A beloved story of womanhood, triumph, strife and independence brought to the stage once again by a talented Black cast and creative team at Signature Theatre.
“The Color Purple” appeared on Signature Theatre’s running program on Aug. 16 and will remain until Oct. 8, 2022. This cast includes Howard’s own Frenchie Davis, Gabrielle Rice, Yvianick Saint-vil and Nia Savoy-Dock among many other talented performers.
One of the many Bison making their way to the stage is junior musical theatre major Rice. Rice portrays the character “Doris Church Lady” in the play and makes her professional debut in this production. The Hilltop spoke with Rice about her ongoing experience in Signature Theatre’s production of “The Color Purple” as well as in the Fine Arts Department at Howard.
The Hilltop: First off, you are a junior musical theatre major, and as a junior, your college experience has been unconventional, to say the least. How did the musical theatre department go about teaching in an online setting and do you think you benefited from those challenges?
Rice: The department adapted significantly. We had to be on Zoom, obviously, but they taught us how to create at-home environments that were conducive for our training. We learned how to self-tape, which is an essential skill, and we also learned how to take dance classes, vocal lessons and acting class via Zoom. It wasn’t ideal, but it made us extremely prepared for how to present ourselves as actors, singers and dancers online.
The Hilltop: What drew you to go for this specific production and what can you say about the subject matter of the play? In your opinion, why is it still a relevant and thriving story that people still want to tell?
Rice: I was thrilled at the thought of an all-Black cast, which is always a great environment to be in. I actually didn’t plan on auditioning, but the opportunity presented itself and I was ready for it. “The Color Purple” is a timeless story—it follows the perseverance of a woman put in an unimaginable situation who finds herself through the lens of love and her relationship with God. It doesn’t matter that this story takes place in the early 1900s or that it’s been told time and time again—it’s relatable no matter who you are. Everyone can relate to at least a part of this story, and it’s especially nice to see Black women dominate this story.
The Hilltop: Howard’s Fine Art Department is surely extremely proud of the artist and performers they are producing. What can you say about the former and current Howard students in this production? What sets our Bison apart when it comes to being on that stage?
Rice: Oh, the Howard people are absolutely amazing in this production. One of my fellow church ladies, Nia Savoy-Dock, is a Howard MT alum and she’s been amazing. And one of my cohort members, Yvianick Saint-vil is a part of the cast and it’s been great having one of my classmates in a show with me. Frenchie Davis is an alum who also previously taught at Howard and has become an auntie, a mentor, you name it, which has been amazing during my professional debut. Howard MT continues to produce artists who are aware of their Blackness and how it relates to our art, and they teach us the importance of staying ready so you don’t have to get ready. We’re held to a standard of excellence in the program, and that transfers into our work in the actual industry.
The Hilltop: You are one of many Bison representing the School of Fine Arts in this production, which must be very exciting. How do you feel working professionally alongside so many talented people who have been/are in your department at Howard University?
Rice: This is my professional debut, and it’s so exciting! It’s great getting to work alongside so many talented people because it’s a constant learning experience. I wasn’t expecting to start working this early in my matriculation, but like I said, the situation presented itself and I was ready. It’s been an amazing experience getting to apply what I learn in my program into real life and getting to see a character through from beginning to end.
The Hilltop: Other than the overflow of talent, moving performances and dynamic story, why should people go see this? Students, DMV locals, alum, everyone. What elements of this production can benefit, impress and entertain anyone and everyone?
Rice: Celie’s story is relatable to everyone. No matter your background and experiences, you can relate to something in this story. It’s also a story about Black people just living their lives. It’s
not just another play that touches on Black trauma and that makes it worthwhile.
The Hilltop: Lastly, what can the general student body at Howard do to support the artists and performers of this school?
Rice: Come and see our shows, and promote them when you can!
Copy edited by Alana Matthew [CORRECTION: This article’s headline previously referred to Gabrielle Rice as the director of the production. Rice is a cast-member.]