Russell Jordan on February 26, 2016 performed in a reading of Rachel Mary Cox’s BRUISED AND CONFUSED, one of the new works presented at La Mama Experimental Theater Club as part of its La MaMa Umbria International Playwrights Readings showcase.
BRUISED AND CONFUSED examines the lives of partners Naima (Chandra Thomas) and Jules (Hannah Beck) and the stress placed on their already strained relationship, when their long-time friend Malik (Edward O’Blenis) is shot and killed by a police officer. The situation is further complicated when they learn Jules’ cousin is the officer who fired the fatal shot. Enter Jules’s former partner (and one-time participant in a sexual tryst with Jules and Naima), Jerome (Russell Jordan), who has appeared on the scene to seek justice for Malik, but stirring up old feelings with Naima in the process.
Lindsay Perry, Chuck Blasius, Pierce Forsythe, Olia Toporovsky, Lawryn LaCroix, and Matthew Mark Meyer round out the ensemble, with Dana Boll reading stage directions.
Russell days earlier performed at La Mama in LANGSTON HUGHES IN HARLEM as part of their “Poetry Electric” series.
Russell performed on the York College Theatre stage for Black History Month 2016 as part of the ensemble of LANGSTON HUGHES IN HARLEM, his first performance at York since earning his bachelor’s degree from institution in 2001.
LANGSTON HUGHES IN HARLEM, directed by Tom Marion with music by Neal Kirkwood and Harry Mann, featured Jordan, along with York College alums Phil John, Shakeerah Fredericks, and Solomon Peck, with Danielle Aziza, Noel Boone, and Adrian Kiser rounding out the cast.
The show also played at La Mama as part of their "Poetry Electric" series.
The cast of LANGSTON HUGHES IN HARLEM (clock wise from left):
Peck, Fredericks, Kiser, Jordan, Aziza, John, and Boone.
Russell Jordan on February 21, 2016 made his Urban Stages debut in a staged reading of P.C. Allan’s THE NETHER LAND, one of six new works presented collectively as THE PRESIDENT PLAYS, an event launching the “Urban Stages New Pages” new play development program, helmed by Bara Swain.
Under the direction of Joan Kane, Russell Jordan and Dara O’Brien tell THE NETHER LAND story, in which we discover O’Brien’s affluent “She” in the lobby of a fancy midtown Manhattan hotel disturbed by the knowledge her husband is in one of its rooms having an affair. She encounters Jordan’s “He,” a dutiful, busy hotel concierge, and engages him in a series of conversations that ultimately inform how she chooses to handle her current situation.
Regarding Jordan’s performance, playwright P.C. Allan wrote “[he was] a beautiful blend of pathos and poignancy.”
This is not the first time Jordan worked with Joan Kane and Bara Swain. During Swain’s time at Abingdon Theatre Company (where she was part of their Benefit Challenge Series production team), Jordan was directed by Kane in Melissa Skirboll’s SHOW AND TELL TANGO.
Russell on August 7, 2015 performed in Goldfish Memory Productions' presentation of Bella Poynton's THE OFFER as part of the 40th Annual Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival, Manhattan’s oldest, continuous short play festival.
THE OFFER tells the story of Grace (played by Catie Humphries), who was fired from NASA after the shuttle program was dismantled in 2009 along with 30,000 other astrophysicist and engineers. Since then, she has been working a series of odd jobs and more recently, at Virgin. Now, without even knowing it, Grace’s work is starting to change things for the space industry, making the prospect of human space exploration a dream more tangible than she ever imagined.
Russell Jordan played Mr. Hunter, who fired Grace five years ago, and has now called her back to make a life-changing offer.
THE OFFER was one of 30 semi-finalists selected from nearly 1,500 submissions to perform at East 13th Street Theater from August 4-August 7, and was named one of the festival's 12 finalists and given an additional performance on August 8.
Russell on April 29, 2015 performed at The Fortune Society Harlem in The Live Lunch Series, a "unique theatrical performance," directed by Rebecca Cunningham, written by Christina Quintana, and music directed by Jonathan Camuzeaux. The actor ensemble included Chris Fayne, Jensen Austria Olaya, Giacomo Rocchini, Ashley Romans, and Jackie Torres.
Through plays devised specifically for individual organizations, Live Lunch aims to engage camaraderie and conversation within working communities and expose people to the possibilities of theater.
Quintana wrote on The Live Lunch Series' Facebook page that, "after the performance, I had several staff and clients come up to me who said they were unexpectedly moved by the work."
Russell on January 24, 2015 and February 10, 2015 performed at Stage Left Studio in a staged reading of Monica Bauer's MY OCCASION OF SIN under the direction of Dev Bondarin. The ensemble cast included Frances McGarry (pictured, far right), Joan Anderson, Quinn Warren, and J. Dolan Byrnes.
