Editor’s note: Erica Truesdale plays the role of Aunt Sarah in the upcoming Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte production of Nina Simone: Four Women, which takes place after 1963’s 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. Preview shows have been performed over the past few days, and opening night is tonight.
CharlotteFive asked Truesdale to tell us, in her own words, what it’s like to portray a woman of color during a very volatile time in civil right unrest — and how that compares to being a woman of color today.
My name is Erica Ja-Ki Truesdale. I’m from Van Wyck, South Carolina, and I have been acting for about 6 years. I began acting during my undergraduate studies at Winthrop University as a Theatre Performance Major.
I absolutely love breathing life into scripts and creating these three-dimensional characters that allow me to both explore and express the depths of the human condition, while simultaneously challenging the limitations of the status quo within our communities.
So, aside from the joy I’ve found in being able to make a career out of childhood games of make believe, I also find an extreme amount of gratification in working on projects that tell the extraordinary stories of seemingly ordinary people with messages that resonate within me as an artist, which is exactly what I believe a show like this does.
With “Nina Simone: Four Women”, I find it as both an honor and a responsibility to be able to portray a woman of color during the 1960s and to be able to act as a vessel and a voice for women during those times who may not have openly discussed the highs and the lows of their black experience.
Within the play and through our characters (Peaches, Aunt Sarah, Sephronia, and Sweet Thing, played by a phenomenal cast of women), we discuss various topics within the confines of the 16th Street Baptist Church, which essentially takes the audience on a journey that explores issues of colorism, stereotypes, etc., and how these issues affected women of color back then and even now.
My character is that of Aunt Sarah who, I would say, represents the black woman unmasked. She is a maid who has a strong sense of faith and spirituality — but unlike that of the historical Mammy caricature, Aunt Sarah is a fully fleshed three-dimensional human being, as are all of these women, and we all get a chance to witness their evolution throughout the highs and lows within the play.
As for being a WOC in 2019, I’ll say that we most definitely have come a long way from where we were as a people in 1963, but I believe there is still work to be done. Take for instance: the Emanuel Nine or the deaths of Sandra Bland, Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice … I mean, the list of tragedies that’s happened to us as a people could go on and on.
There’s no avoiding the fact that unfortunately, black people are still daily victims of police brutality and other forms of covert racism. Through my work as an artist, I can only hope that I am able to assist in doing the work that needs to be done to help heal and transform human hearts.
I truly believe that theatre is a transformative experience for both the artist and the audience — and I know that any medium of art, when handled responsibly, can act as powerful weapons for change.