s director — whose brilliance outshines any I’ve ever worked with– as well as sharing the stage with two outstanding actors who’ve graciously lifted my level of playing and allowed me to live with them in this world we’ve created. It’s a high point in my life.
Afia: It’s been an awesome experience. I have grown as a person and as an actor considerably. We’ve had some good times. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
The Ovation Recommended Blood and Thunder runs at Moving Arts Hyperion Station in Silver Lake through March 28.Â www.movingarts.org
Feature image of Candice Afia, Keith Arthur Bolden and Tony Williams and story images by Jay R. Lawton.