Vanessa Bell Calloway, actress known for her role in Coming to America and recurring role in the television show Shameless, spoke to the Los Angeles Sentinel Newspaper about her upcoming one-woman show Letters from Zora. Letters from Zora, produced by Gabrielle Denise Pina and directed by Anita Dashell-Sparks, unveils the intimate life of writer Zora Neale Hurston.
LOS ANGELES SENTINEL NEWSPAPER (LAS): This is a major figure to take on. How did this entire process begin?
VANESSA BELL CALLOWAY (VBS): Gabrielle Pina wrote the playwright so beautifully. We had the opportunity to look at Zora’s letters. The show was originally for one night, but I told her we must keep going. People need to see this. I call it a ninety-minute poem. For me as an actress, the words resonated. Research played a major role in designing this play. There were tons of pictures of Zora that helped me gain a better perspective. People have done projects on Zora, but nothing this intimate.
LAS: Through your research, what fact stood out the most about Zora?
VBS: That I found the most entertaining was her love life. She wrote some deep letters about her lovers. No one could bring her down! Once you see the play you will learn. She wrote over a thousand letters. The letters are the true center piece. Her life is intertwined and told by these letters.
LAS: As an actress you are thrown many roles. What made you want to do this specific role?
VBS: Me and Gabby met through our sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. She asked me to read. When I first got the material, I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. If you would’ve told me ten years ago that I would do a piece on Zora Neal Hurston, I would not believe it. I’ve always wanted a one-woman piece. I never wanted a one-woman show strictly about my life and this was a subject I could gravitate towards. It was such a blessing from God that I got this piece.
LAS: You also have a history of dancing. How much has dancing impacted your acting?
VBS: became a storyteller early in my life through dancing. Dancing is telling a story without words. I had to display the mood of the piece and the intention of the choreographer. It was a natural progression to become an actress. I’m constantly looking at the correlations. It’s not only the physical but also the energy. Dance has always been a critical part of my life. It just works for me.
LAS: What goes through your mind before the play begins? What type of preparations do you have?
VBS: I go over my lines. I never become tired of doing that. I do it until it becomes second nature. I listen to certain types of music too. I like to listen to something melancholy because it puts my body in the right mood for certain moments in the show. I must let my body prepare for emotional scenes.
LAS: What is the overall end goal you want the audience to leave with?
VBS: People who come to the show may know little about Zora. Everybody will leave learning more about her life. People have left the show crying. They tell me they never knew how amazing she was personally. I want people to leave enthralled and engaged and connected. They can either connect to me or connect to her or her message. I’m happy people have a renewed perspective about her life.
Letters from Zora begins Mother’s Day weekend at the WACO Theater Center in North Hollywood beginning May 11 and ending May 20. Tickets can be purchased at wacotheatercenter.com.