Inspired by true events that led to one of the worst race riots in the author’s birthplace of Omaha, Nebraska, MY OCCASION OF SIN is set in a segregated city in 1969. Two men from very different backgrounds: Luigi, an African American jazz drummer and George, a white music store owner who specializes in the accordion, are thrown together by fate, finding common ground in their love of music. At the same time, Mary Margaret and Vivian, two young girls from opposite sides of the segregated city, each drink in the new jazz scene for reasons of their own. Music seems to unite and uplift everyone around … at first. Soon “occasions of sin” – where fear, mistrust and racism fester – are inescapable. Violence erupts, changing everyone’s lives forever.*
Russell played Luigi.
"Russell Jordan - you were as always amazing! Wow!" - Playwright Penny Jackson (via Facebook)
"omigod this piece is powerful. When I tried to talk to you and Dolan afterwards, I couldn't do it without crying, so I ran away instead. / It's all still going on today. All this mess. / On another level, I loved everything that was said about jazz because it applies to improv which I'm obsessed with. / The cast was stellar, your writing Monica is stellar, I believed every minute of it." - Ramona Pula (via Facebook)
"I was so taken by the reading of My Occasion of Sin last night that I left the theater enervated and ready to face the world head on. / The theme of this play is so pervasive in today's society--at least with people who have sensibilities like ours--and feel compassion for people who are categorically mistreated and lack the bias that is unfortunately a basic part of the historical fabric of this country." - Jeff Gaster (via Facebook)
"It's so great!" - Playwright, Duncan Pflaster (via Facebook)
"I'd go see the show again tomorrow!!!" - Connie Nardella (via Facebook)
The reading raised funds benefiting Fire Recovery Funds of playwrights Duncan Pflaster and Andrew Rothkin, and their roommate Kim Jones, who lost their home in early January 2014.
* excerpt from synopsis from Urban Stages website description of 2012 Off Broadway premiere."
I don’t remember if it was my sophomore or junior year at August Martin High School, but I had auditioned for one of their mainstage productions and was offered a role that I judged to be “not a positive depiction of an African American man.” I declined the role and voiced my reason for doing so. My position was met with: “I thought actors act.” This memory serves a great starting point as I reflect on my work in Nia Witherspoon’s THE MESSIAH COMPLEX, which performed in April 2014 as part of the Downtown Urban Theater Festival.
2013 was the first time I heard of DUTF, despite it being in existence for over a decade. I did more research about the festival, which included chatting with actor-friends who participated in the festival’s prior presentations, and ultimately decided that performing at DUTF would be a smart thing to do.
So I auditioned and was offered a role for one of the shows performing in the 2013 festival. Due to a misunderstanding regarding my availability between me and that show’s producer, the offer became a “let me regroup with my team and get back to you,” and ultimately became me learning about the show via the reviews it received after its performance…it happens. That situation ultimately resulted in “performing at DUTF” to now become a bucket-list item, and I was determined that if an opportunity to perform at DUTF were to present itself at some point in the future, I would jump on it.
In February 2014, I read a Miles Maker post announcing auditions for a forthcoming stage production being produced by a connection of his. My Facebook message communications with Miles would reveal that the play would stage at…you guessed it...DUTF.
It was now time to “jump on it.”
After my audition, director Misha Chowdhury and I had a quick chat, and it was quickly apparent that our personalities did not clash. A few days later I received an offer, to which I replied with a request to read the entire script, which was emailed right away.
I never read the script prior to Misha’s follow-up email two days later. Nonetheless, I accepted the offer...and my goal of performing at DUTF would soon come to fruition.
A day or two later, I finally read the script and was transported back to that sophomore or junior year at August Martin. My limited understanding of who Curtis was, based largely on the choices I made during my one-page cold read audition, was not who Curtis was at all.
Curtis was an alcoholic. He was struggling with his sexuality. One could argue that he was a “deadbeat Dad.” He was “not a positive depiction of an African American man.” If one were to describe Curtis’s type, he would certainly NOT appear on the list of types one would associate with me: Russell Jordan, that clean-cut, white-collar, executive, [insert other character-type] actor guy.
I questioned what Misha saw in my audition that made him think, “oh, yeah… this guy can perform Curtis.” I wondered if I could perform Curtis, a doubt that a few of my friends know I struggled with well into the start of the rehearsal process.
Then I remembered something acting coach Rosalyn Coleman once shared with me: (This is a deliberately poor paraphrase, but it was something about) growing as an actor can only come from placing oneself in those non-safe situations…which forces one to stretch and grow.
For whatever reason, I was presented with the opportunity to take on this role. The time had come for me to take a big-boy pill and shut the fcuk up.
Misha lead our talented thirteen-creative ensemble through a rehearsal process that was fraught with challenges, one of those being trying to schedule a thirteen-creative ensemble so that we we could all actually work together as often as possible. Looking back, I would like to think that with few exceptions, we would have all liked to have rehearsed for a few more hours. Alas, a reality of the New York Off-Off Broadway theater experience: actors, like everyone else in this town, have survival jobs, and our limited availability is what it is. That notwithstanding, every member of the dedicated ensemble worked their butts off.
