Anyone who has ever met Wanda Whiteside will tell you that the theatre lover would produce a play in a gymnasium or a parking lot if it meant getting eyeballs on a performance.
A New York native, Whiteside received a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from Howard University and set out to fulfill her dream of creating an African American theater company.
In 1999, she helped start the InnerCircle Rep Company. A decade later, she helped open the Bonifant Theatre Space in downtown Silver Spring, MD and it became known for staging great theater in the area.
“We had that space for three years, and produced 30-40 events—everything from plays to readings to workshops—and it was a gorgeous space but the rent got to be too much,” she says. “We needed to find something else.”
Today, space is no longer a problem. Whiteside and her new Live Garra Theatre are now part of a consortium of theatres that have been awarded the management contract of the Black Box Theater next to the AFI Theatre in Silver Spring.
“My primary purpose is to bring the African American story to the community and talk about the universal issues we all share. It’s a multicultural experience,” Whiteside says. “I want to preserve our unique legacy in this country and empower and give us a sense of pride. Look at the time in our history, not to feel downtrodden, but embrace it and move on.”
For Live Garra Theatres’s first production, the artistic director has chosen the 1978 Tony-winning musical, Ain’t Misbehavin’, a musical revue tribute to Fats Waller and the black musicians of the ’20s and ’30s who were part of the Harlem Renaissance.
“I was looking at what kind of show would really let us hit the ground running and make some noise and a big splash, and bring some Broadway flavor to Silver Spring,” Whiteside says. “The Fats Waller music is absolutely phenomenal. He was so prolific in his music and the way he brought stride piano to the forefront. It’s part of the legacy of African American music in this country. We wanted to let everyone know we are here and thrilled to be in this space.”
The show stars Colie Williams, Mycah Chevalier, Quineice Carter and Michael Fields with DC native Chad Carter in the ensemble.
“It’s just an incredible cast. Colie is a jazz vocalist who performs locally in our area but her roots are in musical theater. She did a few shows with us in the past and she was so excited to get on board because she wanted to get back to her roots,” Whiteside says. “Mycah is another local talent who has a huge following. Michael is a wonderful local jazz artist, and so is Quineice… I am just humbled to be able to have all this incredible talent. They are seasoned performers with incredible voices.”
Closes October 19, 2014
Silver Spring Black Box Theater
8641 Colesville Road
Silver Spring, MD
Thursdays thru Sundays
“As we go through life, we look at things from all different perspectives. Theater is a way for people to see themselves through the eyes of someone else’s experience and realize they are going through the same thing,” Whiteside says. “That’s what I love about theater. You can see yourself up on stage, but it may be through someone of a different race or gender or from a different culture. It’s a way to bring people together.”
Ain’t Misbehavin’ opens at the Silver Spring Black Box Theater tonight, October 9, 2014 and runs through Sunday, Oct. 19th.