NEW YORK (AP) — Like so many other aspiring actresses, Olivia Washington is paying her dues at a small, off-Broadway theater. Unlike so many other aspiring actresses, she’s not relying on her famous dad.
Washington, one of Denzel Washington’s four children, played the shy and damaged Laura in a revival of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” in a 199-seat theater this spring.
She joined the inaugural season of the Masterworks Theater Company, which has found temporary housing in the 47th Street Theater, a short walk from Broadway’s glitter.
The goal of the company is to present theatrical classics with diverse casts to young people. Its motto: igniting the next generation of audiences.
“It’s my first show as well as their first show so we’re definitely growing up together,” said Washington, who graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts two years ago. “Everything has kind of been ‘jump straight into and see what happens.'”
Washington, who grew up in Los Angeles, had never seen “The Glass Menagerie” but had studied it in college. Her credits include a stage production of “Clybourne Park” in Ithaca, New York, and she had a small part in the film “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”
Auditioning for more than a year, she said the chance to portray one of Williams’ most interesting heroines was exciting. “Normally, I wouldn’t be able to audition because they don’t really offer it to women of color. So I jumped on it right away,” she said.
Director Christopher Scott, the artistic director of Masterworks and a teacher at Baruch College, said Washington brought out Laura’s fragility and humor at her audition.
“I always say at the beginning of our process, ‘Make me see this character in a way that I never imagined.’ And she did that,” he said. “She did that while staying truthful to the story and what I think Williams wrote. She brought that all alive.”
The rest of the cast is Saundra Santiago, Richard Prioleau and Doug Harris. Tickets range from $33 to $65. Masterworks already has a second show in the works, Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Masterworks, founded by producer and teacher Eric Krebs, hopes in the coming years to do “A Raisin in the Sun,” ”Macbeth” and “Of Mice and Men,” unlocking them for millennials by hiring the best for the part, regardless of race. “The need for people to see themselves onstage is really important,” Scott said.
In some ways, Washington takes after her father, an Oscar and Tony winner who said his dream when he first started acting at Fordham University was to be onstage. His first two roles in college were “The Emperor Jones” by Eugene O’Neill and Shakespeare’s “Othello.”
One call to dad might help his daughter’s career, but Olivia Washington is happy to be here, playing for young people in a small theater where the props include an old typewriter with sticky keys and a spare unicorn figurine hidden onstage in case something bad happens to the go-to ones.
“It’s kind of like those stories of theater companies back in the day. Like, ‘Oh, all these cool actors were studying together and creating a company,'” she said. “Now we get to do that.”
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