• Cristee Cook

Soul Rep Theatre continues 25th season with world premiere series SOUL-O-SHORTS

By Cristee Cook

Continuing their 25th anniversary season, Dallas’ Soul Rep Theatre Company is presenting SOUL-O-SHORTS, a filmed play series featuring 6 world premier short (5-10 minutes each) solo performances. The project was created by a dynamic team of local playwrights, directors, dancers, and cinematographers, and explores the beauty and struggle of Black men, the gift of children and their imaginations, and even stories about notable historical figures: namely, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Hattie McDaniel, and Nat Turner.

Dallas Art Beat will be featuring a Q&A with each of the artists behind the plays, beginning with the filmed play Hi Hi Hattie,& Mr. Oscar. Presented by Soul Rep Theatre Executive Director/Co-Founders Anyika McMillan-Herod (Playwright) and Tonya Holloway (Director),

Hi Hi Hattie & Mr. Oscar focuses on Hattie McDaniel, the African American actress best known for her role as “Mammy” in the 1940 film Gone With The Wind. McDaniel was the first African American to win an Oscar and faced significant racial prejudice throughout her career. Despite this, McDaniel starred in 300 films (she was credited in 83), performed on the radio as a singer/songwriter, and has been inducted into several Halls of Fame for her contributions to film and music.

Director Tonya Holloway sat down to answer a few questions about the project for Dallas Art Beat.

What inspired you to tell this story?

The woman who portrays Hattie McDaniel, Monique Williams, is a huge fan of the late actress's work and it has always been a dream of hers to play the role. So when we decided to do the Soul-O project, it was a no brainer to include this story.

I believe sometimes people can overlook the tremendous talent Hattie McDaniel possessed because of the types of roles she played. It's a sore spot in the Black community and often hard to revisit. However, I hope this staged portrayal of her life encourages people to find out more about who she was as a professional actress with great comedic skills. Despite the roles she played, which were just about the only [available to] a Black woman in those days, she made it work for her in a way that earned her an Oscar award, a place in history and in our hearts.

Monique Williams as Hattie McDaniel in "Hi Hi Hattie & Mr. Oscar" | Photo: Soul Rep Theatre

What positive changes have come out of the pandemic time in regard to your work - creating what is traditionally live performance for a virtual audience?

The pandemic has expanded my creative boundaries, encouraging me to not only go outside the box but way beyond the box. That was the easy part. The hard put was coming up with competitive marketing strategies that would properly expose who we are and what we do through these stories. With so much on-demand entertainment available, one has to question, "what's going to make this piece "must-see tv,” or in most cases, an iPhone or computer.

Why do you feel this story is an important one to tell now?

Given the historical mark Hattie McDaniel has made in American history, her story is well-known. But we wanted to take her story a step further by imagining what the conversation might look like between she and Oscar at the end of that legendary night. If we could be a fly on the wall that night, what would we hear? I feel that is a story worth sharing now.

Besides your artistic work, what’s sustaining you right now?

What's sustaining me is juggling -- running school during the day at home while continuing to freelance as a videographer and actress. I have three virtual learners and just trying to keep up with their work and when it's due is a job in itself! But I must say, despite the pandemic, business has been good and for that I am truly grateful.


SOUL-O-SHORTS -- Written, Directed, and Performed by Soul Rep Theatre company members, begins streaming May 10, 2021.

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