Preyin’ on Faith: An Interview with Director/Producer/Playwright Shanee RansomIn July, I had the pleasure of experiencing ‘Preyin’ on Faith’, a wonderful, original three-act gospel musical written and directed by Shanee L. Ransom. Utilizing original songs, phenomenal local actors and an amazing live band, ‘Preyin’ on Faith’ addressed many issues that occur within “the church” including pregnancy out of wedlock, misconceptions, premarital sex and dishonesty for personal gain. ‘Preyin’ on Faith’ is definitely a “must-see” in my book! So full of energy and messages…there’s never a dull moment in this production.
There are even moments where the cast interacts with the audience, which is always a plus. When this production comes to your area, make sure to purchase your tickets asap as they are sure to sell out!
Shanee L. Ransom’s credits also include ‘Lest We Forget: From the Boat to Obama’, “Mommy, I’m a Princess’, ‘Lest We Forget: A Grandmother Remembers’ and ‘A Father’s Love’. Her productions have been showcased at The Carriage House (Hartford, CT), The Bushnell Center for Performing Arts (Hartford, CT) and at the DC Black Theatre Festival.
Shanee L. Ransom is a playwright, director, producer and founder of YAZU productions, Inc. She has written, directed and produced shows with casts ranging from four to thirty performers. Managing and producing these productions has allowed Shanee to exercise her passion for writing while continuing to sharpen her directing, producing, stage management, set design, prop coordination and costume construction skills. Shanee’s successful ventures demonstrate Shanee’s creativity, adaptability and strong work ethic; and it also speaks to her ability to cultivate meaningful relationships with actors, musicians, choreographers, dancers, youth, parents, schools and community partners.
As a writer, director, producer, what have been your biggest obstacles and bringing your production(s) to the public and what have been your biggest triumphs?
Some of my biggest obstacles has been casting and finding a location to conduct rehearsals. I do all the traditional things (flyers/postcards/newsprint advertisement/facebook) when it comes to promoting auditions and the turn-out is still usually very low or the caliber of actors are not as polished. I cast most of my shows by word-of-mouth. Performers who’ve worked with me in the past will have worked with other actors and they help spread the word. Finding and securing a rehearsal space is my second biggest obstacle. My rehearsals take place on week nights in the evenings and finding a place that is free (or minimal cost) that is open past 6pm with sufficient and consistent rehearsal space seems to be a running challenge for me.
One of my biggest triumphs has been working with so many talented and committed people in the greater Hartford community. From the actors to my stage manager to family members connected to my shows, I’ve found people to be extremely generous with their time and resources; they willing to pitch in and help in any capacity to help ensure the success of the production, all I have to do is ask. Another triumph is when I listen to that inner voice (God) encouraging me to get out of my own way and “Just do it”.
I stop listening to the “excuses in my head telling me why I can’t or shouldn’t direct or produce one of my pieces. When you think about how much planning, organizing, and managing that goes into producing a show (on top of my other responsibilities of having a full time job and being a full time mom), it’s enough to make anybody change her mind. However, once I hold the auditions to cast the show then start rehearsing, something clicks inside me that says; “you’ve done the right thing”. Don’t get me wrong, the rehearsal process can be a roller coaster ride too (dealing with some many different personalities) but once we get to opening night and I see the audience reacting to the messages that God but in my heart and mind, a since of overwhelming pride and happiness rushes over me and I know that I’m doing what I’ve been called to do.
What is the most difficult part of bringing a play to life?
The most difficult part of bringing a play to life is finding and securing the right resources to help support the “birth” of the play. When I say resources, I’m referring to rehearsal space, actors, choreographers, musicians, designers, and crew members. The good news is the more productions I do, the more connections I make which allows me to have a wider network of people to draw support from. I’ve found the key is to find people whose heart is in the right place, with no hidden agendas with a follow-through and commitment. I’m looking to add people to my circle who display a high level of professionalism.
How do you think the first run of “Preyin’ on Faith” went? Are there any elements you plan to change for the next run(s) of the production?
I think the first run of “Preyin on Faith” went very well. The actors and musicians really brought the story to life. There are a few changes I’d like to make with a few scenes to make it flow better and strengthen chemistry between a couple of characters. There was also an actor missing from the show which altered two scenes. I’m going to add that character back to the next productions.
What inspired you to actually write this play? I mean, it’s common knowledge that there are some not-so-saintly activities going on in and around the Christian church, but what occurred for you personally/artistically, for you to actually sit down and write “Preyin’ on Faith’? What was the “spark” that lit the flame?
I was inspiration to write this musical as a result of some real-life experiences that occurred in the lives of some of my friends and family. Many of the scenarios/situations were fiction (developed for creative/entertainment purpose only). The irony of my writing is that I had some people expressing that they experienced similar situations with ministers in the church. When I write, there is always truth sprinkled with a little bit of fiction.
Often, when we write plays, books, etc…there is a bit of us in one, some or all of the characters. Was this the case for you and ‘Preyin’ on Faith’?
Absolutely, there is a little bit of me in all of my female characters, including the character of Mother Greene (as the nurturer, caretaker; advice giver). My goal was to have distinct characters (particularly the female characters); each having different motivations, needs; desires with the common thread being they are looking for a “good, Godly man”. I could have easily made one character encompass a variety of emotions, but I wanted to highlight their individuality and exaggerate different personality traits with the goal of touching a variety of spectators.
What’s next for the production?
The plan is to take the show on the road which is something new for me. I’ve been getting a lot of encouragement to take “Preyin on Faith” on the road. I am in the planning stages of developing a touring schedule but some of the cities we might take the show to are: New Haven, Waterbury, Middletown, Hartford, and Springfield, MA. I’m also going to enter the show in the 2015 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, NC.
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