Swine Palace Performances of "The Brothers Size" March 21-April 1 to Include Public Discussions on Community Issues

Have you ever watched a performance that tackled societal issues and instantly had thoughts and ideas about its message which you wanted to convey? Have you wanted to share these thoughts and ideas with others in an intimate setting in hopes to bring such issues into the spotlight?

Swine Palace's production of "The Brothers Size" features actors Derrian Tolden, top left, and Donald Watkins, top right, in the roles of Elegba and Oshoosi Size, respectively. LSU Department of Theatre Professor Femi Euba, bottom right, will direct the production. Marco Barker, bottom left, will lead the first talkback session, following the March 25 performance. Barker serves as assistant to the vice provost and director of educational equity with the LSU Office of Equity, Diversity & Community Outreach, and co-director of the LSU Black Male Leadership Initiative Fellows Program. Not pictured is actor Yohance Myles, who also stars in the production as Ogun Size.
Photo by Eddy Perez

Swine Palace, the premiere professional theatre in Louisiana, will offer such an opportunity this month, as it brings an end to its 20th anniversary season in 2012 with a production of Tarell Alvin McCraney's "The Brothers Size." Performances of the much-lauded play will be held March 21-April 1 in the Studio Theatre, located in the Music & Dramatic Arts Building on Dalrymple Drive.

As part of its production of "The Brothers Size," Swine Palace will also host a series of talkback sessions, as well as a separate community forum event for the public to engage in discussion on topics addressed in the play.

"The Brothers Size" is an evocative, comical and heartbreaking look at brotherhood, coming of age, sexuality and the bonds of family. Hailed by the Chicago Tribune as "the greatest piece of writing by an American playwright under 30 in a generation or more," the play, set in Louisiana, is the second in McCraney's trilogy, "The Brother/Sister Plays."

In the play, Ogun Size and his younger brother, Oshoosi, have taken very different paths. Ogun dedicated his life to a single-minded pursuit of his career running an auto-repair shop, while his brother, a wandering soul who has just returned from prison, is happily aimless. The elusive possibility of freedom is the central theme, and it plays out in the depiction of a racist justice system, as well as in the more universal struggle to break away from the limits of family.

McCraney is an award-winning American playwright and actor, achieving the honor of being the 2008 RSC/Warwick International Playwright in Residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and in 2010, becoming the 43rd member of the renowned Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble.

According to McCraney, the series is "inspired by Yoruba life and traditions, steeped in Southern rhythms and cadences, and seamed shut with the fire of urban music and dance." Yoruba culture and philosophy, which hail from West Africa, are centered on the idea that all human beings possess "Ayanmo," or destiny or fate. It also teaches that life's journey is about growing spiritually in order to become one in spirit with Olódùmarè, the divine creator and source of all energy. Furthermore, the thoughts and actions of each person in Ayé, or the physical realm, interact with all other living things, including the Earth itself.

Swine Palace's productions of "The Brothers Size" are directed by Femi Euba, whose selection of plays is published in the collection, "Black Drama," by Alexander Street Press. Euba is also the recipient of the LSU Alumni Association Faculty Excellence Award and the LSU Distinguished Faculty Award.

According to Euba, "The Brothers Size" is about the individual's journey of self-discovery and finding the fate the universe has laid out for him.

Performances of "The Brothers Size" Studio Theatre, LSU Music & Dramatic Arts Building

March 21 - "pay-what-you-can" performance - 7:30 pm., doors open at 6:30 p.m.
March 22 - official preview performance - 7:30 p.m.
March 23 - official opening performance - 7:30 p.m.

Evening performances - 7:30 p.m., doors open at 6:30 p.m. March 24, 28, 29, 30, 31

Matinee performances - 2:30 p.m., doors open at 1:30 p.m. March 25, April 1

School matinee performance - 10 a.m., doors open at 9 a.m. March 27

Tickets $28 - adult $19 - seniors/faculty/staff $15 - students

Tickets can be purchased at the following locations.

Music & Dramatic Arts Box Office - 225-578-3527

LSU Student Union Theatre Box Office - Music & Dramatic Arts Building, Dalrymple Drive Reilly Theatre - Tower Drive www.swinepalace.org

"There are so many distractions in the world that imprison us and keep us from our true path in life," Euba said. "McCraney links his characters to Yoruba gods and gives us a message that we should accept that everyone has their own journey to take. Oshoosi, the younger brother, is the one character who wants to see the world and defies the labels his brother and friend try to put on him. Elegba, his friend from prison, is a symbolic representation of the Yoruba trickster god of fate, whose ultimate purpose is to actually help us be aware of our potential. I think everyone will identify with the family relationships in the play and the desire to discover our true natures."

Swine Palace's productions of "The Brothers Size" also feature professional actors Yohance Myles and Derrian Tolden in the roles of Ogun and Elegba, respectively, and Swine Palace resident ensemble member Donald Watkins in the role of Oshoosi. Myles, a Master of Fine Arts graduate of the LSU's Professional Actor Training Program, returns to Swine Palace for a second time. He was last seen in Swine Palace's "The Royal Family" in the fall of 2009.

"I'm very excited to work with Yohance," Euba said. "We always wanted to do a project together while he was at LSU, and never found the time. He will bring a lot of experience to the role of Ogun."

Scenic Designer Ken George described the design for "The Brothers Size" as "a world of suggested realism.

