5 Questions with Jean-Remy Monnay

One of the greatest demarcations in Capital Region Theater marking the change and growth in our community pre and post-lockdown after the Covid virus stopped the world is the fantastic productivity and higher profile gained by the Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate New York. Founded and managed by Jean-Remy Monnay as the Soul Rebel Theatre over a decade ago with informal readings divvying out parts to whoever showed up at Albany Public Library’s community rooms, the group is now the resident company performing in the Iselin black box theater in Capital Repertory Theatre’s brand-new home on North Pearl Street.

Jean-Remy Monnay

Remy has also kept busy with the local schools and this week is opening a production of Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize winner “Sweat” at Union College’s Yulman Theatre, running Wednesday, 5/17 through Sunday, 5/21. I am happy and proud of my long association with Remy and the opportunity to share our email conversation.

PW: How are things going with BTTUNY and your residency at theREP? Do you have a new season to announce?

J-RM: We are announcing our 2023-2024 season first week of June during “Hoodoo Love. We’ll have three productions. One in October 2023, One in February 2024, and the last one in June 2024 “including a children’s production. We’re still at theREP and they’re giving us a lot of support, and we couldn’t be more grateful.

PW: You’ve also been directing at the local colleges with “The Piano Lesson” at UAlbany and now “Sweat” at Union; what’s the difference working with the community and college casts?

J-RM: I love working with both communities. Part of my mission is to bring more diversity in the area and in all schools. Union College is not the most diverse College, at least not in the art department. But I do appreciate that they’re trying to change that.   Diversity, to me, is not just black and white. It’s reaching out to all races, gender, ethnicities, and all ages. You get all that working with youths in colleges and High Schools. The only difference, the college casts are younger and some are less experienced. As a visiting Director, I get to bring them the outside theatre experience. I get to expose them to new cultures and bring some of the outside experience to them so they can be ready and know what to expect when they step into the outside world. Just like I do with BTTUNY, I get to work with a lot of new actors; so, there’s a lot of teaching, educating, being a big brother, a father, a friend, and a person they can trust and be comfortable with. I consider myself a very lucky man to get to work with the colleges, including Siena College and hopefully more in the future. Those students are so motivated, respectful, passionate and talented.

PW: Tell us what happens in “Sweat,” what attracted you to it, and how you’re presenting the Capital Region Premiere before theREP.

J-RM: I love the play. I love all of Lynn Nottage’s work.  Union College asked me to direct it over a year ago, and I did not hesitate to say yes.

“Sweat” deals with the issue of race, class, gender, ethnicity, and labor relations. Filled with warm humor and tremendous heart, “Sweat” tells the story of a group of friends who have spent their lives sharing drinks, secrets, and laughs while working together on the factory floor. But when layoffs and picket lines begin to chip away at their trust, the friends find themselves pitted against each other in a heart-wrenching fight to stay afloat.

PW: What is a play that changed your life?

J-RM: I would say “Camp Logan” by Celeste Walker. The play was not only meaningful and educational, it was also our first big production back in 2012.

PW: When we were reading plays in the library community rooms and found spaces a decade ago, did you think BTTUNY would ever be as busy and successful as it has been?

J-RM: Patrick, so glad you were there from the beginning reading with us. So you know our story. I’m a man of faith and a big believer and passionate. I prayed to God for this day and I was not going to let anything get in my way. I wanted to do it the right way with God leading me and the support of the community. So Yes! I knew there would be some successes; because I believed. BUT, we still have a long way to go. We still have to fight racism, inequality, social injustices, etc… but I’m not going to stop fighting. Thanks to the community, you, Patrick, for what you yourself are doing in the community. I want to thank Philip Morris, Jean Leonard, and Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill for their support. I couldn’t do all this without my board members and president Sheilah Miller,  and producers.

“Sweat” will be performed 5/17-5/21 (5/17-5/19 @ 7:30pm, 5/29 @ 2:30pm & 5/21 @ 1pm) at Union College’s Yulman Theater. Tickets are available at the box office or on Eventbrite.

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