Jamil Jude is the Artistic Director of True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta, GA. He returns to the DCPA Theatre Company to direct the 2023 production of Clyde’s following the tremendous success of Choir Boy last season.
DCPA: Tell us about how you came to this play at the Denver Center.
JAMIL JUDE: When Chris offered up this show, I began the process of searching for the elements of the play that would set me on fire. With Choir Boy, the journey toward what happens was the thing that set me on fire – how the events unfolded. But with Clyde’s there really isn’t a huge event that ignites us. People work in a sandwich shop. They work under a tyrant and at one point they decide “no more.”
As I spent more time with it, I started thinking about what happens in the early sections of the scenes when they talk about their ideal sandwich and there is such joy. They find joy in the pursuit of something perfect; it isn’t about perfection itself. That’s when I started to really settle in and begin to feel the fire.
In the multiple lives of Jamil — from maybe 7 to 22 — I was a football player, and so everything was about practice makes perfect. Anytime I did something, it was to be the best athlete I could be. But I’m not 22 anymore, and I recognize that it was about wanting to commit yourself to a process…to do something and then find some consistency in that. And I think that’s where I’ve really fallen in love with Clyde’s. These ex-cons, whether they know it at the beginning of this job or not, learn the things that are going to help sustain them throughout life. It kind of lets them know where they are going. It’s about putting themselves on a path toward this kind of oneness…the value of waking up every day and committing yourself to this pursuit of something perfect.
DCPA: It seems that there’s a choreography to the cooking that’s required in the play. How do you envision that coming to life?
JUDE: I want to incorporate things I love about my own kitchen into the production: the sound of opening the refrigerator, the close of a cabinet, chopping and dicing things, the sizzle of a grill. We’re going to put that stuff in there and it’s probably going to be a smell-a-vision play. The music of the show is in the choreography of what a busy kitchen looks and sounds like.
Lynn [Nottage, the playwright] has done a great job with the characters. How do we amplify the play’s relationships through the sound of a cutting board or the sizzle of the grill or the dinging of a bell? There’s a culinary music that we can bring to the show.
DCPA: What do you hope an audience enters with and how do you want them to leave feeling?
JUDE: We want to drop you into the fish bowl. As they walk in, I want a bit of detachment, like, “Ok, I’m here to watch a story and characters unfold that I may be unfamiliar with,” but I would like for them to leave with a reflection of their own journey…their own pursuit of the thing. What is that moment that I decide that I’m walking away, that I’m not going to take it anymore. And even if that does shift by the end of the play — will Montrellous make another sandwich, will any of them ever make a sandwich again? If not, that’s ok. Everything that they did up until that point, the success that they had until that moment, is not wasted. So I hope that the audience walks away with a little bit of a reflection: “What’s my point of departure? What can I do to prepare myself for life’s journey?”
DCPA: When you talk about the show, what is it decidedly not?
JUDE: It’s not a sad story about ex-cons. In many ways, their former incarceration plays an important part in who they are as characters but a less important part of what the story is. I don’t think we need to shy away from it, but it’s not your traditional rehabilitation story. We aren’t trying to humanize formerly incarcerated people, they are humans. I think we are accepting that, regardless of your life circumstances, you can still put yourself on the path towards some level of overall enlightenment.
DCPA: Can you talk about the tone of the piece? There is an interesting dance between comedy and drama.
JUDE: I have been trying to up my reading of it from a comedic standpoint so that it’s not so bogged down in “the heavy.” I default to drama – I think it’s what I’m good at and I love getting into the psychology of characters. I have been trying to spend more time asking myself what does it looks like when it’s not just funny but if we lean into the comedy? But it’s already there – in the language, in the pacing. It has a tonally fast pace with dark moments that are relieved by lighter moments. Our characters should feel under a crunch for the majority of the time so that it doesn’t feel taxing and we get a chance to ease up with them.
DCPA: What are you looking for out of your actors?
JUDE: Everyone should feel sturdy. I’m looking for someone who can stay on their feet, so that when things happen to them and they are affected by life, it won’t be the thing that knocks them down…that they have a spirit of “I’ll get back up.” We definitely want people with culinary skills because we will be using real knives. We will be cutting, will be cooking. We’re looking for people who have command of the language, who will be able to reliably play the language. And I think people who have a little bit of a grit to them.
DCPA: What kinds of audiences excite you?
JUDE: The thing I loved about the Choir Boy audience was that when the kids performed the songs from their parents’ childhood, people did not know that they could get a late 90s R&B song at the theatre and felt more a part of the experience because of that. Those are the audience members I’m excited about.
More traditional theatre-going audiences who like ensemble-driven work and following character journeys will really enjoy this.
I’d also really be interested in getting foodies with no real theater experience to fall in love with the play. I’m most interested in audiences that don’t know that they can have an experience that is full of food, laughter, smells and aesthetic beauty when they think of theatre.
DCPA: What’s your perfect sandwich?
JUDE: For the longest time it was cranberry, cream cheese and turkey on sourdough. The first time I had it I thought, “Oh! I’m in love.” Now? I love mushrooms, so it’s probably something with mushrooms and some type of melted cheese…mmm, yeah.
Oct 27 – Nov 26, 2023 • Kilstrom Theatre