Storytelling has always been a significant part of my life. As a child, the stories that I loved the most had characters who displayed fearlessness and heroism. Their courage helped me to withstand the pains and frustrations of my own reality. Somehow, over time, the heroes from those stories became the measurement of what I wanted to look and act like, in order to be relevant or visible in the world. Still today, the possibility of the underdog suddenly possessing supernatural powers and a true love's kiss saving the day... feel very probable to me.
One of the earliest stories I remember was “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1986)” a teleplay. The story follows the adventures of an unsuccessful inventor named Caractacus Potts, his beloved, Truly Scrumptious, and his two children as they set off in their magical flying car after the children’s grandfather is kidnapped by a child-hating baron and baroness. The colors and imagery, the pace of the action, the bizarre grandfather, and even the peculiar inventions created by Mr. Potts all seemed to be integral parts to how the family got from one day to the next. It was unique and normal within the story world of "Chitty." The children, like my sister and I, were living in a single-parent home, but their circumstances did not limit what they believed was possible. And because of this, everything they imagined became reality, including a magical flying car. This story gave my sister and me the secret ingredient to creating the life we wanted: imagination. We watched and studied “Chitty,” we memorized all the lines and the lyrics to the songs, we pretended to be as refined and dignified as Truly, and during every car ride, my sister and I would hold hands and brace ourselves as our mother’s Chevrolet Chevette prepared for lift-off.
Reflecting on the impact that “Chitty” made on me demonstrates that when a strong theme and a compelling story are used together, a person is moved both emotionally and intellectually and they are changed. The message in “Chitty” from a young person’s perspective is “children have the power to cause change.” For me, it is proof that stories teach people effective ways of communicating thoughts and ideas, as well as advocating for themselves while strengthening belief in their own abilities. Directing and sharing stories is a powerful way of transforming ideas into action. Knowing this compels me to seek out plays that expand thinking and help others see what is possible.
The question remains, how can we put a variety of stories on the stage that represent people that are economically or socially challenged, but are not allowing those circumstances to define or restrict them? Many of the new plays and projects that I have worked explore answers to that question. My own writing, “All Around the Mulberry Bush,” is a collection features short plays with children who each share a similar level of naiveté about the conditions they live in. As each story moves forward, through fairy tales and playtime, more information reveals itself and this begins to shift the way the children see themselves and ultimately leads them to helping other children.
Before making the decision to pursue the life of a theater artist professionally, I worked in the nonprofit sector for over 20 years, mostly with organizations that served at-risk youth. In most cases, these youth came from single-parent households, low-income housing, and have had a history of bad behavior, poor grades, and possess little to no social skills. Working with these youth and their families, their stories can be somber yet powerful and though I am able to see the power in them, the families are not always able to see their own strength or how resilient they have become in the face of their circumstances. It is not until I share a story with them about another family from a similar background who overcame the same circumstances with the help of our program that they begin to see the possibilities. It is the story of someone else’s success that helps this family to believe that something new is also available to them. In these moments, I know that a story can serve as an intervention and a way to change the trajectory of someone’s life. There are times, of course, where the story we share with a family doesn’t help and as a storyteller, I ponder: How can we rewrite their stories and change the way they see themselves? I believe that theater is a place where we can do this.
Aleesha Nash is a New York city-based playwright and director who tells stories that help shift the inaccuracies around African Americans' cultural identity. Recent directing projects include Lipstick (Cherry Lane Theatre), Park Bench (Primary Stages), The Raven (The Wild Project), and Lilies (The Arctic Group). Among her playwriting credits are Yellow Banter (The Flea Theater), We Dem Boyz (Goddard College) Black Hole Dating App (Kraine Theatre), and Yours Truly, Vincent. (Emerging Artist Festival).
Aleesha is an alumna of the Lincoln Center Director's’ Lab and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation Observership program. She holds an MA from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and an MFA in dramatic writing from Goddard College in Vermont, where she received their Engaged Artist Award.
Technique Talk: Playwright Aleesha Nash
After graduating from Otterbein University in 2004, Columbus native Aleesha Nash headed to New York University, where she earned her MA in speech and interpersonal communications. But it was a project she worked on at the Westerville campus during her undergrad years that inspired the one-woman play that earned her a performance spot at the NYC Emerging Artist Theatre 2013 Festival happening next month.
“Yours Truly, Vincent” is based on Vincent van Gogh’s letters to his family and acquaintances during his most prolific creative years. Nash talked to us about why Van Gogh’s story so appeals to her, how she “tricks” herself into writing and who, out of any artist living or dead, she would invite to dinner. Van Gogh, of course, made the guest list.
Alumna Debuts One-Man Play at Emerging Artist Fest
While Aleesha Nash majored in speech communications at Otterbein, she was always interested in art history, vocal performance and painting. After graduating, she attended graduate school at New York University for speech and interpersonal communication. Soon, she was ready to branch out into the world of playwriting.
All Around the Mulberry Bush
A Collection of Short Plays by Aleesha Nash
New Works Series | Emerging Artist Festival
The writer and director of Yours Truly, Vincent. returns to the New Works Series with a collection of short plays that are amusing and charming, yet, touching. The collection explores how children manifest their feelings, about self and others, through playtime.
EMERGING ARTISTS THEATRE provides a dynamic home for playwrights and artists to develop their work from an idea to a fully realized production. In the past 19 years, Emerging Artists has premiered over 300 new works and also garnered a Drama Desk Nomination, received the American Theatre Wing Award for Consistent Commitment to Excellence in Theatre, and named Best Off-Off Broadway Theatre Company in NYC for Actors to Work With by Backstage Magazine.
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