Supporting creative work by women
Five years ago, New York-based playwright Melisa Tien traveled to Cameroon to learn about girls’ soccer teams, their lives and how Muslim and Christian girls played side by side. After developing a play based on these experiences over the last few years with director Tamilla Woodard (interviewed here) and choreographer Joya Powell, Tien’s Yellow Card Red Card kicks off at the Ice Factory Festival at the New Ohio Theatre. August 2 through 5.
Yellow Card Red Card follows four girls through their journey as soccer players and friends. They are guided by a coach, played by Irungu Mutu. Actors Torée Alexandre (top left), Alfie Fuller (top right), Phumzile Sitole (bottom left) and Selamawit Worku (bottom right) play the young women. They spoke to Works by Women about learning the soccer-inspired choreography for the piece, why theater is important and what they’ve learned working on this dynamic play.
WORKS BY WOMEN: What excites you about being part of Yellow Card Red Card?
ALFIE FULLER: I’m excited to tell the stories of young women whose stories have never been told. [Playwright] Melisa Tien has created a play that gives a genuine and truthful voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless. It’s been a thrill to discover Aisha’s (and the rest of the girl’s) struggles and their triumphs. This is a brilliant piece with an equally brilliant cast and it’s truly been a joy all around.
PHUMZILE SITOLE: Everything. From the simply beautiful story to the majority female involvement, I couldn’t have asked for a better combination of hard-workers and artists with a collaborative spirit.
TORÉE ALEXANDRE: Yellow Card Red Card is my New York debut! I just moved to The Big Apple last month after graduating from university. To put myself in the shoes (jellies, to be exact) of these Cameroonian teens is an honor; I have so much respect for the women of Cameroon. It’s fascinating to me how similar we are, in spite of our very different walks of life and upbringings.
SELAMAWIT WORKU: Everything! The cast and creative team has been truly amazing and fun to work with throughout the process. This play encapsulates beautifully and honestly some of what I have known throughout my own life and of others around me growing up as an African woman so it’s quite fulfilling on many levels to be involved with this play. It’s exciting for me to take on the role of Yasmin and dive into her world as a young woman finding her voice and how she relates to the community around her and negotiating the customs with her identity.
WBW: How much did you know about soccer before the play? How has it been learning the choreography?
TORÉE: My father and his father were professional football players. My grandfather went by the nickname “Le Chat” which means “The Cat” in English. I took lessons growing up, but never played on a team! Football is one of the only sports I enjoy watching. It’s an exciting game! I’m a dancer, but learning football choreography was different, especially when one has to keep track of a ball!
ALFIE: I played soccer a long, long, long time ago. Junior High to be exact so when we started rehearsals, I really didn’t remember much. Luckily, I’m athletic and somewhat of a dancer, so the choreography came easily to me. While doing my actor homework and watching soccer matches, I’ve actually begun to fall in love with the game and going out to the park to kick the ball around has become one of my favorite activities!
WBW: Without giving anything big away, what’s your favorite part of the play?
ALFIE: Ok I love this whole freakin’ play! But my favorite favorite scenes have to be when we’re practicing with our coach, Abdou.
TORÉE: My favorite part of the show is the fluidity of the scenes. We switch from playing on the field as a team, to the individual home lives of the girls. It feels seamless and gives further insight into the minds of these young footballers!
WBW: Tell me about working with director Tamilla Woodard and choreographer Joya Powell.
SELAMAWIT: Working with Tamilla and Joya has been inspiring for me in that I get to learn from two accomplished women of color and see how they devise, collaborate, and direct us in this very physical and stylized production. They both are so specific, detailed, fun, and supportive, in giving direction and guiding us to find the characters and devising the story.
Another aspect that has been a valuable lesson and a huge blessing in this process has been that they both have quite a presence and a calming energy when they direct which I think has helped me as an artist in identifying the kind of people I want to continue to work with going forward.
PHUMZILE: I think Tamilla and Joya are such a great combo! it’s so refreshing to see artists in high leagues of their own, step onto a different level together in order to fulfill the writer’s vision. Well everyone’s vision. Being in their care feels seamless, fluid and safe.
WBW: What have you learned most from being part of this play?
PHUMZILE: I recently made a Facebook post about a life discovery I had relating to the play – so I’ll share that:
Acting teaches me empathy even when I don’t want to learn. Like today. My character Soureiya and I have been enjoying one another’s company for weeks now but today as I sluggishly walked into my costume fitting in the breeziest shortest dress, hair up off my neck, sweating bullets and complaining about the heat – I was quietly humbled by every layer I put on transforming me into this young woman. I learned how different our seasons really are. How different our tolerance for heat is. How different our ability to navigate the world in a few extra layers is. Today I learned about empathy in a very visceral way. And I’m grateful….to say the least.
SELAMAWIT: I learned about identity in a new way. One that approached it from not a place of “why not” but from a starting point of “can I?”. That even the very ability to recognize and allow the beginnings of the ideas in our minds that eventually become the building blocks of our identity can be revolutionary itself. And difficult and scary to process. Also, I learned so much about futbol!
WBW: Why theater? Why do you love it?
SELAMAWIT: I feel that theater is a very present and honest experience whether you watch it, create it, or perform in it. I love being able to step into someone else’s shoes and discover their story and voice in hopes of making it heard in ways and spaces that it hasn’t been before. I get to connect to people in a way that also lets me connect to parts of myself I hadn’t really discovered before.
PHUMZILE: Because it forces me to put myself aside in the best way possible. And there’s nothing better than knowing that people’s actual hearts and minds are an ear shot away from mine/ours and we have the privilege of filling them with something new and hopefully something that leaves an impression.
WBW: What is the best advice you’ve received?
TORÉE: There is nothing to fear but fear itself. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Living a fearful life doesn’t do anything but stop you from living. Put no limitations on yourself. Life is fleeting, so we must live with gratitude, love, patience, and happiness!
ALFIE: The entire universe is rooting for you. There’s no way you can lose. OR You have one life to live. Make sure to use all the gifts God has given you.
Yellow Card Red Card by Melisa Tien, directed by Tamilla Woodard with choreography from Joya Powell plays the Ice Factory Festival at the New Ohio Theatre in New York City August 2 through 5 at 7pm. Tickets are $20 HERE.