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Andrea J. Dymond: A Journey of Many Roads
by MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
2003-01-29

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'Vacilar' is a Spanish verb describing, not ambivalence, but a calculated method of exploration designed to utilize the aleatoric elements inherent in any journey. Visitors in an unfamiliar country, wanting to experience all it has to offer, but knowing themselves to be ignorant of what that encompasses, may employ this strategy—setting themselves a predetermined goal, the achievement of which will almost certainly involve a number of necessary inquiries into this or that matter and many side-trips down this or that path. Thus does their progress avoid the prodigality of irresolution, while inviting a wealth of unforeseen adventures.

Andrea J. Dymond is just such a vaciladora, with a career in Chicago Theatre spanning 15 years—a record that includes a decade with what was then called American Blues Theatre (now known as American Theater Company) as production stage manager and, for two years, co-artistic director, along with eight years at City Lit Theater Company in the capacity of administrator for the Black Collective of Theatre Artists (with six years as an Artistic Associate), in addition to directing the stage adaptations of Alice Walker's Meridian in 1992 and April Sinclair's Coffee Will Make You Black in 1996.

Since 2000, she has been affiliated with Victory Gardens Theater, serving as executive assistant to Victory Gardens artistic director Dennis Zacek and managing director Marcelle McVay. Recently, she was selected by the New Generations Program (sponsored by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Theatre Communications Group) to be the recipient of a Mentoring The Leaders Of Tomorrow grant. Currently she is directing Bourbon At The Border, Pearl Cleage's dramatic portrait of the destructive legacy of the civil-rights movement, as imposed on a Detroit couple struggling to shake off the trauma of their experiences in Mississippi during that violent period in American history.

MSB: Your press bio reads like the travels of Marco Polo—I notice you directed the world premiere of David Mamet's Where Were You When It Went Down in 1992—and this isn't even ALL of it. How did you come to pursue such a variety of artistic disciplines?

LJD: By following my various interests, combined with that old Luck Of The Draw. Some of what I've done outside of theatre has been, first, a matter of needing a job I could stand to do. But I was also lucky enough to find opportunities to work at things I could actually enjoy doing—and often become, myself, enriched by doing. So a lot of it was being in the right place at the right time.

MSB: Which of your experiences do you think have had the greatest influence on your career?

LJD: Personally, being a Black American woman, born to my particular family, growing up in a particular place [Shaker Heights, Ohio] at the end of the Baby Boom, in the middle of the civil-rights movement. All of these things have made me seek the work—I hesitate to use the word 'career'—that I have.

Professionally, I'd have to say that the time spent with American Blues was the most formative part of my experience. In fact, my career—as you call it—really began in earnest with Dogman's Last Stand, which was staged at Victory Gardens and starred Dennis Zacek. William Payne directed it, and I drove up from Cleveland for a few days to help with the tech. My first paid theatre job was running props for Victory Gardens during their 1987-'88 season. But coming to work as assistant to Dennis [Zacek] and Marcie [McVay] and being awarded the TCG grant is amazing in that it allows me to concentrate exclusively on artistic pursuits for the first time in 16 years of working in theatre.

MSB: In college, you majored in political science. How did that lead you to focus on theatre?

LJD: I wouldn't say there was any direct causal relationship between my interest in politics and my interest in the arts. Both art and politics were elements in my upbringing. I've participated in theatre since I was a kid. I briefly attended the Youth Theater School at the Cleveland Playhouse, and my first directing experience was in Junior High School.

Theatre and politics are, for me, connected to the extent that theatre is the exploration of who we ARE, while politics is the exploration of who we are TOGETHER—i.e. who we are, living WITH each other. And I think that in theatre—when it's at its best—we can achieve the ultimate expression of the Personal as the Political.

MSB: What do you enjoy doing most? Acting, directing, teaching or running administrative programs?

LJD: I love both writing and directing equally. When I'm doing either one, time doesn't just pass, it DISAPPEARS. I find another level of joy in directing, however, due to the collaborative nature of theatre—rehearsal, tech and all. The SHARING of creation has tremendous allure for me, because it holds possibilities beyond my imagination.

Organizing educational programs is something I can do, have done, have enjoyed, and will probably do again—but I don't seek it out these days. Still, an attraction shared by both writing and directing—and organizational research, for that matter—is the opportunity to explore something, or anything, or EVERY thing, for a time and then move on to the NEXT thing. I guess I tend to be a project-oriented person, who appreciates both beginnings and endings as much as the immersion period in between.

MSB: How do you think theatre has changed since you began working in it?

LJD: I know you can't produce a play for $1.98 any more, like when I first came to Chicago in 1986.

MSB: Anything else?

LJD: There doesn't seem to be the sense of excitement—the sexiness, almost—that was associated with theatre in Chicago then. Of course, maybe that's just because I'm not 24 years old any more.

MSB: What about the material being produced?

LJD: I think that [theater] companies nowadays tend to produce according to the stage of their development—as an ensemble or an institution or what-have-you—in addition to their niche and the needs of their subscriber base. You find comparable types of plays being chosen by a variety of companies at similar stages of development.

MSB: How does this play you're doing now fit into that pattern?

LJD: Bourbon At The Border is the kind of play I would like to see more of—and DO more of, myself—not only in Chicago, but across the country as well. It has a level of complexity, reflection and seriousness that I think is all too rare in American theatre these days.

Bourbon At The Border opened Jan. 27 at Victory Gardens Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., (773) 871-3000.

CORRECTION: In our Interactive Theatre feature Jan. 8, the phone number for A Dinner Party to Die For should have been listed as (630) 887-9988.


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