WSU grad directs timely working-class drama ‘Sweat’

L to R: Jacob Jones, Marcus Antonio, Tommy Cole, Madyson McCabe, Elaine Mueller, and Zavi Odetta in Wright State's production of "Sweat."

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L to R: Jacob Jones, Marcus Antonio, Tommy Cole, Madyson McCabe, Elaine Mueller, and Zavi Odetta in Wright State's production of "Sweat."

New York-based actor/director Shaun Tubbs, a Wright State University acting alumnus, has returned to campus to direct Lynn Nottage’s 2017 Tony nominated and Pulitzer Prize-winning contemporary drama “Sweat,” slated Feb. 10-20 in the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center.

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Wright State acting alumnus Shaun Tubbs directs "Sweat," slated Feb. 10-20.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Wright State acting alumnus Shaun Tubbs directs "Sweat," slated Feb. 10-20.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

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Wright State acting alumnus Shaun Tubbs directs "Sweat," slated Feb. 10-20.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Set in 2000 and 2008 in Reading, Pennsylvania, the relevant, timely play concerns industrial workers facing the end of their livelihoods as their factory jobs disappear. Issues of race and class collide as friendships are tested with life-changing repercussions.

“These (characters) are people I know and grew up with,” said Tubbs, a Cleveland native. “And I know what it’s like to put time, energy and effort into a job you may not want or love, but it’s a job that becomes so important because it’s all you have to keep you moving forward. Dayton understands the loss of jobs as well having industries that moved out.”

The theme of community also resonates for Tubbs. He says he’s driven by the play placing more emphasis on the effect of circumstances within the workplace rather than the cause.

“Some plays are set in factories, and you hear the effect of how people are responding (to certain situations), but you don’t get to see how it effects their everyday lives, especially at work,” he said. “But ‘Sweat’ brings (characters) together when they leave work, when they’re among friends. These characters are living in their pain. They don’t know what to do. They’ve never had or needed to go the (executives) and voice their opinions and frustrations. They never felt safe or secure to do so in fear of losing their job. They need someone to fight so they fight each other.”

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Tubbs also views the play as a cautionary tale, particularly as pandemic and political divisions threaten today’s societal fabric.

“If you would see these characters on the street, you would immediately condemn them as racist or sexist,” he said. “And the play does not forgive them, which I appreciate. But what it does is put hate in context of fear. Why they say what they say is coming from a real, genuine place of fear. But I hope the power of peace can start being reflected in ourselves. How do we respond to the people we say we love but blame for things they are not responsible for?”

The cast includes Mady McCabe as Tracey, Zavi Odetta as Cynthia, Elaine Mueller as Jessie, Jake Jones as Stan, Daniel Duncan-Bevans as Brucie, Remah Nyumah as Evan, Marcus Antonio as Chris, Tommy Cole as Jason, and Andres Martinez as Oscar.

“This is a very real story about a very real group of people who, in a lot of ways, have gone unnoticed in this country,” said Jones, whose WSU credits include “Peter and the Starcatcher,” “Mother Courage and Her Children” and “Lend Me a Tenor. “As a Dayton native, I know what this city went through with the closing of the GM factory here. (‘Sweat’) hits home in a lot of ways. We, as a cast and crew, feel it is a necessity to tell the story of Reading respectfully and as honest as we can.”

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Madyson McCabe (Tracey) and Zavi Odetta (Cynthia, rear) are featured in Wright State's production of "Sweat."

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Madyson McCabe (Tracey) and Zavi Odetta (Cynthia, rear) are featured in Wright State's production of "Sweat."

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Combined ShapeCaption
Madyson McCabe (Tracey) and Zavi Odetta (Cynthia, rear) are featured in Wright State's production of "Sweat."

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

The journey back to WSU

After graduating from Wright State in 2002 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting, Tubbs appeared in Sheila Ramsey’s outstanding production of “Jitney” for the Human Race Theatre Company. Over the span of the past 20 years, he moved to Los Angeles, earned a master’s degree in fine arts at the University of Texas, directed “In the Blood” at Julliard School, “Independence Eve” at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, and “Well-Intentioned White People” at Orlando Shakespeare, acted in the Human Race Theatre Company’s comical “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged,” and produced Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks’ “The Book of Grace” in Austin, Texas.

Wright State rarely invites alums to direct, particularly on the mainstage. Tubbs is grateful for the opportunity to share his perspectives on art, diversity and representation with the students.

“It’s very kind to have been asked back and on the mainstage” he said. “It feels so nice being back at Wright State because my time at Wright State was important. But I didn’t have a director that looked like me. But the moment I had Sheila Ramsey direct me in ‘Jitney,’ I realized the power of someone who looked like me, who could understand me, and could tell a story that had me a part of it. In theater in general, representation matters, but we don’t talk about how much it matters or why it matters. And that’s what I’ve been talking about in rehearsals. Why does it matter at this point in time that we come together to talk about representation?”

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Joe Deer, WSU artistic director, is pleased to have Tubbs aboard for this production, which has been in the works for nearly two years.

“It is an incredible pleasure and honor to have a person who was once our student come back as an accomplished and exceptional director like Shaun Tubbs,” Deer said. “He and I have been talking since deep in the early months of the pandemic about his coming to Wright State to direct something. We both love ‘Sweat,’ and I know his perspective on the piece is rich and insightful. The students are abuzz over their experience in rehearsal with him. I think they see his success and skill as something that’s both attainable and inspiring.”

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Tommy Cole (Jason) and Marcus Antonio (Chris, rear) appear in Wright State University's production of "Sweat."

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Tommy Cole (Jason) and Marcus Antonio (Chris, rear) appear in Wright State University's production of "Sweat."

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Combined ShapeCaption
Tommy Cole (Jason) and Marcus Antonio (Chris, rear) appear in Wright State University's production of "Sweat."

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

HOW TO GO

What: “Sweat”

Where: Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center at Wright State University, 3640 Col. Glen Hwy., Dayton.

When: Feb. 10-20; 7 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays. There will also be a 2 p.m. performance Sat. Feb. 12.

Cost: $15-$25

Tickets: 937-775-2500 or liberal-arts.wright.edu/theatre

FYI: Patrons are advised the show contains strong language and depictions of violence. Patrons are also required to wear masks.

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