Celebrating 25 Years of Arden Professional Apprentices: An Interview with Raelle Myrick-Hodges
Associate Producer Jonathan Silver interviewed director and former Arden Professional Apprentice Raelle Myrick-Hodges on her apprenticeship year, how the program helped launch her career, and bring her back to Philadelphia.
Jonathan Silver: Welcome back, Raelle! We’re thrilled to have you return to Philly leading Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. What have you been up to since directing 2016’s Two Trains Running?
Raelle Myrick-Hodges: I have been a really lucky human. Since then, I have directed Sweet which was the world premiere by Harrison David Rivers at the National Black Theatre in Harlem. We were nominated for a bunch of theater awards which was awesome for the team. I also started teaching at Brown University in the Brown/Trinity Program and Directing Studio which has been a life-affirming space to be in as an artist.
JS: When was the first time you read The Bluest Eye? How did it affect you?
RMH: I was probably 14 or 15. It was the first (and probably last) time I had read it. I’m not a reader who goes back to reread novels because of what we do for a living with constantly reading plays. At 14, the most intense part of the book was always the Maureen Peal part. I have brown eyes. I have medium brown skin. I come from a family where, on my mother’s side, my mother has hazel eyes, my aunt has green eyes, my cousins have blue eyes and gray eyes – I’m the brown-eyed one. I spent a lot of my childhood having people tell me I wasn’t as pretty because I didn’t have “white people eyes” like everybody else. Now this is funny because in my family, I was looked at as the most special because they told me, “You’re tall, you have dark brown eyes, you’re so chocolaty” – I was just really special to my family. I feel like Maureen Peal’s character has always been misunderstood and that’s why that part of the book has always been the part that stuck with me the most.
JS: The 2017/18 season marks the 25th year of the Arden’s Professional Apprentice program! As a former apprentice (Class 5 – the year the F. Otto Haas Theatre opened), how do you feel your time shaped your work ethic as a theater artist?
RMH: That’s so funny because it continues to shape my work ethic as a theater artist today. I’m still sharing skills that I learned at the Arden over 20 years ago with, supposedly, “professional” theater artists on a daily basis. The biggest lesson I ever learned was that if there’s a problem, come up with a solution and don’t waste time whining and complaining. I practice and share this when I’m directing, when I have to remember my grant-writing skills, and when I’m teaching. No joke, I literally use these skills every day.
JS: You once described your experience as an apprentice as “one of the hardest years of my life.” Along with the challenges, what are some of the other takeaways you continue to carry from the program?
RMH: The program was hard because you have to be honest with who you are. I was really lucky to have a complicated year because I learned what type of artist I wanted to be. I knew what type of human I was because I accomplished going through a really rigorous program. It was one of the first times in my life I felt I was being treated equally and that’s actually harder than people think when it’s happening. It can be overwhelming.
JS: Have you gone back up to the catwalk above the F. Otto Haas Theatre to see if what you wrote on one of the beams is still there?
RMH: No but I totally want to because if it is still there, it should say: “McKenna & Raelle – True Love Always.” I’ve got to do that on the first day of rehearsal of The Bluest Eye if I can sneak in there.
JS: For artists and administrators considering applying to the Arden Professional Apprentice program, what would you say to them to convince them this is one of the most rigorous theater training programs in the country?
RMH: I would say, “Find me any other program that will pay you a salary, has you working 50 hours a week in 10 months, will train you to write a press release, write a grant, hold auditions, stage manage a production, TO RUN A DAMN THEATER, then leave with the necessary networking skills to work for any theater company in Philadelphia or this country?! – feel free to tell me about it. Would love to hear about it.”
Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye
Adapted by Lydia R. Diamond
Directed by Raelle Myrick-Hodges
On the F. Otto Haas Stage
MARCH 1 – APRIL 1, 2018
Approximate Runtime: 1 hour and 45 minutes
Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl growing up in the 1940’s, wants nothing more than to be loved. Confronting turmoil at home, she prays for Shirley Temple’s blue eyes, believing their beauty is the only thing standing between her and the happiness of the white girls at school. This powerful adaptation explores the destructive power of racism and the strength of a community attempting to embrace an era of change.