Don’t let the zip code fool you.

Despite living in Los Angeles, writer Erika E. Wade is a proud Southern girl who isn’t afraid to remind anyone that thinks otherwise. Granted, her long exposure to the West Coast doesn’t make it very easy. Wade, who recently celebrated her first “LA-Versary”, joked that she’s slowly losing her accent.

Nonetheless, Wade’s love of Alabama rests not only in her heart but in her wallet. Between the folds is a constant reminder of home, a credit card, immortalized with her paisley Chuck Taylors on a sidewalk in Dolomite.

In August, the Alabama-native makes her playwright debut in The Rhythm & Da Blues, a one-woman performance led by Wade, at the 13th Street Repertory Company in New York City.  The play is set to run from Aug 24-27.

The show originated as a MFA thesis during her time at the Savannah College of Art and Design. While drafting the story, Wade realized that she should test her writing abilities. As an aspiring screenwriter, Wade decided to create something of performance quality.

“No one is really out here reading scripts anymore,” Wade explained “As much as we want them to, it’s just not how it works.”

In the summer of 2016, Wade premiered an earlier version of the production, catching the attention of theater executives. Before the year ended, she secured a four-day residency in the Big Apple.

The Rhythm/Da Blues centers around Lena, a writer raised amongst a family of storytellers. At a young age, she discovers her Uncle has transitioned into Miss B. Darling, a confident and business-savvy transwoman. Equip with talent but lacking a voice, the young writer enlists the help of Darling to find her groove.

“Now, we call people transgendered, but our parent’s generation didn’t define themselves as transgendered,” Wade said. “They just identified as ‘This is not right. I don’t feel right being a man. That’s not right; I am a woman.”

Though the play drew inspiration from Wade’s life, she was reluctant to divulge which parts are autobiographical. While writing the play, she internally battled with what should and shouldn’t be placed in the coming of age story. Ultimately, it was her mom that put her anxiety at bay.

“’Do what you have to do to make it real,’” Wade said, quoting her mother. “’We love you. You’ve been writing about us your whole life; we’re not going to turn on you.’ She gave me the green light.”

Born and raised in Fairfield, Alabama, Wade initially wanted to follow in the footsteps of her mother and become a lawyer. However, her love for writing blossomed in middle school. Wade’s skills didn’t go unnoticed. One of her teachers saw the potential and encouraged her to write more frequently, stating she could make a career out of it one day.

“In those areas, you’re not known to be a writer,” Wade said. “You’re a police officer, a firefighter, or a nurse or a social worker. Those are all great professions, but I knew that just wasn’t where I should be.”

Throughout the show, Wade is tasked with juggling 12 characters. It’s a daunting challenge when you’re expected to deliver a dozen eclectic personalities without any formal theatrical training. Additionally, all her rehearsals are done via Skype. Despite it all, the California transplant said it plays to her advantage. The performance is meant to be organic, not methodized.

“I just try to be real and to just tell the truth and not hide anything under these layers of what a performance should be, but just to do the work,” Wade said. “If I sit in each character and I get to know them as I know them in my heart, it will translate.”

Per Wade, the one-woman production is ultimately a story of identity and the journey of self-discovery.

“It’s okay to not know who and what you are at a point in your life. I think we are so focused on “I need to know what my lane is’ or ‘I need to know what my passion is’ or ‘I need to be doing this at this point in my life’ but we evolve every day.

“We writers are always told that if our characters don’t go through change, they aren’t real. Why can’t we do that in performance? Why can’t characters, especially black women, who can be fearless but also fearful? Who can be aggressive, but also kind of passive and vulnerable. Who can be amazingly loud, but not say a single word.”

While The Rhythm/ The Blues hasn’t officially debuted, Wade said she is in talks to perform in Los Angeles. There is no word on an Alabama show, but she remains hopeful.

“We can have another image beside the civil rights movement, besides slavery, besides poverty or whatever stereotypes people have about Alabama or backwoods stuff,” Wade said.
“We’re lively. We love culture.”

 

Correction: Erika Wade attended the Savannah School of Art and Design. Her one-woman show is titled The Rhythm/ The Blues.

 

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