It took 10 years of auditions and rejections before Phoenix native Chanel Bragg finally landed a role in Arizona Theatre Company‘s 2018 production of “The Music Man.”
“I had been auditioning for the theater for years and don’t get me wrong, I got called back ... but that was fewer and far between and, of course, I didn’t get hired,” said Bragg, who used to dream of performing with Arizona Theatre Company when she was growing up in the West Valley community of Maryvale. “I know actors who were auditioning for the theater for years and years and didn’t get a call back.”
ATC, a member of the prestigious League of Regional Theaters, has a history of not hiring a lot of local talent for its shows.
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But Bragg, who was named ATC’s associate artistic director in January 2020, is changing that perception when she makes her ATC directorial debut this weekend with Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.”
Three of the four leads are from Arizona including Tucsonan Aaron Cammack making his ATC debut in the role of Tom Wingfield. Longtime Arizona actress Lillie Richardson — whose 30-year stage career has included work with ATC, Black Theatre Troupe, Childsplay, the Fulton, Actors Theatre, Fusion and Phoenix Theatre — plays Amanda Wingfield; Tempe resident and ASU School of Music, Dance and Theatre faculty member Michelle Chin is making her ATC debut as Laura Wingfield.
The only cast member without Arizona roots is Paul Deo Jr. in the role of the Gentleman Caller; he’s from New York.
When she put out the audition calls for “The Glass Menagerie” last year, she had a number of performers nationwide submit audition tapes. ATC also held live auditions for Arizona performers.
The local talent was just as good, if not better, than some of the national performers being considered, Bragg said.
“We are able to take the best of the Valley and the best of the nation and have them on the same stage,” said Bragg, who has a long directorial résumé that includes productions for two companies she cofounded: The Soul of Broadway and The United Colours of Arizona Theatre, both of which place an emphasis on inspiring “diversity, equity and true inclusion” in Arizona’s arts community.
“Broadway is just geography; it’s wonderful, don’t get me wrong … but I believe there is just as strong talent here,” she added. “The purpose of regional theater is to bring Broadway home for the people who can’t afford to make it all the way to New York … That’s our job; that’s our responsibility, and the quality of our performances must meet that objective. I want to prove that that also includes local talent … not only doing things expertly but that we have our best working alongside the industry’s best.”
ATC opens “The Glass Menagerie” on Saturday, Jan. 21, with performances at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave., continuing through Feb. 11.
“The Glass Menagerie,” Tennessee Williams’ first play, is based on his memories of growing up in a dysfunctional family with a drunken father, doting mother and religious grandparents, as well as a sister, Rose, who was given a lobotomy to treat her schizophrenia and ended up being institutionalized her entire life.
The play takes place in the apartment of the Wingfields, where dad has long abandoned the family and mom Amanda is a faded Southern belle longing for the abundance of her youth. Tom has taken on the role of breadwinner and longs to escape, while painfully shy and withdrawn sister Laura, who has a limp from a childhood illness, is consumed by tending to her collection of glass figurines.
Tom, who has planned his escape, invites a friend to dinner in hopes that he will be smitten with Laura and take over the role as man of the house.
“I just wanted to tell the truth of this family and really tap into their humanity,” said Bragg, who brought in Phoenix singer-songwriter Cassie Chilton of Cass & Crossland to write theme music for each character. “... The story is ultimately about love.”
For show times and tickets, visit atc.org.
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Starburch