Actress Monet Thompson Cooks Up a “Barbecue” This Weekend and Next

A Quick Take with Monet Thompson

​Monet Thompson is readying her second performance of the summer when she ​steps onstage Friday for Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate NY, Inc’s Capital Region premiere of “Barbecue” by Robert O’Hara. She played Nurse Tina in June in Lucas Hnath’s “Death Tax” directed by me of which J. Peter Bergman of Berkshire Bright Focus said: “I personally hate to regard a role as a “tour-de-force” but for Thompson, the role of Nurse Tina approaches exactly that.”

In “Barbecue” she plays Barbara, a troubled, drug addicted woman whose family is staging an intervention in a public park. The play will be performed six times starting Friday, 8/20-8/29 at 6 pm at the Stephen & Harriet Meyers House, the historic Underground Railroad site at 194 Livingston Ave. “Barbecue” has been called “an American classic, or the kind of classic we need” by Hilton Als of the New Yorker. It’s a wild satire that requires a lot of its leading lady to play many different incarnations. I chatted with Monet recently about her background in Capital Region theater and her current role.

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Angela Ledtke & Monet Thompson

Patrick White: ​What theater did you do in school and what was a lightbulb moment for you when you said “I’m a performer?”

Monet Thompson: My start with theater was probably going to theater camps like NYSTI growing up. I was always a character as a child but my main focus was dance- specifically tap dance. I had to stop taking dance classes in high school and decided to focus on theater to get my stage fix. The first community theater show I did was “Thoroughly Modern Millie” at SLOC in 2008. I also was very involved with the Blue Roses Theater Company at Schenectady High School and participated in nearly every production while I was there, from acting, to lighting operation and design, and even just ticketing.

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You’ve told me about doing shows at SLOC so that you could continue tap dancing, can you talk about your memories of SLOC?

I remember seeing zero sunlight in high school, spending my days after school doing our school productions, then immediately heading to SLOC to rehearse until 10 pm. This was during the old building days; the only time I’ve even been in the building of the new SLOC was pre-renovation, rehearsing for “13: The Musical,” which was at the GE Theater at Proctors. As mentioned previously, I did Millie as a company member, though I did have my definition of a starring tap role during “The Speed Test.” I then did “Pajama Game” (Poopsie, Steam Heat Dancer), “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” (Ensemble), and my last performance with SLOC was in “Kiss Me, Kate” (Lois/Bianca). I do want to return to doing musical theater, and SLOC was a big part of fostering my love for the art.

You were so fantastic in BTTUNY’s production of “The Niceties” which beat the pandemic by two months in January of 2020, can you talk about your feelings or thoughts when you hear all this controversy about critical race theory which your play addressed so concisely a year and a half ago?

We had a panel one of the nights after a show, discussing the subject matter and I got to hear about how students related to my character, Zoe, how meaningful it was to see our characters’ discourse, and most importantly how they felt validated after experiencing the show. That meant the world to me. To see where we are today in this conversation, truly makes me sad. An argument I hear when navigating these conversations on social media is that critical race theory causes more division but during that talk-back, all I felt was resolution, unity, and solidarity— a common understanding.

Death Tax
Death Tax
Photo by Michael P. Farrell

Tell us who Barbara is and what’s been the aspect of her that’s been most challenging or rewarding to work on?

The character Barbara has struggled with and continues to struggle with addiction. My character is a little hard to tie down to reality (at least the one we are familiar with), so grounding her and making her feel real and true and rich has been my biggest struggle.

What are your hopes for Capital Region theater as we strive to return to production? What do you want to see and participate in?

I hope the current energy towards representation on the stage continues and doesn’t lose its fire as the news coverage and hashtags die down. More plays by people of color and roles for people of color, that aren’t centered around black pain. My hope is that the theater community expands and we see more and more new faces joining the fold. I personally want to do more musical theater and more off-stage work like lighting and stage management.

“Barbecue” By Robert O’Hara
Directed by Jean-Remy Monnay & David Girard
Stephen & Harriet Meyers House
194 Livingston Ave
8/20-8/29 at 6 pm
Tickets: www.blacktheatretroupeupstateny.org

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