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We’re less than two weeks away from the opening of TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever, and the anticipation is mounting! Of course, this production would not have been possible without the vision and artistry of the director, Pascale Florestal.
Despite being one of the busiest professionals in Boston theatre, Pascale was able to find time in her schedule for a SpeakEasy e-interview, where we discuss the production process, the We See You White American Theater movement, and her hopes for the landscape of Boston theatre post-pandemic.
Tell us a little about TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever. Who are TJ and Sally in the title and what is the story all about?
TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever is about inheritance, legacy, and the way the history has informed so much of how we live today.
The story is set on a predominantly white college campus in Virginia where there is a large black and brown student body. And like most predominantly white institutions with people of color on campus, these students are reckoning with the history that is so entrenched, not only in our country, but also within their institution.
The TJ in the play is Dean TJ, the dean of students at this university. And Sally is a Black student who works for him as his Fellow. And when things happen that make Sally feel uncomfortable about working with TJ, she has to deal with what it means to speak up against these kinds of injustices that, not just women of color, but all woman experience.
Why did you sign on to direct this project? Why does this play speak to you?
I love that this play is smart and funny, and so very different from other plays about race. Often when we see plays about race, the story is about a specific incident or moment in time. Very rarely do we get the opportunity to, not only experience the event, but also learn what happens next, figure out how we move forward, and actually see what that future looks like. And I think that is what’s so great about TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever, what’s been so exciting about working on it: It dares to imagine a better future. In addition, as a Haitian-American queer Black woman, I have experienced a lot of what these characters have gone through; I have been in their shoes.
What was the most challenging aspect of bringing this play to the stage?
Without a doubt, the most challenging aspect of this project was maintaining the show’s theatrical integrity, while recording it for home viewing. As a play, TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever is meant to be seen on stage; however, because of the pandemic, we also had to capture it for film. We began by rehearsing on Zoom, and then met in the theater to stage and record the show, which involved learning new ways to capture the intimacy of the piece while keeping everyone safe. And while the process was at times daunting, it was just so great to be back in the same room with the cast sharing that creative energy. It felt like coming home.
What do you hope audiences will take away from this production?
I hope that, after seeing this play, audiences will take a moment to really think about our shared history. One of the things I love about doing theatre is how so often I get to learn about history that is new to me. And I think this play is a call-to-action to challenge history, to question how and why things came to be, and to consider how these stories continue to evolve and play out in our everyday life.
What has been your personal experience of the pandemic thus far?
My personal journey in the pandemic has been insane. Before the pandemic hit, I had just quit my day job at the Boston Center of the Arts to go freelance as a director, dramaturg, and educator. And then a month later, all of my gigs were gone. Thus, I have spent much of the past year pivoting all of my work. I was lucky enough to get a job working with the City of Boston’s Office of Arts and Culture as the Massachusetts Municipal Arts Response Coordinator, where I help Boston’s Arts and Cultural sector cope with the pandemic. I was also hired during this time to teach at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, which has been such a great opportunity. And I have also happily been working also as a director and a dramaturg, doing some audio play work and directing via Zoom. So, you know, while the beginning of the pandemic was really scary, things just kind of worked out. I also bought a house in the pandemic, which was crazy because I never thought I’d buy a house. Ultimately, I think the pandemic has just shown me just how much this city and this area is important to me. I really feel like this is my community, my home, and my artistic home.
You were also sought out quite a bit this summer to consult with theaters looking to examine their equity policies following the death of George Floyd this past May and the publication of We See You White American Theater in June. What was that time like for you? What do you think has been accomplished?
Yeah, it was crazy. To be honest, ever since I came to Boston I’ve been trying to be a part of the conversation around equity and racism in the city. Being born and raised in Miami, I have had a very different experience of what it’s like living and working in Boston than those who were born and raised here. In addition, I’ve always had a passion for speaking to the experience of the African diaspora; and a lot of my theater background comes from social justice theaterl and so it’s been inherent in my work to always speak to this moment, even before George Floyd’s death and before the We See You White American Theater. I just think I hadn’t had the opportunity to be heard in the way that I have been heard in the last year, which has been exciting. It’s exciting to see that there are people who are interested in change, interested in coming to terms with the things that have been a problem forever, especially sinceI don’t think there has ever been a moment of complete racial equity and/or accessibility and/or gender parity in the American Theater period. So I think it’s important to see that there is a wave of change coming, and it’s been exciting to be a part of that conversation. I try to humble myself and remind myself that this is only the beginning, however; that real change still needs to happen.
What are your thoughts as Boston theater prepares to reopen? What changes do you think we’ll see?
What a question. You know, it’s funny I’m in part of these conversations all the time, yet I still think there’s still so much uncertainty about the road back. One thing I’ve learned throughout these past twelve months of the pandemic is that it’s okay to be uncertain; you just have to accept what comes. So some of the changes I hope to see are the, just the need for and importance of theater that tells more than just white cis male and white cis female stories, that sees more of a multiracial and multicultural narrative that we have so far seen. And I think I’d love to see theaters value people’s time. I’m excited about this possibility of no more 10 out of 12 rehearsals. Though I used to love those moments, you know, I think so often the way we work as theater artists is detrimental to our ability to live and to have families and to have a life, and I don’t think our artistry should be detrimental to our ability to be humans and have families and be people. We shouldn’t have to pick and choose; we should be able to do both and it shouldn’t have to be such a challenge, and it shouldn’t have to be one or the other. And I think the pandemic has also made people understand how important our home life, our community, our chosen family, and our families are outside of our work. And finally, as we reopen, I hope that there is more of a appreciation for theater and live performance and live art, because I know I have missed it terribly and I can’t wait to be able to just go and experience art and culture and not feel sequestered in my home.