Tuesday, March 16, 2010

BU English Alum Shawn Knight A One-Man Show

Shawn Knight, BU English Alum and current adjunct instructor, is performing his one-man show, Gershwin in Blue, this weekend at the Belmont University Black Box Theatre.

Gershwin in Blue is a 75-minute show about George Gershwin's influential life and music. From his Russian immigrant parents to his struggles to write his beloved opera, Porgy and Bess, Gershwin in Blue details the life of this amazing composer.

So catch us up on your life since getting your B.A. at Belmont a decade or so ago.

When I graduated from Belmont, I earned my MA in English from Auburn University, then I pursued my MFA in Theatre Performance, which I earned from the University of Louisville. I did a year-long internship at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, which had just won a Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. Then, I returned to Nashville, where I quickly found a home with the Nashville Children's Theatre (my first role there was as Horton the Elephant in Suessical) and back here at Belmont, first working as a tutor in the Writing Center and now teaching third-year writing.

What have been some of your favorite roles/experiences as an actor?

I have managed now to play Horton the Elephant twice, and I love his kindness and perseverance. I have also enjoyed playing Mozart in Amadeus, which is one of those incredibly challenging pieces for an actor. Mozart never appears in that play at anything less than the height of some emotion--whether that be anger, lust, elation, or sorrow--and to throw oneself into that nightly is exhausting and exhilarating all at once.

Is your acting something separate from your life as a university teacher? Or how does acting inform your teaching?

I don't see acting, teaching, or writing, as being all that disparate, given that the goal of each is to communicate. Perhaps they require slightly different approaches, but they all aim to share information, and quite often emotion, with an audience. In each instance, this requires clarity and creativity. I also think the energy I bring to the stage acting is the same kind of energy that can grab the attention of students and make a course appealing that (let's face it) many students do not look forward to taking.

What is the Gershwin show about, and how did you develop it?

One semester in an acting class at the University of Louisville, our entire course consisted of one task: research, write, and perform a one-person show about a famous dead historical figure. I wanted to choose a figure who would allow me to use my singing, acting, and piano-playing skills; Gershwin seemed an ideal choice. As I researched his life, I looked for a clear character arc to explore in what would ultimately end up being 60-75 minutes of performance. U of L has one of only four African-American Theatre programs in the country, so issues of race and creative rights were always being discussed in the department. When I began to read about Gershwin's work on Porgy and Bess, and the criticism he received as a white composer writing a black opera, I knew what this play would be.

What else should we expect to see you in soon?

Starting April 13, I'll be playing Wilbur in Charlotte's Web at the Nashville Children's Theatre, and I'm hoping to have the Nashville premiere of my other one-man show (based on the life of Cole Porter) in the fall sometime. Beyond that, I have a few offers that have come my way lately for some new play readings, but I'm not sure which I'll be able to participate in.

The show runs March 19, 20, and 21 (Friday through Sunday), at 7:30 PM each evening, at the Belmont University Black Box Theatre. Tickets are $5 per person, with half the proceeds going to the Belmont University Theatre Scholarship Fund.

No reservations required. Cash only at the door.

For more information, email Shawn at knightshawn@earthlink.net.