Getting into character for the Patriot Players’ The Color Purple
The Color Purple, a book-turned movie by Steven Spielberg starring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg, is now a hit Broadway musical that reaped several accolades in the most recent Tony Awards. Now, the Patriot Players of Patrick Henry Community College are bringing The Color Purple to Martinsville.
The story follows the life of Celie – a quiet African American girl who grows into a woman of strength. Through her eyes, the audience comes face to face with abuse, sexism, and resounding hope, making this award winning play a message of courage and honor for women everywhere.
Some of the actors effortlessly relate to their characters - like Angela Fowler who plays the strong and driven Sofia. “I’ve been waiting many years to play this character. She’s got a backbone and she works overtime to encourage Celie to standup for herself,” says Fowler.
Other actors, ironically, couldn’t be more unlike the characters they portray. Some of the most violent or angry characters in The Color Purple are played by pastors.
“When I first read my script I immediately wondered if I should be doing this,” says Willie Robinson who plays the antagonist, Mister, and pastors the Soul Winners Ministry in Martinsville.
“Mister has a strong and powerful build and a resonant voice,” says Director Devin Pendleton. “Pastor Willie fit the physical description to a tee, and he has the acting ability to portray Mister’s aggressive personality despite the fact that he is, in reality, a loving preacher and family man.”
To get into character, Pastor Robinson focuses on the hope and victory that Celie finds at the end of the play, “the meaner I act at the beginning, the more impactful it will make the victory in the end.”
Pastor Robinson is not the only minister cast in this performance.
Baptists Christian Fellowship Ministries’ Associate Minister, Brian Witcher, plays the part of Pa – another antagonistic character in Celie’s life. The U.S. army veteran-turned pastor is not only playing a character that doesn’t fit his personality, but this is also his first musical. For Witcher, stepping out of his comfort zone on to the stage and even playing an unsavory character can be a chance for him to minister to people.
“Ultimately, this show is about love,” says Witcher. “Yes, I portray an evil character – opposite of who I am – but I can do that because The Color Purple shows the audience how real life, real people can conquer through love. This show is an opportunity to reach people by entertaining them.”
The show’s third minister, Christopher Hairston who is an elder with Newness to Life Ministries, is also new to the Patriot Players and to theater. Hairston may not have as difficult of a time relating to his character though; he plays the preacher. Although The Color Purple is Hairston’s first theater production, he isn’t a stranger to the stage. He claims that in 1984 he and his high school friends brought rap to Martinsville when they formed the area’s first official rap group.
“I think the reason this particular play has as many ministers in it as it does,” commented Pastor Robinson “is because it’s a gospel based show. God surrounds the show. You see Him in the beginning and at the end even though everything in between is a mess.”
All three pastors expressed that being part of The Color Purple has been an incredible experience for them and an opportunity to minister.
“One of the greatest things about theatre is that it allows individuals to be somebody completely different in order to help tell the story,” Pendleton said. “On one hand it seems so odd to have people who are so different than their characters they play. But who better to be passionate about educating our community about violence, courage, and strength than pastors?”
“As a pastor, playing the part of Mister has helped me to learn more about the human spirit,” remarked Robinson. “I’m not afraid to identify with Mister because it helps me see that we’re all on level ground. All people have the same needs and desires. Ultimately, it actually allows me to wear someone else’s shoes and helps me understand and relate to more people.”
Catch these ministers and the rest of the Patriot Players in The Color Purple on July 29 – 30 and August 4 – 6 at 7 p.m. or July 31 and August 7 at 2 p.m. Although the theatrical performance of The Color Purple is not as graphic as it has been portrayed through other mediums, audience discretion is still advised due to adult themes.