I would continue my work to create the most honest “Curtis” I could, and in one of our final run-throughs, I felt that I was getting close to being in my zone…(I’m sure my actor-friends know what that means). After this particular run-through, castmate Peggy Johnson said to me, “I saw you having fun just now.” And I was.
Performance day came...which was also load-in day and tech day…and it was also our one and only time to see all the pieces in place, and ultimately the “shape” of the show. (This is not unique to DUTF, but I still dislike this aspect of “festival work.”) We literally worked up to the last possible moment before our house manager informed us that they would soon open the house to our patrons.
Holy [bleep]. But the show, as the saying goes, must go on.
After the show, I felt somewhat “meh” about my performance...likely because I was just tired...and tired. I knew that I did not feel that I was in the “zone energy” that I enjoyed in rehearsal a few days prior. And that bummed me out, especially since I knew that this show, as with all the other festival productions, given only one performance. The show was over and done.
As the cast cleared out of the HERE Arts dressing room in preparation for our post-show celebration, all I could think about was, quite honestly, getting back home as soon as possible. I just wanted to turn the page… move on… forget. But for whatever reason, I was still in the process of packing up my belongings when castmate Chris Herbie Holland came up to me and said, “I learned so much working with you.” At that moment, that was THE LAST thing I wanted to hear. So, I gave a half-hearted “thanks” (or some other wise-assery) and kept it moving.
But his comment haunted me.
A couple of days later, I felt compelled to email Chris for clarification. When one says “I learned so much,” to me at least…I take into consideration both the good and the bad…as there is learning to be found in both places.
Following up on your "I learned so much" feedback... (I'm not good at receiving positive feedback, hence my silly/not-really-trying-to-deal-with-it-at-that-moment reaction.... trying to get better at that.)
There is value in feedback, so if you could take a minute to share exactly what you learned... "good," "bad," or "otherwise," it would be helpful for me as I continue along my journey.
I thoroughly enjoyed observing your process and the choices you made with Curtis. Your presence and intentions behind all your scenes were real clear for me; clarity is a skill, one that I'm still working on in my work. One has to give oneself permission to take up space, to be, to talk and react and I learned that from your work.
That perspective was the slap in the face I needed to pull myself together and pull myself out of the funk of self-doubt slash I wish we had more rehearsal time slash I wish yadda-yadda-yadda funk I had created and was trying exist in, which was clouding my vision from an undeniable fact: I got out of my own way and said “yes” to a role that for years I have said “no” to, and just a few weeks earlier was still judging.
The big-boy pill did what is does. And there was some stretching and growth.
This was a reason to celebrate.
A few days after the show, I took a picture of myself as Curtis and comped an image of my in-my-head “Russell Jordan brand” image along-side my Curtis. It's the image that you see at the top of this post.
I posted this image to my various social media accounts, and received an overwhelmingly positive response. And I’m sure it was due to the fact that this was a Russell Jordan that I was not ready to embrace...until now.
On Facebook, I replied to the feedback with the following:
Thanks for the likes and feedback on this shot. Had I not worked on THE MESSIAH COMPLEX, I likely would not have ever embraced this "color" in my "crayon box." (It's always been that color that I knew was in there, but chose not to pick up and create with.)
A day after posting that Facebook reply, actor-friend Damon DiMarco reached out to me asking if I had shared this Russell/Curtis image with industry. I told him that I had not and that I wanted to first produce one-sheet with production stills and quotes from any press that may have reviewed the show. Damon suggested that the image itself was strong enough to stand on its own. “Russell, I had to do a double-take. I did not know that was you.” he said. “Do you know who J.K. Simmons is? You are fortunate enough to have a J.K. Simmons chameleon-like quality. You are a character-actor...and character-actors work.”
As I finish writing this post, it is now one week since my performance in THE MESSIAH COMPLEX. And I now know that Curtis needed to happen to me now, just as me being told “actors act” that sophomore or junior year back in the day.
It is time to pick up yet another unused crayon/character from the box and start creating.
Russell on November 17, 2013 participated in a salon reading of Bruce Norris's CLYBOURNE PARK at The Harlem Camerata, a collective of actors who meet regularly to read published works as well as works being developed by the participants.
Russell is a principal of the Harlem Camerata, which began in 2011.
You can learn more about the Harlem Camerata by visiting their website.
Russell on November 12, 2013 performed as an African American Elvis Presley impersonator named Elvis (how about that?), in Jonathan Alexandratos's play TAILORING, part of Abingdon Theatre Company's FITTING ROOM PLAYS Benefit Challenge Series fundraising event.
TAILORING, which also starred Leon Morgan and was directed by Melissa Skirboll, was one of six short plays presented. The event raised funds to help support of Abingdon’s Play Development Program.
One patron, a playwright with their own full-length work in pre-production for a 2014 opening, has since asked their team to have Russell audition for one of those roles.