Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Planet Connections Interview - Nikki M. Jenkins of "Disenchanted"

By Byrne Harrison

Name: Nikki M. Jenkins
Play: Disenchanted, a new musical
Relationship to production: Playwright/Co-Producer/Actress
Website: http://www.disenchantedthemusical.com/
Facebook Fan Page

How did you first get involved in theatre?

It was kind of an accident. I was studying classical voice at East Carolina University and I had to take an elective to fulfill my credit requirements. I took Theatre 101 because I thought it would be easy. I remember the day my professor took the class on a field trip to the set of one of the mainstage productions. I stepped onto the stage and suddenly felt this strange sense of "at-homeness." I knew the stage was where I belonged. I switched majors to musical theatre the very next semester.

Who are your biggest influences?

Actresses: Audra McDonald, Anika Noni Rose, and Nikki James

Writer/composers: Jason Robert Brown (Parade), Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime), Trey Parker and Matt Stone (Avenue Q, Book of Mormon)

Producers: Oprah Winfrey (The Color Purple), Whoopi Goldberg (Sister Act), and Will Smith (Fela!)

What is your show about?

Disenchanted, a new musical is an urban fairytale about a Black girl who thinks she's White--literally. The protagonist, Amanda Gottadolla (Mandi) is adopted as an infant by the Gottadollas, a fabulously wealthy white couple. When the adoption exposes Mr. and Mrs. Gottadolla to ridicule and racial backlash, they decide to protect their daughter at all costs. They remove all the mirrors from the house and hire a beautiful blonde girl to play Mandi's reflection. Thus begins the little "white" lie. But as Mandi enters adulthood, it becomes harder and harder to shield her from the truth. Mandi's ignorant bliss is ultimately destroyed when two envious villains force her to face reality. But sometimes when the fairytale ends, that's when the real story begins. By letting go of her Barbie-doll existence and embracing her true identity, Mandi is allowed to blossom from an over-sheltered girl into an empowered young woman.

What inspired you to write it?

Frustration, mainly -- frustration with the stereotypical roles for black women in the media. I was pretty tired of playing slaves, maids, and welfare mothers. I wanted to create a positive, fun, unconventional role for African-American actresses like myself. That's where my protagonist "Amanda Gottadolla" (Mandi) comes from. She's basically a black Elle Woods (Legally Blonde). I also play Mandi, which is so much fun, because she shares so many of my personality traits--fun, quirky, strong-willed, a dreamer. And I think there are a lot of other black actresses out there that can relate to this kind of female figure.

Why was it important to you to be part of an eco-friendly theatre festival?

Everyone needs to be more conscious of what we're doing to the planet. If we can create art that changes the world, then we can also produce art in a way that preserves the world.

Planet Connections donates a portion of the box office for each show to a charity. What charity has your production chosen and why?

Disenchanted has adopted the Play for P.I.N.K. organization. They organize sporting events to raise support for cancer research. We chose this organization because breast cancer research is so important, and we liked the idea of using health and physical activity to raise awareness.

What's next for you after Planet Connections?

My co-producer Aaron Pratt and I are determined to take Disenchanted to the next level. We are already making plans for an Off-Broadway run!

And finally, if your play was food, what kind of food would it be?

That's easy--your classic Black and White Cookie! It's half black, half white, and 100% New York!

Tuesday, June 21 at 12:00PM

The Robert Moss Theatre
440 Lafayette Street

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