“I see what I write,” says Lois Roach, a Boston-area playwright and theatre artist whose world premiere play The Emancipation of Mandy and Miz Ellie, is being performed by Company One Theatre, now through May 22. With a background that includes writing, teaching, and extensive experience as a director, Lois takes a visual approach to playmaking, envisioning elements of live production – music, dance, etc. – alongside the words she writes.
“And of course, everything starts from the words, whether you’re writing, acting or directing.”
Her new play explores the Emancipation Proclamation by way of the interwoven stories of two women, the titular Mandy (a slave) and Miz Ellie (the young newlywed Mandy serves). The production, which incorporates live rhythm, song, and dance from the OrigiNation Dance Troupe, has been in the making for ten years.
“It’s not as if I’ve been writing it every day for ten years,” Lois says. “But putting on a production is truly a combination of timing, luck, and money.” The opportunity arose to produce the play at Company One, with Victoria Marsh directing and Yandje Dibinga from OrigiNation in collaboration, “and I’m pleased I waited for those stars to line up,” Lois says.
Including OriginNation Dance was key, Lois says. “Yandje worked with Victoria and me when we did a workshop several years ago. She fell in love with the project as well. We worked to make sure she was part of this production.”
Putting on a play is a rigorous process. (Indeed, it was difficult for Lois and this ArtSake writer to even find time to speak about the play!) So what’s next, after Mandy and Miz Ellie?
“After sleep?” (Theatre folk have a special way with deadpan.)
Lois notes she always has a number of projects percolating. The draw to work with other theatre artists is too strong. “I love hanging out with actors and working with great artists, a great director.”
Along with her theatre work, Lois teaches young playwrights at Wellesley College, where she tries to instill that the path from idea to production is not always straightforward, and never easy.
“Life is messy. I tell my students that all the time. And that’s where your scripts and your stories come from. They don’t just come from four friends sitting in a coffee shop.”
Plus: “This work takes time.” Ten years from conception to production for The Emancipation of Mandy and Miz Ellie would seem to bear this out. Which is why it’s all the more remarkable when that initial writer’s vision finally comes alive on stage.
Images: promotional images from THE EMANCIPATION OF MANDY AND MIZ ELLIE: Dancers Jeremy Towle, DeLinda Sales, Roderick Calloway (Front), Jessica Chance as Mandy (Back); left to right: Lois Roach, Victoria Marsh, and Yandje Dibinga; John Brown’s Army.