Brittany Alyse Willis, a non-binary trans person, who uses the singular “they” as their pronoun, used to commute to work by riding the Red Line from Maryland into Metro Center to work at one of the shops at the Natural History Museum, and although they didn’t know it at the time, their daily journey would set the seed for a new play, Use All Available Doors.
Playwright Brittany Alyse Willis“I was just really drawn to the idea of the Metro as a place suspended in time and space because it’s a daily part of so many of our lives here in D.C.,” Willis says. “When we’re on the train, we are travelling somewhere together and sooner or later—probably later—we’ll get there, but for now there’s nowhere else we can be. We can’t escape the train, the other people in it or even ourselves, and I saw such potential for so many stories and situations.”
That makes the mode of transportation the perfect setting for the show, where the main character of Sherry, the train operator, cycles through memories and the physical manifestations of her joys and fears.
Things seemed to align perfectly when Pinky Swear Productions decided to stage Use All Available Doors on the real train tracks in Dupont Underground, the über-popular downtown subterranean trolley station-turned-arts and culture space, thanks to a generous grant from CulturalDC Performing Arts Initiative.
“Things worked out perfectly. I had these pie-in-the-sky dreams of maybe performing this on the Metro, but when it came to realistic dreams, I don’t think it could have gone better and it never occurred to me that this could be an option,” Willis says. “Early on, someone joked how it would be great to do it in the Underground so it felt like it just fell into my lap.”
Toni Rae Salmi, a member of the Pinky Swear team, is helming the production.
“When we went through a season-planning process, everybody was allowed to submit ideas and Brittany submitted Use All Available Doors and I was instantly drawn to it,” Salmi says. “I don’t usually get passionate about a project right away but once I read it, I told them (Willis) I would do anything to make sure this gets produced.”
The show details a soon-to-be-decommissioned WMATA train car, and the grieving operator re-evaluating her life’s path as its end is near. There’s also a revolving cast of passengers, each with their own vignette performed between each stop.
“It’s a play about a train operator who is going through grief and as a result of that, she is reexamining her job and trying to cling on to her memories as tightly as she can,” Willis says. “As a result, those bleed into this train’s journey on the Red Line from one end of the journey to the other. It’s a little realistic and a little magical, too.”
As a D.C. resident and Metro rider for almost 20 years, Salmi identified easily with a number of the play’s stories.
“They made me laugh, they made me smile, they were touching, and I thought it would be a very great piece of theater to share with the D.C. community,” the director says. “Our cast has been rehearsing since mid-February and the train is starting to leave the station!”
With the setting it has and the liveliness of the Dupont Underground, Salmi has instilled in all of the actors the idea that they need to be really flexible with what they encounter and make the space their own.
There are eight cast members, most DMV based, and all with experience riding the Metro. The roster includes Lady Davonne (as Sherry), Tokia 2Deep Carter, Shane Marshall Solo, Ezra Tozian, Jay Sun, Darnell Eaton, Nexus and Nicole Ruthmarie.
“I really wanted to make sure I cast D.C. natives or those who lived here for some time,” Salmi says. “Our audition process was a little different, and we had them all do some Metro improv. Everyone knew exactly what to do and how to stand on the Metro and brought a lot of stuff to the table.”
Because the Metro spans a long way and covers many different neighborhoods and encompasses many different cultures, Salmi thinks it’s great that this show can bring all of that together and celebrate everyone.
Use All Available Doors
Produced by Pinky Square Productions
closes May 6, 2018
Details and tickets
“You don’t see a lot of everyday life in D.C. on stage and this is a little Valentine to D.C.,” she says. “As opposed to seeing all the stuff that’s government related, this is community related.”
Once the show’s original run ends, Salmi would like to tour the play and bring it to other communities, incorporating it with other community events and giving people the chance to share their own Metro stories.
“We’re still toying with the idea of post-production events with this particular run and hope we can make that happen,” she says. “One thing we are doing with this show is handing out postcards so people can talk about what they love about their neighborhood and those will be posted in the lobby.”