Thoughts on Theses: Wangené Hall
Issue   |   Wed, 04/09/2014 - 01:28

Wangené Hall is a senior majoring in Theater and Dance. Her Theater and Dance thesis “Naked in Heels: Confessions of an Aspiring Pop Star” will be performed at 8 p.m. in Holden Theater on April 10, 11 and 12. Her advisors are Professor of Theater and Dance Wendy Woodson and Visiting Professor of Theater and Dance Charlotte L. Brathwaite.

Q: Tell me about your thesis project.
A: My thesis project is a music theater extravaganza. It’s sort of a combination of all my work at Amherst: I’m a vocalist, songwriter, producer and pianist. My interests are theatrical, they are cinematic, they are musical, and so my thesis is called “Naked in Heels: Confessions of an Aspiring Pop Star.” The show is really about how you create your own myths. It’s about the stakes of your self-creation, and it’s about blurring the lines between reality and fantasy and becoming yourself.

Q: Along the way to becoming a pop star?
A: Yeah. It combines tracks that I produced and written, it combines just music that I find very inspiring and exciting, it combines voice-overs and also me playing a piano. So it combines all these modes of performance — exciting and pop, it’s like a rock show or pop show, like a crazy theater show all rolled into one.

Q: Is it a one-woman show?
A: Yes, it’s one-woman show.

Q: So are you the director, producer and performer?
A: I’m playing all roles, wearing all hats. I actually do have director though. Her name is Charlotte Brathwaite, and she’s a professor here, she’s visiting for the year. She’s really great. She’s really helped me shape the vision but it’s really me saying, “What do I want to exist in this world?” I’m the writer of the script, the music and creator of everything that exists in this world.

Q: So it’s you with some guidance from your director?
A: Yes, but I also have a great team. I have sound designer, Justin Knoll ’16E. I have a music producer, Spencer Brooks ’14. I have a stage manager, Lynndy Smith ’17. I have set designer, Reilly Horan ’13. I have a lighting designer, Kathy Couch ’95. I have a visual design research professor, Suzanne Dougan. And I have costume designer, Yang Liu ’14.

Q: So you’re working with a whole team to put this show together?
A: Yes! The whole team, and they all report to me. I say what I want to happen in the world and I get to create this world from my imagination.

Q: How has that experience been?
A: It’s been fantastic. It’s been everything I could ever dream of. I came into Amherst and I was like, I knew what I want to be: I want to be a pop star, that’s it, I’m going to be a pop star! And I’m happy to say that that ambition hasn’t really changed. I still want to perform. I don’t necessarily go around [saying], “I want to be [a] pop star” — except sometimes. But yeah, I’m a performer, I write, I create, but I’m really most myself when I’m playing for other people. When I’m connecting, when I’m there, and when it’s just the audience and me.

Q: Is that your favorite part of performing?
A: That is definitely my favorite part of performing. I also love songwriting. I’ve been a songwriter since I was 13, and it’s been a huge part of my life. I grew up in a mixed musical household: my dad was former musician in a black church, but my grandma was really the one who was really supportive. She played piano and sang. We used to do duets together. I grew up in an African restaurant and all these Afro-pop world music stars would come and sing. I sang at Obama’s inauguration. I did selfies with Sara Bareilles. So I’ve had all these crazy cool musical experiences, and it’s really just me being, “This is my story, this is who I am, and I can decide who that is.”

Q: What has been the most challenging part of this?
A: I would say that definitely early on it was more challenging. Before I had the full team, before I had full set of people I could collaborate with, when I was just working on my own in a room. What is most challenging to me is sitting in a room, by myself, and it’s just me in my own head and I don’t have feedback or a way to get out and be like, “What does this actually look like? How do I make it better? And how do I make it from ‘Oh god, I can’t do this. Oh god, it’s a lot of work.’” How do I take all these negative things, where I feel like I’m sort of stuck to opening it up and being, “No! This is going to exist in the world. This is my work.” And it’s not the only representation of who I am as a person, but it is what I do.

Q: When were you able to work in the Holden Theater?
A: We were actually able to work in the Holden fairly early on. We started rehearsing by mid-February and definitely by the end of February I was in the Holden pretty much every day. This show is every day! This show is work. It is work, but if what you want to be — and the only thing you can be — is an artist in the world, then you wake up to the work and you go asleep to the work and the work is your life and it is your story. But at the end of the day, you can say, “This is me. This is all me. Top to bottom, I did this.” And that’s really powerful.

Q: Do you have any advice for someone considering doing a performance thesis?
A: Let’s see. Obviously start early, but aside from the obvious, find people whose feedback you respect and trust. And ask them what they think. Ask them early and ask them often, because the feedback you get is going to make your piece much stronger. It’s going to help you get from having created this thing to being able to evaluate objectively, to make it better, make it stronger.