'A brand new perspective': Alchemy Theatre's production of Dominique Morisseau’s 'Pipeline'
Director Simone Raquel Alexander wasn’t planning to do a lot of theater work in 2023, but the opportunity to direct playwright Dominique Morisseau’s Pipeline changed that plan. “I had a cap on how much work I was going to take on for 2023,” Alexander says. “And I already told myself oh, I'm not going to take on another project. And then when I got [Alchemy Theatre managing director Carol Hickey’s] email, I was like, OK, just kidding. I'll take this one on.”
Alexander was already a fan of Morisseau’s work and couldn’t resist taking on the project. As a brand-new mother, though, she found herself not only very busy but also looking at directing a bit differently. Pipeline is a play that’s very much about motherhood, and Alexander noticed that she was processing the script in a different way now. “[I loved] this play prior to being a mom and then now, being deep in the rehearsal process and the production process of this play being a mom, it just takes on a whole new light. And I think motherhood, you know, it's such a great adventure. It gives you brand new perspective in a way that it's just unimaginable when you become a parent.”
Hickey says that being a mother also affected her reading of Pipeline. “Being a mother, it really hit me in a different way and gave me a visceral… kind of understanding of the pain of racism, as a mother, as a family… having a son. And I just thought it was a beautiful opportunity for us to open our platform, our stage up to a different kind of voice. And we were so grateful and so excited to get Simone on board because really, I don't think we would have done it if we didn't.”
Alexander says that the play, which deals with family issues, race issues, and the school-to-prison pipeline, covers some difficult ground. That’s meant taking care to protect herself and her actors emotionally. “I think because I'm a mom, there are some emotional walls that I've had to build up with the show,” she says. “I could cry every single night with the performances and the story that we're telling here. And I just – for my own sanity – need to reel it in a little bit and be able to come at it from a more analytical place, especially when dealing with how to navigate those emotions with the actors primarily to make sure that they're also doing it in a safe place too. So we had the luxury of having Andy Grapko as our intimacy coordinator on this project. And she really set up the actors for success… building a tap-in/tap-out process at the beginning and ends of rehearsals and tapping in with your partners in the scenes so that we know that we can build practices around dealing with this heavy material. But also being able to leave it when we're gone from rehearsal and… go out into our normal lives.”
“It's not an instructive play. It’s an illuminating play,” Hickey says. “I hadn't thought as carefully about these kinds of topics and these kinds of issues. And this play opened my mind, opened my heart to a different experience outside of my own. And really, that's what I go to the theater for.”