West Philadelphia native Bryana Michelle received positive reviews for her stage play, “The Repast,” performed at Interact Theater at 20th and Sansom streets on Saturday July 7.
Michelle grew up in the West Park Projects, commonly referred to as the 46th Street Projects on Market Street. She spent the first 19 years of her life there.
Michelle attended Catholic school and despite humble beginnings, she acquired a love for writing and explored various writing styles before becoming a playwright.
“Growing up in West Park, I saw a lot of things,” she said. “It’s a certain type of community that you live among and there are certain things you have been exposed to.”
Some of those things included crime and drug dealing. However, her mother shielded Michelle from those extremities.
“My mother also exposed me to a lot of things,” she said. “It allowed me to be well rounded, allowing me to get a pretty good education and getting to see different things while still being in this environment of the projects.”
The 46th Street Projects gave her a diverse look at the world, because it allowed her to see different characters, which she would later incorporate in her work.
“The Repast,” is a play about an urban family facing the challenge of gentrification in their community while confronting personal issues after the death of the family matriarch “Nettie” – performed by Gwend C. Davis. Threatened by the foreclosure of their family home, the siblings are forced to work together.
Michelle, who attended Temple University where she majored in theater, said the play was partly inspired by the changes she observed in areas of North Philadelphia now revitalized by Temple.
“Last summer I was working in North Philadelphia in a summer camp and I noticed that the area has changes so drastically within the six or so years since I graduated from Temple,” she said. “On the outside it looked so much better; revitalization in that area and it kind of got me thinking about the families who used to live in some of those houses before they built the new town houses and new campus housing.”
Michelle also remembered losing her grandmother at the age of 10, which inspired her to incorporate this point into her play.
“I just combined those two things which I had observed to give me inspiration to write this script.”
During the play, those in the audience sometimes laughed, gasped or broke out in thunderous applause. Asked how it felt to witness the response first hand Michelle said the experience was gratifying.
“That is really my reward, being able to feel and see the audience reaction,” she said. “It is that natural reaction that gives me the ultimate reward; that and seeing people say to me that ‘this is my family’s story,’ and giving me specific details about how similar [it is] to their family; and then to have them get emotional in the audience as they are watching it. To have that connection is just, to me, almost something spiritual. This is the biggest reward for me.”
For more information about Bryana Michelle or the Art/Life Company visit her on the web at www.theartlifeco.com or call (267) 560-PLAY (7529).