Czech-born British playwright Tom Stoppard once described theater production as a “team sport.” With a new play under production, New Haven playwright and theater director Sharece M. Sellem has broadened her theatrical team, inviting audience members to a series of staged readings to help shape the direction of Brothers Relived, a working title that could change—again.
The first stage reading, under the original working title The Forgotten Borough, was held recently at Bregamos Community Theater, located behind the Erector Square complex at 491 Blatchley Ave. A second reading will take place there this coming Saturday, Sept. 20, beginning at 7 p.m. (Admission: $10.)
The completed onstage production of the play is slated for winter of 2015, according to Sellem.
In the meantime, Brothers Relived remains a work in progress, unfolding in the public eye.
The new play, set in the early 1980s, tells the story of The Force MDs, a music group breaking new ground at the inception of America’s hip-hop culture. Sellem sets the table: “It’s 1981, and Harlem World (a New York City club) is birthing a new style and sound of music, Hip-Hop. On the Staten Island Ferry rode an eclectic group of family members and friends who dared to dream. They boldly fused sounds never before combined: Hip-hop, R&B, Soul and Doo Wop, only to add a new ingredient to the new jack swing era. The Force MDs rode that boat to a career with highs, lows, plateaus and in-betweens, only to be grateful for the contribution they’ve made on American pop culture.”
Sellem, who has additional projects underway—including a teen novel series based on the Hope High Class of ’84 play (which Bregamos Theater’s Warehouse Youth Ensemble performed at Long Wharf Theater’s Stage 2 last year; and a personal research project Becoming La Baker, based on the life of American born French singer, dancer and actor Josephine Baker—said that music plays a major part in all of her works.
“From performing as mime artist, developing choreography for local original plays, to writing my own plays, music seems to be the common denominator,” she said. “I grew up listening to groups like the Force MDs, and so to create a piece that tells their story feels like an honor. They are great guys, and I almost feel a sense of responsibility to American music history, to contribute something in this form, in this way. Shows like Jersey Boys pay homage to wonderful music made by a specific group and I’d like to see the same for Hip-Hop/R&B’s beloved Force MDs.”
Sellem’s theatrical team this time around includes musical director Colin Osborn as well as executive producers Khalil Lundy and Stevie D of The Force MDs, whose contributions were evident on the musical side of last Saturday’s reading. Sellem said she has already modified the script in response to audience input, part of the malleable process of play production in which even the title is subject to improvement.
Sellem explained why she originally titled the work The Forgotten Borough, then switched to Brothers Relived: “Myself and Khalil discussed various ideas for names that would suit this story. This one seemed to stand out the most. It embodied the feeling of something great that doesn’t necessarily receive the recognition it may deserve. It’s also a direct tie to the group’s Staten Island roots. This is the first working title. For the second reading, Brothers Relived, is my new choice. The setting takes place in the family room of their old apartment after TC (lead member) passes away. Many stories are re-counted and emotions overflow as this tight-knit group relives their fond and tough-to-deal-with thoughts.”