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Jul 30, 2018 9:39 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Bay Street Puts On Its First Ever Intern Production, 'Obama-ology'

Anthony Sims and Kara Arena. ETHAN SEPA
Jul 31, 2018 3:06 PM

Being an intern is something of a rite of passage in today’s world: a way for young professionals to learn the tricks of the trade and get some experience before officially entering the workforce. Bay Street Theater has taken this concept and run with it, hiring not one or two, but 19 interns and four acting apprentices to produce their very own play at the theater in Sag Harbor, “Obama-ology” by Aurin Squires.

This production will be the first in the theater’s history to be entirely acted, directed, produced, and designed solely by interns.

Shea King, directing/producing intern, and Anthony Sims, acting apprentice and lead actor playing “Warren,” spoke from the small post-it and playbill-covered office of Bay Street Theater. Both were encouraged to apply to the internship program through their respective schools. Mr. Sims is studying musical theater at Western Carolina University, and Mr. King recently completed a Master of Fine Arts in directing from the University of Idaho.

Mr. King said that the program was the only internship he applied to. “The fact that they have all these incredible artists who are very established in the profession and then they have us who are just starting out is incredible, and they give us all the same respect and support,” he said, adding that Bay Street is different from other theaters he has worked and directed at because the interns get the full experience of producing a show entirely by themselves, not to mention making incredible connections.

Mr. Sims said he is awed by the number of networking opportunities he gets handed to him every day. “It’s just incredible how gifted everyone is here, and just to have that on my resume makes me proud,” he said. “The first day that I got here for this internship we were sent to New York City to rehearse for our first Mainstage production. We got to walk into 42nd Street studios where they rehearse for almost every single Broadway show.”

Mr. King chose the show as a part of his directing responsibilities, and he said that “Obama-ology” fit well with the cast of actors whose audition tapes he saw and the parameters given. “I knew I wanted to do a newer play, and ‘Obama-ology’ hasn’t been done a lot stateside,” he said. “Obama-ology” opened first in London in 2014, but the play takes place during the 2008 presidential election.

The four-person cast usually rehearses three days a week for around six hours, beginning full rehearsals in late June. In addition to working on their own production, the interns also work on the Mainstage shows in their respective fields. Mr. Sims said he gets even more experience by being in the ensemble of the Mainstage productions, as well as being in stage crew during the shows.

Both Mr. King and Mr. Sims emphasized that the show is not actually about former President Barack Obama, contrary to what it may seem. The play is about a young man named Warren who joins the Obama campaign in 2008 and is placed in what is considered one of the most important parts of the country during election season, East Cleveland, Ohio.

“It talks a lot about Warren going through this evolution of owning his space as a queer man, and to layer on that a queer man of color, and even more a young person finding his place in this political movement. We talk a lot about [Obama’s] campaign and the overarching ideas he gave to the world, but not necessarily him as a political entity. We’re not talking about party politics,” Mr. King said.

“Warren is a recent graduate of college and he really strives to be successful and he wants to have hope. It’s the journey of what Warren wants to be,” Mr. Sims said. He said he believes his character feels beaten down by what people expect of him and what he himself wants to be. “He hides himself because he doesn’t want to feel that hurt, but he feels as though he can tell people how they should react and how things should be done.”

The play isn’t a lecture on politics or even an ad to support Obama, but a chance to show just how far one connection can go. “This isn’t a pro-Obama play, it’s not about that, it’s really about, ‘How can I want the very best for you, how can I genuinely want that?’ and ‘How can I be vulnerable in my life and own that?’” Mr. King said.

The titular term is certainly an attention grabber, though no, it doesn’t mean “the study of Obama.”

“What Obama-ology means in the play is talking about the multiplicity of the black experience, and talking about Barack Obama’s transformation as a public figure. ‘Obama-ology’ plays to every class of person and it’s not a sort of thinking you can pigeonhole,” Mr. King said.

Mr. Sims has his own interpretation of the word. “Obama-ology for me means how to relate to people, because that is what Obama did,” he said. “2008 was a time where Obama did not only serve as president, but that was a time for black people to have hope and a sense of community with each other, and here we are 10 years later, and does that hope still exist anymore?”

“It’s like the thing we learn on airplanes, you have to put the air mask on yourself before you help someone else breathe,” Mr. King said of the word and of the journey Warren takes to find himself throughout the play.

Both Mr. King and Mr. Sims said they were extremely proud of the work that they and the rest of the interns put into the show, and that they believe it fits right into the Mainstage season. “It’s a really great addition to an already great season of shows. I fully believe that this is a production that could play downtown in the city,” Mr. King said.

“Obama-ology” is playing at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor from Thursday, August 9, to Saturday, August 11, at 4 p.m. Tickets are $12 for the general public and $10 for students. There will be a free outdoor open rehearsal performance on Monday, August 6, at 6 p.m. on the lawn of the Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor. To purchase tickets and find more information, visit baystreet.org.

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