The play “Plenty of Time” may not click in the mind of art and acting lovers right away, yet it should. Written by John Shevin Foster, the storyline of the play is similar to a hit movie of the 1970s called “Same Time, Next Year.” In the movie, a couple has a love affair when they first meet and then they end up going about their lives separately. But, they meet once a year to rekindle the flame and the friendship, but they mostly share the changes that are happening in their lives as they get married to other people and raise their kids.
The difference with the storyline of “Plenty of Time” is that the protagonists live out the African-American experience in the United States from the 1960s on. As the show begins, the characters of this two-person play consist of a pampered daughter of a wealthy African-American family who meets a member of the Black Panther Party ready for revolution. The tale follows the couple as they reunite once a year and begins to age as they experience American culture for the 43 years that flow by.
“Plenty of Time” is being presented by the North Carolina Black Repertory Company, an organization based in Winston-Salem that has encouraged artistic excellence for four decades. This first-ever professional black theatre company created in the Tar Heel State was founded by Larry Leon Hamlin, who died in 2007 at 58.
For the last couple of years, Appalachian State University has partnered with the NC Black Repertory Company to present plays at the Valborg Theatre, located on campus.
On July 7, “Plenty of Time” will be presented as a part of the Appalachian Summer Festival. The play begins at 7 p.m. and tickets are $25 for adults and $10 for students.
Directing and acting in “Plenty of Time” is veteran actor, director and producer Jackie Alexander.
Originally from New Orleans, Alexander made his way through college before seeking out a career in the arts on both coasts. Two decades later, he eventually became the artistic director of the Billie Holiday Theatre in New York City.
“I went to the American Academy of the Dramatic Arts to study acting and worked as an actor for years, and then I started writing and directing,” said Alexander. “It is always rough in the beginning as an actor, but I was kind of lucky as right after school I got some jobs here and there. I did some commercials and got some theater jobs and went back and forth between Los Angeles and New York for about 20 years. I had a side job as a fitness trainer at a gym.”
After acting turned into directing and producing, Alexander was well-prepared for the artistic director position at the prestigious Billie Holiday Theatre. But once that company decided to take a two-year hiatus to renovate the actual theatre, Alexander took the same position with the NC Black Repertory Company. He relocated to North Carolina about two and a half years ago.
“I love the quality of life here in Winston-Salem,” said Alexander. “New York City is a pretty hard place to live. There is quiet here and clean, fresh air and little traffic, and that has been great. I also love it up in Boone. I did some kayaking trips up there a couple of times and have taken some daytrips there.
It is beautiful in the mountains and so close to where I live as it only takes me 90 minutes to get there as Rt. 421 is right by my house.”
Alexander has acted and directed the play “Plenty of Time” on many occasions. The play itself has been updated and re-written to add a few more years to the character’s experience.
“It is the first show that I ever directed back in 2002, and this will be my seventh production of the play,” said Alexander. “You always tweak the play, especially with this story because of the time it covers. The playwright John Shevin Foster will occasionally add lines about more recent history because he finished the play in 2000. In the 20 years since he wrote it, John has pushed back the time of when the story closes as now the play ends in 2003. He will add historical events or different things that have happened in the character’s lives. The other actor who performs the play with me is Suzette Gunn from New York. The couple meets every summer in Martha’s Vineyard. In-between the scene changes, we use video to show what happened in those ensuing years, as in what was happening in the world, what fashion was in at that time and who was famous back then. People seem to get a kick out of that.”
NC Black Repertory Company takes pride in producing at least one new original play every year. That encourages creativity and it also motivates folks to turn something in for consideration.
“From October through March, we have open submissions time when you can send in a piece featuring a part of the script and a description as to what the play is about,” said Alexander. “We will read those submissions and then when it comes to the story ideas that we like, we will then ask for the full play. We also offer a free reading series around Winston-Salem where we can get audience feedback on the plays. We get a lot of good plays submitted. The only problem is we can only pick one or two plays a year. I have been surprised at the quality of plays that we have been getting that are ready for production. A playwright should always read the classic plays and work by up-and-coming playwrights that are getting noticed, just to see how they are telling stories. You should always have your own style, of course, but you should also know what is going on out there.”