Meet Regine Vital, who pulls the strings throughout A Southern Victory as both Harriet
Proctor and “Jazz Lady”.
Vagabond Literary Manager Zach Winston asked our cast a few questions about their time with ASV, their experience with the role, and their future. Read Regine’s take below!
Tell us about your character(s). What kind of tools have you been using to prepare for your role (research, technique, process, etc)? Is it different from what you typically do?
I play two characters, Jazz Lady and Harriet Proctor. They’re both true believers and loyal to their cause–they understand that they are operating at extremes, but feel that they have been pushed there, that they have no choice. They are strong black women, complicated, and compromised, but totally bad-ass. It’s joy to play the,, even if sometimes I come out of the experience feeling a bit conflicted about their actions. But then again, even that discomfort is a gift, a reminder that things are never so simple, never just black and white.
As far as research goes, I didn’t do much. Jazz Lady is based on a real historical figure, Ma Rainey, aka Gertrude Pridgett. She was a real jazz/blues singer–August Wilson write a play in which she’s a crucial character (MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM)–very influential in black music in her time and in black music generally. She also was a lesbian. But because we’re dealing in an alternative history, i didn’t feel that i needed to bring too much “fact” into the mix. For me, the main things to pull from in this story is that she is an escaped slave who has worked her way up in the abolition movement to a high operational level. To accomplish this, this woman must have done some things, some terrible, questionable things which she then had to rationalize and justify to herself. And it all stems from being a black woman in a slave holding society, a society where she had no rights, no freedom, no room to believe that she deserved to be safe and respected and counted. What horrors did she experience in bondage? what horrors did she experience in her escape? how do these things mold her into the focused, mission-oriented person that she is? how much of herself is she hiding? is she protecting? To explore these things, I need to think about what it is for me to be a black woman today and how i navigate the world now? how would i navigate it in this world. I fee the same way about Harriet. It’s fundamentally an identity question for me. Could I live these lives? And in what ways do i do so already? Which are tough questions to wrestle with. It requires me asking the question: “does a terrorist ever have a justifiable motive?” the actions are inarguably wrong, even evil, but is the reason understandable. That is a CRAZY head space to be in for four months.
What aspect from the time period as presented in the given circumstances of A Southern Victory fascinates you the most?
I cannot imagine the United States as two different places. There’s something about that idea that just blows my mind–it would fracture my identity as a first generation Haitian-American because so much of how I think about identity has to do with pulling things about myself together to complete the whole. I feel that is what America is. To think that there could have been an instance where that was not achievable…it’s scary.
Also, Abraham Lincoln doesn’t get assassinated, but survives and becomes a communist?? Like. Whoa.
Do you personally relate to your character? Have you ever encountered conflict or obstacles like that which they face? How did you react? How would they have reacted?
I do relate to them. I’m at a point in my life where being black and female increasingly frames the different aspects in my life–from work, to school, to art, to politics. In the last four months, i have had to seriously think about what it means for me to be an “angry black lady”–how the stereotype can completely eclipse the multi-faceted, nuanced reality of me, and how the need to not be classed this way restrains me form being justifiably angry, even diminishes the validity of my anger. Being a black and a woman in America is a really weird thing, but being a female black Haitian-American is such a point of pride for me. Navigating that identity and being assertive about it–being me with apology or defense or explanation–I confront that everyday. I think the woman i portray do this; in their portrayal, it’s liberating for me to just be.
What has been your favorite thing about rehearsal? What kinds of obstacles and challenges have you encountered?
It’s one thing to read this script; it’s a very different thing to actually look someone in the eye and say the words. I feel the shift inside and sometimes it’s shattering. Certain sounds almost leave you scarred. But it’s real. The story may be fictional, but the history and legacy of slavery and race relations is very real and is STILL a palpable topic in our society today. As artists and civically aware people, we have this very real responsibility to respect that fact. So while it’s great fun to play a bad ass lady spy, it’s a serious task i’ve taken on, that we’ve all taken on. it’s been incredibly humbling to do experience it all, and to do so with this group of people.
Some actors have been working on A Southern Victory for two years, others for a few months. How involved have you been in the script’s development so far? How have you seen it evolve from then until now?
I came on in November when they cast the show for this run at the BPT. But just hearing the stories of the journey this piece has taken from first thought to opening night has been mind boggling and inspiring. It’s great to see such dedication and belief in a project–it enhances my need and desire to do it justice. There’ve definitely been some forks in the road–which happens when you take on something of this size–but ultimately, it’s been a fun time.
Any projects lined up for after A Southern Victory? Plans? Tell us about them!
After ASV, i don’t have much planned to do except sleep! Sleep and finish off my spring semester of grad school of strong. I’m due for a break–when rehearsals started for ASV, i was in the final weeks of rehearsal for another play with a group in Arlington, which was during my fall semester of classes. I’ve basically been going non-stop since September. It’ll be nice to have only one commitment for a while. Though, that never lasts for long–as soon as I’m off stage, I want to get back on. So I guess we’ll see what opportunities present themselves. 😉