Curated and Compiled by Omar Mardini, Assistant Director & Dramaturg of Baltimore.
Baltimore tells the story of Shelby Wilson, a Black resident advisor for a group of first-year students at a college in New England. Shelby is focused on rebuilding her résumé after losing her job in the athletics department. But when a racist caricature is drawn on the dorm door of one of her residents, she is forced to reevaluate her naive belief that she lives in a post-racial society, and she must help strive for peace on campus.
This interview dives in deeper with the company of Baltimore, exploring the intricacies and modernity of this play’s themes and central message.
Pick one word to describe your character and why.
McKennen Campbell (Dean Hernandez): Compassionate – Dean Hernandez has so many compassionate qualities as someone who comes into this new space. It’s clear that he’s been through a lot, but he still invests and shows care toward others. I find it intriguing that he writes books about identity and history and applies this research to his interactions, conversations, and how he moves through life.
Anaïs Crespin (Rachel): Persistent – Rachel won’t let things get away. She is adamant on doing what’s right, and calling out everyone else’s bullshit. She won’t let things slide, and she will do what she can to make things right.
Carl Kleifgen (Carson): Curious – I think Carson really wants to learn about others even if he thinks the world is “fixed” already; he is also kind of nosey.
Sydnie Cooper (Leigh): Assertive – I think Leigh is strong in her thinking, and has a lot of confidence in what she talks about and herself.
Jasmine Hawkins (Shelby Wilson): Flowering – Shelby is budding and blooming into a better version of herself throughout the show.
What has been your favorite part of this experience thus far?
Anaïs Crespin (Rachel) – My favorite experience so far has been working in person with a wonderful cast! I went so long without live theater that I completely forgot what it was like to get close to a cast, and I got to fall in love with a rehearsal space all over again.
McKennen Campbell (Dean Hernandez) – My favorite part of this experience is the discussions we have in rehearsals. I love hearing the connections to the script everyone finds on their day to day and checking in about what comes up for us in the scenes we work on. We also had really fruitful discussions in our table work, and I love to see how the conversation expands every time we work on the show. There was not a dull moment in the process where I felt like something was left unsaid or we never gave enough attention to the layers in this story.
Alyssa Frey (Fiona) – It has been a great honor, truly, to finally get to make theatre that has great meaning and is very socially relevant. It has been such an interesting experience for me to participate in storytelling, something that is very important to me, even if I do have to play the ‘bad guy’.
What do you hope the impact of this production will be?
Sydnie Cooper (Leigh) – I hope there is a shift in whoever comes to see it, students or staff. I hope they look at Emerson differently, and start asking themselves these questions that the play presents.
Alyssa Frey (Fiona) – I hope there is a large impact on the white audience members, especially students at Emerson who attend a PWI and may have encountered a similar experience to one that Baltimore presents. I hope there is an increase of action by the white audience members to look out for the people of color at this school or in their own lives, and to become better educated on how to be anti-racist.
McKennen Campbell (Dean Hernandez) – I hope this production can cause the audience to reflect and understand that incidents like the one that is showcased in the play are not out of our reality. It could greatly impact people in an environment where hate crimes happen and beyond. I also hope discourse about what is presented in the script can carry beyond performances.
What are you looking forward to performing your role?
Anaïs Crespin (Rachel) – I am looking forward to playing a character who is unapologetically latina. I’ve never had the opportunity to play this kind of role. She doesn’t often shy away from her identity like I do, and I admire how outspoken she is about issues in the Latinx community.
McKennen Campbell (Dean Hernandez) – I’m looking forward to engaging with my castmates and crew to help tell this story. It is a story that parallels experiences on college campuses and other settings, and it unfortunately still persists to this day. I can’t wait to see how the Emerson community and people attending our performances interact with this play.
Jasmine Hawkins (Shelby) – The dialogue after the show. I can’t wait to engage with people’s thoughts on this production.
How do you feel this experience is preparing you for the next step in the advancement of your creativity and career?
Sydnie Cooper (Leigh) – Every moment in this space has been valuable, and I have tried to take everything in, especially since I don’t know when I will experience these kinds of moments next. I don’t take it for granted.
Anaïs Crespin (Rachel) – This show is very heavy on the ensemble: every character is so important and essential in the story. This show helped me work with an amazing ensemble of actors.
Alyssa Frey (Fiona) – This show is the type of theatre that I’d like to do in my career. I feel very honored to be cast in a show that feels like it leads me in preparation for my career. I’ve been inclined to find more theatre like Baltimore based on this production.
Jasmine Hawkins (Shelby) – It is helping me to understand that everything is intentional and has a purpose; nothing is by chance. Creatively it is the same way: everything you create has to have a purpose.
McKennen Campbell (Dean Hernandez) – I think this experience is preparing me to continue to find ways to effectively collaborate with other people to tell stories like this play. As someone who also engages in theatre as a playwright, dramaturg, and director, I am learning more ways space can be held for people when telling stories that showcase socio-political issues. The way our discussions have gone, the way we are approaching the narrative through blocking and scene work, has worked effectively for me. It has created a space where I feel connected to and trust my peers working on this show. I want to carry what has built that trust into future productions I work on.
Baltimore by Kirsten Greenidge opens to the public on Thursday, October 28 at 8 p.m. EST through October 31 at 2 p.m. EST. More information and tickets are available at emersonstage.org/baltimore.