Interview with Until the Flood Director Reginald L. Douglas

Until the Flood is Associate Artistic Director Reginald Douglas’s first production at Studio Theatre. Studio Artistic Apprentice Jada Boggs discusses Douglas’s draw to the play, creating digital work, and the resonance of Michael Brown’s death seven years later. 

What drew you to this play? 

I believe the personal is political and the political is personal, so I'm always drawn to stories that take the themes of our world, and what's happening in our history books and newspapers, and adds a personal perspective. I think artists are uniquely good at this, adding our imagination, curiosity, and personal reflections to the world around us. Until the Flood  is a great example of Dael Orlandersmith’s ability to humanize the issues of our moment.

Unfortunately, the events and themes that inspired Until the Flood  remain relevant to the world around us, specifically given the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others this summer. The galvanization around racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement felt like the perfect time to reflect on this play. The play shows a community speaking for itself in all its diverse forms, speaking with brutal honesty, but also fervent joy and active hope, about what we all could do together to reimagine a world where these themes are no longer relevant.

In the published script for Until the Flood, Dael Orlandersmith writes, “The play may be performed by multiple actors or a single actor of any gender.” How did you decide to cast three Black women in your production?

I had the idea to cast the play with three Black actresses of different generations because I remain a firm believer that Black women are the bearers of our truth, and those who society often overlook are the ones who are leading us forward. It is this strength and resiliency inside the play that I wanted to honor through casting. I was also deeply interested in making the play as active as possible, knowing that it would be a digital production. Having choral conversations where the women could be in dialogue with one another, even as they take on other voices, was really thrilling to me as a way to activate the play with a three-dimensional quality that I hope overcomes the two-dimensional form. 

Speaking of two dimensions, how do you plan to bring the theatre's life and dimension to a digital format? 

I am excited for this to be one of the first stories that welcome audiences and artists back into our building. Presenting a play rooted in the voices of the community as one of our first productions is a powerful gesture as a producer. The play is inherently theatrical. We are watching actors act, and this production embraces that. We’re filming it inside a theatre, showing the actors in the seats, scripts in their hands, moving around the space, in the aisle, on the set, and touching the walls, expressing the love and safety of the theatre as a place to tell a story.

In 2021, our theatres themselves could be a version of the campfire where people gather together for storytelling and conversation. I'm interested in theatre that remains an active place where we can call audiences to gather to listen to stories about the world we live in, in this pandemic, and hopefully post-pandemic as well. That's the hope of this production and the reason I'm so thrilled to have it inside of the Milton.

What do you think you'll bring from this moment into your work as an artist and producer post-pandemic?

I've always been a lover of actors, and Until the Flood  to me is a love letter to actors. It's a tour de force performance for three brilliant Black actresses. That won't change; I'll still be drawn to work that allows actors to shine in their unique brilliance and beauty. I will remain dedicated to telling stories about the diversity of our world, particularly stories rooted in the Black experience, and what that means for the American experience. As a producer, I hope to continue to feel the urgency and importance of sharing stories that offer both honesty and hope. The work remains urgent and immediate in conversation with our audiences, and I'm interested in producing plays that spark and give space for this conversation.

How does this play spark that dialogue you mentioned, especially considering the police brutality and systemic racism that plagues our country?

I think the play, specifically this production, is rooted in the question: what if we are all complicit in the world we live in? What if we all take responsibility and lean into the opportunity to change the world and how it treats Black bodies? In the production, the actors are both performers and audience for one another. They sit in the same seats our subscribers, single ticket buyers, and community members sit in as they tell these stories.

One of my guiding questions as a director is: what if the characters in this play are also in our theatre? How can we give them space to comprehend these themes in hopes of arriving at a deeper empathetic understanding of the world we live in? That's one reason I’m staging it around the theatre. Each actress is each other’s audience member, and there's an active dialogue happening in the play between white voices, Black voices, old voices, young voices, urban voices, and rural voices, in the hope that Studio Theatre can be a place where all those voices live together, creating a new understanding of what harmony looks like.

What would you like audience members to know before they see this production?

I hope Until the Flood is a play that inspires audiences to engage in active listening, because I truly believe that when we listen to our neighbors, we better hear and understand ourselves.

Lean in, listen, and be excited about what you learn.