From the Director
On the first day of rehearsal for Will Power's Fetch Clay, Make Man at Marin Theatre Company, director Derrick Sanders addressed the cast and creative team with some thoughts on the play and why the story of the friendship between Muhammad Ali and Stepin Fetchit is such an important one to tell.
July 22, 2014.
Director Derrick Sanders: Hello everyone! Seems like only yesterday [Sanders directed the Marin Theatre Company production of August Wilson’s Fences in March 2014]. I am so glad to be back working in Marin Theatre again; with the vision and leadership of Jasson and Michael and the heart that everyone brings to this space, I always love coming here. It’s always full of a lot of love and a lot passion.
Even though it’s the 48th [season] and not the 50th, we are going to treat it like it’s the 50th in terms of our approach. My father was a coach, so I grew up with a guy that was a coach. I got that coaches mentality in my bones. I don’t take lightly the first leg. I used to run track; the first leg of the 440, the first leg kicks us off gets us started. That first part that first play in the season that gets people excited about the whole season, so I don’t take lightly that our job, our job collectively is to knock it out the park so people get excited about the rest of the season. It is to give them something to be excited to be talking about. I know as a producer, I know as a director that that’s an important position, that first leg, that first leg and that last leg are really important.
I want to thank you for all the things you have done, seen and unseen, ahead of time. I know a coproduction is not an easy feat and we got a wonderful team assembled together east coast and west coast to come and do this play to bring a Bay Area homeboy [playwright Will Power, originally from San Francisco] to do a celebration of his work. You have gotten together with great artistic vision and great risk unlike anything else in American theatre. Nobody else is taking risks like this. To do all new plays, to do so many young playwrights, and so many playwrights of color takes strength and vision and I commend all of you for that for supporting that vision.
All of us know about today’s struggle with image. Especially young people know, we’ve got the facebook, the twitter, the instagram, snapchat. We tell young people, don’t put your stuff out there, watch your image. It doesn’t make sense to them. It doesn’t make sense how far we’ve come from. When I grew up, there were selective people that got to put their images out there. Now anyone can put any image, at any time, out in the universe for the whole world to see. Its like getting on a huge soapbox and screaming to the world: I ate spaghetti!
The image of the black male is something that’s been disputed since we stepped on this land. What is the image of the black male? What is the image of the Latino? What is the image of the woman? How carefully that has to be crafted! We may have a woman running for president; how carefully she has to craft her image these days. This is something that can be seen in the work that we doing with the political movement today for Trayvon Martin, the idea of a young black guy wearing a hoodie. That image could cost you your life. A lot of people grow up and know that you consider that as life-and-death choice: Do I walk down this street? What am I doing? Am I packing? Do I look angry? Do I look intimidating?
Stepin Fetchit was one of the great great actors of our time. I compare him to Charlie Chaplin, a man and an actor who set forth a certain image in the world, a certain image that was taken from a culture and put into another context and became something completely different. He’s become a stock character, the lazy person that gets other people to do their job. That stock character exists in every culture: Latino, Spanish, Russian. Charlie Chaplin played the tramp and the tramp in some ways never worked, kinda made his way through society. I compare him to that.
Ali on the other hand is another person who cultivated an image that was the warrior, the politician. It seems to be in juxtaposition to what the image that Stepin Fetchit was doing, but they were both doing something that was very important. How do you cultivate the image and keep yourself? How do you keep a piece of yourself, how do you keep that core of yourself as you try to cultivate an image to move people forward, whether its through laughter or through fighting.
I believe the play is about the men who cultivated image. The Jewish man who worked at Fox Studios cultivated image, these men who cultivated images that we know to this day. What do you have to do inside yourself when you cultivate image for the larger world, and what does it cost? What does that cost? You’ve got to imagine that it cost Obama something, you’ve got to image it cost Hillary something. What is the cost for cultivating an image and what happens when images come into conflict with each other?
There’s a lot to learn about the characters in this play. There’s a lot to learn about Stepin Fetchit and Muhammad Ali. I think we are going to present with love and honesty and passion these questions about image and how image affects us. These guys are masters at image creation: Fox is a master at image creation, Stepin Fetchit is a master at image creation, Sonji is even a master of image creation, Muhammad Ali is a master. The “Mouth from the South”! That was all cultivated out of his mind and he presented that to the world.
So, how do all these image chameleons play with each other? You put them all in a box together; how do they get along with each other and how do they navigate each other? These guys who are used to cultivating using an image to change your mind about them. What Stepin Fetchit does psychologically, Muhammad Ali does in the ring psychologically – he mentally wears the other boxer down. Before you get into the ring with Ali you are almost already defeated. Either he got you so angry that you’re not thinking straight or he got you thinking that he’s so good that he got you.
These questions we present in the play are important questions for today. Thank you for joining us on this journey in attacking this idea of image and what we do with image in today’s society and in the past. It’s going to be a great journey I think.