"I have created a world that tells us when and where we are, yet still leaves a hint of the theatrical for our own imaginations to explore," George said. "Audiences will see real world elements mixed with theatrical expression, such as fragmented walls and fluid movements from one location to another, all on one set unit. I have created a gritty, textural environment to help tell the story for these young men."

Sound will play an important role in the production as well. LSU senior theatre studies student Chelsey Payne serves as sound designer for the production, and is taking on the challenge of melding the many different genres of music mentioned in the script into a cohesive whole that drives the action of the story forward.

"The music draws from hip hop to zydeco to traditional West African folk music," she said. "Each character will have his own musicality that captures his individual identity. The words of the play and the flow between scenes are very rhythmic in and of themselves. I want to find solid ground with my sound design to match these rhythms and to create a through line to tell the story."

Front and center stage

Following performances of "The Brothers Size," members of the audience will have the opportunity to voice their concerns on topics that are brought to light within the play. All talkbacks are free and open to the public. Each of the talkbacks will be led by a community activist or leader speaking on a particular topic that reinforces themes from the play. Visit www.swinepalace.org for topics, and dates and times.

The first talkback session, "The Brothers Size Through Brothers' Eyes: Examining Black Male Leadership," will take place on Sunday, March 25, at 3:30 p.m. in the Studio Theatre.

In the first session, Marco Barker – who serves as assistant to the vice provost and director of educational equity with the LSU Office of Equity, Diversity & Community Outreach, and co-director of the LSU Black Male Leadership Initiative, or BLMI, Fellows Program – will host an interactive discussion that explores leadership through racial and gender lenses. The session will feature both input from the audience and a panel of black male students from both LSU and Southern University in order to issue a call to action for the emergence of black male leaders.

"'The Brothers Size through Brothers' Eyes' will prove to be a dynamic and interesting conversation on leadership, a topic that often goes unaddressed in black male youth communities," Barker said. "It is my goal to offer an opportunity for attendees to reflect on and discuss issues that challenge or encourage black male youth to seek and engage in leadership opportunities. While the discussion includes a panel of students, it is my hope that the audience become active participants in this discussion and that a call to leadership is made."

Historically, Barker said, there were many, highly visible black male leaders in local and national communities. Major movements like the Harlem Renaissance, the growing study of the African Diaspora and the Civil Rights Movement brought attention to black males in leadership.

"Although there are black male leaders today, the visibility and quantity of these leaders is less, calling for more intentional and early leadership development," he said. "I feel that the talented tenth proposed by W. E. B. DuBois could become the talented twentieth."

Barker said he feels the discussion represents a great relationship between Swine Palace and the LSU BMLI Fellows Program, a retention and leadership development program established by the LSU Office of Equity, Diversity & Community Outreach and the Office of Multicultural Affairs. In additional to leadership development, the LSU BMLI Fellows Program also provides academic support and civic engagement opportunities while connecting students with faculty, staff, and the campus community.

"As co-director of the LSU BMLI Fellows Program, I have the opportunity to work with young black college males who are committed to furthering their leadership development and making an impact," he said. "'The Brothers Size' is play that addresses topics of choice, race, gender and institutional systems – similar topics included in the LSU BMLI Fellows Program. The LSU BMLI Fellows Program recognizes the correlation between engagement, leadership, and college success and aims at addressing the national call for more engaged black male leaders. It's an honor to partner with Swine Palace and to make 'The Brothers Size' a larger discussion that is overdue."

For more information, or to support BMLI, contact Barker at 225-578-5736 or Chaunda Allen at 225-578-4339, by email at bmli@lsu.edu or visit the BMLI website at www.lsu.edu/bmli.

Additionally, a community-wide discussion will be held on Thursday, April 5, at 7 p.m. in the Studio Theatre. The dialogue will feature a panel of community activists and leaders and will be facilitated by the YWCA of Greater Baton Rouge's Dialogue on Race.

Kristin Sosnowsky, interim director of the LSU Department of Theatre and managing director of Swine Palace, said that the community dialogues are part of Swine Palace's intent to foster a healthy dialogue in the community on such topics.

"For more than a decade, Swine Palace has had a commitment to programming plays which deal with important societal issues," Sosnowsky said. "It is our goal to serve as a catalyst for both facilitated dialogue such as what we are doing with the LSU Office of Equity, Diversity & Community Outreach, as well as conversations that extend past the run of the production. We believe stories such as 'The Brothers Size' will resonate with our community and cause our audiences to examine the real-world impact of institutional systems that don't treat all members of society equally. Ultimately, it is our goal to be a part of positive change in our community."

Speakers and topics for the community-wide discussion, as well as for the remaining talkback sessions, will be announced at a later date.

About Swine Palace

Founded in 1992, Swine Palace operates with a dual mission to provide South Louisiana with high-quality, professional productions of classical and contemporary theatre with an emphasis on plays exploring issues of social equity while also serving as a training ground for students in LSU's M.F.A. Professional Actor and Technical/Design Training Programs. For 20 seasons, Swine Palace has produced more than 68 productions, including many regional and world premieres, in Baton Rouge, La. Under the leadership of Managing Director Kristin Sosnowsky and Artistic Director George Judy, Swine Palace mounts three to four productions each season, and employs five to 12 guest actors, directors, and designers from across the country. Recent guest artists have included Ping Chong, Deb Alley, Adam Rapp, Steve Young, Mia Katigbak, Clayton Corzatte, Adolphus Ward and Lance Nichols. To learn more about Swine Palace, visit www.swinepalace.org.