“Rehearsals are like putting on a bunch of coats,” said Black Theatre Troupe actor Kwane Vedrene in a recent phone conversation. “You are putting coats on because you are too cold, layering them on, then you get too hot, so you take some off. Hopefully by the time of the first performance, you are comfortable and ready to go.”
The long-time actor is returning to the stage after a long hiatus in the company’s next production, “Sunset Baby,” opening at Black Theatre Troupe on Oct 22 through Nov 7.
Vedrene is taking on the role of Kenyatta, a Black revolutionary who is trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter. It’s a role he can relate to on many levels.
“Kenyatta is a complex character, there is so much depth to him that I can relate to on a personal level,” said Verdene. “He and his wife, were both part of the movement, deeply committed to the cause and in that process, he had to make a choice. In our lives, we all have to make choices, make sacrifices, and these decisions plot the course of the rest of our lives. But there are repercussions for those choices. For Kenyatta, after all is said and done, many years later, he ultimately realizes he sacrificed his daughter, and that the connection to family is what he lost.”
“I can relate to Morisseau’s characters on many levels,” continues Vedrene. “My own Dad was an activist, he had me and my brother reading Malcolm X and writing theses for him – and we were just 9 and 7 years old. He always pushed me to be beyond good, I had to be excellent in every moment, every action. So I can understand where the character of Kenyatta is coming from. I see a lot of my Dad in him.
“And I can also relate to the character of Nina as well,” he continues. “Because in the end, children just want a Dad. It’s some heavy stuff, and honestly, I think everyone in the audience will be able to see something of themselves or their family members in these characters.”
Vedrene is no stranger to taking on powerful works for the 50-year old theater. His nuance, power and insight made him a top casting choice for the company’s productions of August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle. He’s been cast in seven of Black Theatre Troupe’s productions of Wilson’s dramas, bringing depth and sensitivity to the characters. His appearance as Kenyatta in “Sunset Baby” marks his return to the stage after a long hiatus, and he will be appearing in Black Theatre Troupe’s “A Soldier’s Play” in February.
“Actually I had to step away from acting for awhile,” said Verdene. “Working on characters, rehearsing, performing, especially while having a day job, really is a big commitment. It takes time and attention and you have to make sacrifices. One day, I heard my son take a certain tone with me and I thought, I gotta be around more. So I had to make a choice, to step away from acting, and spend time raising my kids. It’s another way I can relate to Kenyatta. And so now that my sons are grown, I feel like I can return to performing.”
“For Sunset Baby, all I can say is prepare to have your heart tugged, ‘cause that’s what we are preparing.”
Performances of Black Theatre Troupe’s SUNSET BABY are October 22 – November 7 at the Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $44 and are on sale at blacktheatretroupe.org.