Dance Nation is an incisive, hilarious play about the world of pre-teen dancers aiming to take home the top spot at Nationals in Tampa. Adding to the fun is genius casting of adult actors of all ages to portray these children in often heartbreaking realism.
Ikechukwu Ufomadu and Ellen Maddow are two of the talented cast. They shared a bit of their experience with us here.
When and how did you first become involved with Dance Nation and what has the journey been like so far?
Ikechukwu Ufomadu: I was asked to participate in a couple of workshops and readings of the show in September 2016. Then in November of last year, I got an offer for the production at Playwrights. It’s been great working on the show. I’m a big fan of the play. There are some wild stage directions in the script and it’s been fun seeing them translated to live performance. I’ve worked with Clare [Barron, playwright] and Lee [Sunday Evans, Director] before on other projects and enjoy working with them. I’m also much more flexible and in shape from all the dance rehearsals.
Ellen Maddow: I have been in several developmental workshops of Dance Nation, the first in 2016. I am a playwright and composer as well as an actor, and most of the time I work with my own experimental theatre company, Talking Band, which has been around for over 40 years, so working on Dance Nation has been a special experience for me. It has been a pleasure to be involved in this project with Clare and Lee - learning and performing the dances, inhabiting the character of Maeve, and sharing the play with audiences has been a very fulfilling experience.
How would you describe Maeve? Would you have been friends with her if you were in the same dance class as pre-teens? Why or why not?
Ellen: Maeve is defined as “the least talented of the dancers”. She is socially awkward, but clear about herself and her place in the world. She has other interests beside dance - she says she would like to grow up to do something cosmic, like astrophysics. I think I was a lot like her when I was that age. For instance, I was an A student but I never told anyone at school about my grades, because I knew I would be rejected as a weirdo. I stopped taking dance classes by the time I was 13, but I was in a children’s theatre group, and we took ourselves very seriously, and as I remember, we were all a little bit like Maeve.
And Ikechukwu, how would you describe your character, Luke? Would you have been friends with him if you were in the same dance class as pre-teens? Why or why not?
Ikechukwu: Luke is a quiet, earnest kid. I don’t know too much more about him. If I knew him in a dance class, I’d probably be constantly trying to make him laugh.
If someone other than your own character, which best resembles someone you knew when you were a pre-teen yourself?
Ikechukwu: Certain aspects of Luke do remind me of myself when I was that age. I was a pretty quiet kid.
Ellen: I definitely shied away from any kind of competitive situation, so I was Maeve, pretty much all the way down.
During rehearsals, did art ever imitate life, i.e. did you as a group ever find yourselves inadvertently living out the play in real life?
Ellen: The Dance Nation girls try to support and accept each other, even though they are in a competitive situation. What is special about the group of people in the cast is how supportive everyone is of each other. The other cast members have made me feel comfortable and accepted even though I am older. (I will be turning 70 this month and the youngest cast member is 21.)
Ikechukwu: The cast has one dressing room that is divided by a curtain for the men and women. So we live out that aspect of the play each day.
Given the challengers of the play, many hours a day or week do you devote to dancing, rehearsing, warming up?
Ellen: I try to get to the theatre to do about a half an hour of warming up before we do a dance call during which we go over the most difficult parts of our choreography before each performance.
Ikechukwu: I spend probably a couple hours a day warming up, rehearsing and dancing.
What advice would you give to an actor on taking on an emotional role that also requires a lot of physical strength?
Ikechukwu: Take good care of your body. It’s something of a marathon, doing a show like this.
Ellen: Embrace the experience, it’s such a satisfying challenge.