Lori Brown-Niang & JonPaul Niang (The DreamYard Project Staff)
Lori: My name is Lori Brown-Niang and my son JonPaul and I are from the Bronx. I work for DreamYard as a teaching artist. In college George C. Wolfe, who used to run The Public Theater, was one of my professors. I worked a little bit at the Public doing showcases, but I always wanted to do something BIG at the Public. I finally got a call ten years ago to come down and audition for something, and at that time I was eight months pregnant—I started crying and crying and crying. I remember asking them, “Is the character pregnant?” They were like, “Oh don’t worry, we’ll call you again and you’ll get another chance.” I was crushed, but then again I was happy because I was having JonPaul. It sort of marked the end of one phase in my life and the beginning of a new phase, which is being JonPaul’s mom.
My mother always took me to plays from the time I was little, so I always take JonPaul. One time my mom and I went to see a play called Madame Odom at the National Black Theater on 125th Street. This was back in the day. We went down to the theater on 125th street; we got there early and were waiting for the show to start…but nobody else showed up in the audience. Eventually the stage manager came out and he said, “Equity rules say that if there are less people in the audience than there are on stage, the actors don’t have to go on.” I let out one single tear like Denzel Washington in Glory! I was seven years old and I said, “You mean we’re not going to get to see the show?” Well he got all choked up and told us to hold on. He went backstage and spoke to the actors, and they ended up doing the show for my mother and I. They told us to sit wherever we wanted and didn’t even make us pay. So I just felt like WOW. Those artists made this little girl’s dream come true that day. That was what sparked me to think I could do that for people; I could make people feel like they are so special, just to see me in something. And that was the beginning of my acting journey. So growing up I did church plays and school plays. I went to City College and got my BFA in Theater at the Davis Center for The Performing Arts. When I got out and started trying to get work, I found that there’s not that much work for us young ladies of color. My other love being teaching and kids, I then went and worked with NYU’s Creative Arts team and learned how to be a teaching artist. We took a violence prevention show out to different high schools and junior high schools throughout the five boroughs. I did that for about four years and then I was hooked on being a teaching artist, and found a beautiful way to meld both of my loves teaching theater for DreamYard in junior high and high school. I currently teach six classes a week, but this last year I taught kindergarten too. That was a blast.
JonPaul: I go to school at P.S. 68. I’m the 4th grade going into 5th, and I’m 9 ½ years old. I’ve done some acting stuff, and I like to play and watch basketball. My favorite team is the New York Liberty.
Lori: I’m so jazzed about us performing in The Tempest. Flash forward ten years from when I got that call from the Public and realized I couldn’t audition because I was pregnant. I’m now working with DreamYard as a teaching artist, and this great opportunity came to me in the Tempest; and with it, everything for me has come full circle. Not only am I in the play, but also my son and I are doing it together! I remember back when I was crying and so upset. The spirit spoke to me, and when the spirit talks to you, you just have to listen. The spirit said, “It’s going to be alright.” And I said, “Okay, I trust. I believe.” And here we are with this sweet gift ten years later.