What began as a drive down Main Street turned into a journey to New York for Phil Darius Wallace.
As a writer, producer, director and actor, Darius has been a longtime friend of the Orpheum, working with us on summer camps, workshops and past programs with Memphis City Schools. In 2012 he was hoping to restage his one-man show about civil rights pioneer Frederick Douglass when a chance drive past the theatre prompted him to call Alice Roberts, our Vice President of Community and Education.
“What we both found was that my show was a perfect fit for the Orpheum at that time,” Darius says. “I was thrilled. The whole theater showed me amazing respect, service and love. They really made me feel like family. I pinched myself many times to see if I was dreaming.”
Darius frequently called on Alice for advice as he had crafted a 60-minute children’s show about the famed orator for Voices of the South, and together Alice and Darius worked to turn the production into 90-minute show for audiences age pre-teen and up. Darius says he and the Orpheum education staff made several test runs until finding the right version to present publicly.
Self-Made Man: TheFrederick Douglass Story emerged from their work, in which Darius portrays 14 characters who influenced Douglass’ life and encouraged the former slave to inspire President Abraham Lincoln and countless others to fight for the end of slavery and support equality for all people. The production includes music, dancing, singing, monologues and poetry.
The show’s most powerful message is how education completely transformed Douglass’ life. To enhance this lesson for local students, the theatre produced a show-specific study guide, handled all of the press and invited fourth-graders through high school seniors to experience it. Two former students in the education program, Shawna Gardner and Travis Blackwell, also helped to make the show a success by getting involved with the rehearsal process and stage management.
The resulting production was so popular with Orpheum audiences that two additional performances were added. In the end, 5,655 students and patrons saw the production during its four-performance run Nov. 18-21, 2013.
|Phil Darius Wallace|
One of those audience members was Melania Levitsky, founder of Nikita Productions and the Associate Artistic Director for Walking the dog Theater, who called Darius two months later and asked to reproduce the show at the ArcLight Theatre in New York City. After some rewriting, a new budget and about 30 hours of weekly rehearsal, Self-Made Man opened its off-Broadway run on November 18, 2014 – exactly one year after performances started at the Orpheum.
The script is the most distinct change between the Orpheum show and what audiences will see in New York. Darius says the scene order was tweaked and the dialogue was made more communal and conversational to better fit the smaller ArcLight.
“It is a 99-seat theater and gives me a chance to play with the audience through improv as some of the characters, and share very intimate moments as Douglass,” Darius says.
Self-Made Man: The Frederick Douglass Story plays through December 14, 2014 at the ArchLight Theatre. Get more information about the show, and our talented friend Darius, online at frederickdouglassplay.com.
“I am so thankful to Alice and the Orpheum,” Darius says. “I am also thankful to Melania and Nikita Productions for believing in me, challenging me and helping me to be a better actor!”