The Alliance Theatre’s “C.A. Lyons Project” takes place in the 1980s, telling the story of the founder of an African-American dance troupe who gets sick with a mysterious virus called GRID and his three lead dancers must summon the courage to carry on and continue his legacy. We spoke to out director Kent Gash, the former associate artistic director with the Alliance, and playwright Tsehaye Geralyn Hébert, the winner of this year’s Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition, about the world premiere production.
GV: Tsehaye, this is a personal project for you. It’s based on a friend, correct?
TH: It is. My friend was an amazing dancer and choreographer, who just lit up the stage. He really returned to many of us the notion of dance and transformation, the notion of how it transforms us as individuals but also as a society.
GV: When did you first start working on this?
TH: I first started writing this just after my friend passed away. I was so grief-stricken and I began jotting down ideas. I did not want him to be erased, to have him disappear. He had such an effect on my life and others. So I carried this box around for years with scrapbook information, posters, everything. When I started grad school, I looked at projects I could work on. I wasn’t mature enough to write back when he passed but I wanted to in grad school. It’s a much difference piece now than what I envisioned. And it has a lot of dance in it.
GV: Kent, why did you want to direct this?
KG: It’s been very much a labor of love. It’s about that period of time in the ’80s when we were all finding out about the epidemic that would be AIDS. And it’s a play about that within the African-American community and African-American gay life. It’s very much about that period, which I lived through in New York. I can’t tell you how many people personally I lost. This is an opportunity to honor those men, to honor the great African-American dance tradition of choreographers like Billy Wilson and Alvin Ailey, both of whom we lost to the AIDS epidemic. It also celebrates family and the families we discover later in life, and shows African-American life we never see on stage. There have been some great plays that have dealt with the subject but never from the unique perspective of our community.
“The C.A. Lyons Project” Alliance Theatre 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta, GA 30309 Through March 8 www.alliancetheatre.com