Interview with Eclipsed star Saycon Sengbloh
Saycon Sengbloh just won her first Drama Desk Award and is also nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in the Broadway premiere of Eclipsed, which is currently playing at Broadway's Golden Theatre until 19 June 2016.
Up until this point, Saycon has been well known for her career in musical theatre, including Broadway outings in Aida, Wicked, Hair, The Color Purple, Motown The Musical, Holler If Ya Hear Me and Fela!
We caught up with "Wife #1" to discuss her first straight play on Broadway...
Thomas Hayden Millward: Congratulations Saycon on your Drama Desk win and Tony nomination. You must be over the moon right now?
Saycon Sengbloh: I’m feeling so excited. I feel like I’m gonna jump and my head is gonna hit the ceiling. I’m just thrilled and really happy to have my work be acknowledged. I just do it for the work. I very rarely get these types of accolades, so I really appreciate it a lot.
THM: Well, I saw ‘Eclipsed’ and my goodness, what a heart-wrenching tale…
SS: And we do it eight times a week!
THM: You must be utterly exhausted, Dear!
SS: I’m always exhausted!
THM: Have you been knocking back the Red Bulls?
SS: I don’t know how I do it! I don’t drink Red Bull. I don’t drink coffee. I’m always running on reserve. I like chocolate.
THM: Mmmmm who doesn’t! But back to the script – what is the significance for you of having an all-female cast with a female director and female playwright on Broadway?
SS: Initially I didn’t realise we were making history. I was just going to work every day, working with these beautiful women. And I noticed, as we were sharing stories, I never had to overly explain myself. I find that people, who may come from different walks of life, ask: “What does that mean?” or “What does this mean?” But this just felt really easy. And then I realised it’s because we are all women and we are part of the African diaspora. There’s things that we experience or we get in a different way. I actually call myself a “Halfrican” because my Dad is from Liberia and my Mom is American. I have this sensibility because I grew up here in America, but I have also been to countries in Africa. There’s a way that I relate to the world and these women, they all relate. So it was just beautiful and to top it off – our director Liesl Tommy is female and our playwright Danai Gurira is female, so we really are making history.
THM: And hats off to Danai for such a powerful, and at times humorous script. And your character is so important in terms of the theme of hierarchy. There is a real sense of female camaraderie, but also the complex notion that there is a pecking order and backstabbing, etc…
SS: Yes, my character does put people in their places. It was interesting when we talked about those types of lifestyles. When you don’t have a lot of material wealth, what do you have? You have your place in the world. I think that my character [Wife #1] finds some type of satisfaction and self-esteem in her place. She may not be the prettiest one. She may not be the most loved, but she is Number One. Status is something that even the poorest of people can have in their own circles. It’s really intriguing because everyone from every other culture can relate to status and how it affects us all. When we’re on the train in New York, we are sharing it with the Super Rich and with college kids, who are scraping by on scholarships. We see all of that. But when you see our show, you see women who don’t even know when their next meal is gonna come, but they still have status issues. It’s amazing.
THM: Like every Broadway season, there is more than a fair share of musical comedies, so it’s really important to see such a hard-hitting drama in the mix. Do you guys feel a responsibility to make a dramatic impact, in the face of all these light entertainment shows?
SS: I think that we feel a responsibility, being who we are - and that it is a play written by a woman, directed by a woman and starring women – we feel a responsibility towards women in general. We’ve had so many young girls come up to us and tell us how inspired they are by it. As much as it is about Broadway or off-Broadway when we were at the Public Theater, I think it’s about the bigger picture and how women are treated in life. In some countries, women really are second class citizens. So I think we feel a responsibility on a really huge level, even bigger than these blocks that we call Times Square.