MOXIE’s Season 16 opens with The Niceties by Eleanor Burgess, directed by Founding Artistic Director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg and starring Mouchette Van Helsdingen and Deja Fields. Associate Artistic Director Callie Prendiville interviews Deja, who plays Zoe, a student of American History at an elite university:
CP: What initially excited you about this script when you first read it? Has your perspective on it changed in light of the national events since you signed on to the project?
DF: When I first read this script, the dialogue not only drew me in, but the character Zoe and her profound ability to fight for what she believes in, specifically, spoke to me and who I am as a person. This play is provocative and tells a story through a conversation that honestly needs to be had world wide, and in light of the national events, this play couldn’t be told at a better time. Many of our audience members have been forced to slow down and reflect on the world due to the pandemic and this play crosses boundaries that’s going to force everyone to look at what they believe in and what side they stand on.
CP: You recently graduated from UCLA, correct? Has this text brought up any education memories for you, or made you rethink anything about your college experience?
DF: Yes, I recently graduated from UCLA last year and this text has really made me reflect on the biased professors I’ve had, and how important teacher evaluations are. There is a section in the text where Zoe is highlighting all the things Students of Color need to thrive in these elite institutions and it made me reflect on the fact that when I entered only 4.8% of UCLA’s campus was made up of African American Students and the school is just NOW funding and opening its First Black Resource Center. Burgess writes such compelling truths about academia, and although we have progressed, she finds a way to illustrate how far behind we truly are as a country.
CP: How are you feeling about the state of theatre right now? Are there things you hope to see return or change when we can all have audiences again?
DF: Before beginning this project I felt very depressed with the shutting down of Broadway and it was hard to imagine Live Theatre over a screen. I thought that raw and complete honesty would be stripped away over Zoom, but because this is a two person show, we have cultivated an environment that transfers energy thru screen very well. We are artists and it’s our job to adapt as the world is changing, so theatre will never die, it will just be prepared differently with a lot less touching for now. I’m so excited to have the finale version of this play be filmed, and thanks to the release of Hamilton online, I believe this is the new future of theatre!
CP: You were in Crumbs From the Table of Joy SIX years ago. How has your process changed or stayed the same since then? How does rehearsing in Zoom impact that?
DF: Six years ago feels like a lifetime ago, but I’m happy to be back with my MOXIE Family. Since high school, my acting process has changed tremendously. I would focus on memorization instead of knowing my character, but I’ve learned that when you actually know who your character is down to the core, what they would say is almost an instinct instead of based on memory. I’m also very big on using the world of the play, clothing, and movements to help ground myself, but due to the power of Zoom we don’t have the privilege of transforming on stage just yet, so this process has really forced me to ground myself with the text and create the world of the play in my room using those details the author depicts.
Check out The Niceties starting in September 12!