The first time director Summer L. Williams read Jump, she was said she was stunned by playwright Charly Evon Simpson’s story about a family dealing with depression.
“I got to see, in my mind, people who look very much like me on the page, but what was happening in the world of the play was not centered on their skin, and that felt so beautiful and so refreshing,” Williams said. “I work really hard to do plays that tell stories in those ways. I’m always curious about what’s next in the American theater, and I think Charly is next.”
The director compares staging the play for Chautauqua Theater Company to solving “a wonderful puzzle.”
“There’s so much good theatrical and also heart-centered magic that I’m excited to bring as much of it to life as humanly possible,” Williams said. “There’s something about the play that is a little Rubik’s Cube to me, and I’m constantly thinking about the next turn on this Rubik’s Cube.”
Jump concludes its New Play Workshop run with a performance at 2:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4, in Bratton Theater. The workshop is funded by the Roe Green Foundation and will be followed by a talkback after the show with the director and playwright.
During the first table read of the play in Brawdy Theater Studios, Williams told the company not to be surprised if she stands up or walks around the room during the rehearsal.
“As a person who directs plays, I can sit for hours and days on end in meetings, in rehearsal, and that’s not healthy,” she said. “Sitting is the new cancer. I’m trying to be up and moving about and also getting that energy in the room.”
Williams said moving around helped her think about the play without getting bogged down by its heavier moments.
“For me, it’s a great way to break up some of the stuff that Charly’s written for this beautiful, very funny play,” Williams said. “When it gets to some of those more moving, heavily saturated emotional moments, it’s really great for me to be able to pace it out instead of sit there and feel stuck in my own emotion about it. It allows my mind view to feel a little bit more bird’s eye.”
Due to the workshop’s quick rehearsal window, Simpson asked Williams to direct, as the two had previously worked together on the play for a workshop at the Kennedy Center, alongside dramaturg Martine Kei Green-Rogers.
“It was the first time that all three have been black women in these positions in that configuration together,” Williams said. “We were all like, ‘Hold on to this special moment’ because that’s rare in the theater. Unfortunately, that’s the truth of it.”
Williams is a co-founder of Company One Theatre, where her directing credits include Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. and An Octoroon, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins play about race in America that also opened CTC’s 2018 season.
Simpson said that Jump felt “safe and protected” with Williams.
“There were times where there was a scene going on, and Summer just hands me a Post-it note with a question, and it’s like a really important, big thing that I need to figure out,” Simpson said. “Feeling protected on all sides was something that was amazing, and I hadn’t really ever felt with a director.”
Although Williams has directed the script before, Simpson said that the play has since changed. While the workshop at the Kennedy Center focused on clarifying the timeline, Simpson said the Chautauqua run will look at relationship dynamics between characters.
Williams said she is interested in seeing what assumptions Chautauquans make about Jump based on what they think the play will be about, given the actors on stage and the creative team behind the New Play Workshop.
“For me, the thing that I’m most excited about doing with the play is luring everyone into a false sense of what they think the play is about,” she said. “What’s happening so beautifully in Charly’s writing is that train is there, and that train is prepared to hit us. I just want to crank up the speed and the force it hits with.”
Williams said if Jump was stripped of its magic, the play would ultimately be about someone caught in an emotional storm.
She said she hopes the play will teach audience members to be more proactive about considering others’ needs.
“For people who are swept up in whatever it is they’re swept up in, how do we make allowances and space for them in our reality?” Williams said. “If everybody could just see someone in their world at the time they need to be seen, the world would be an exponentially better place. That for me, quite frankly, is what theater is supposed to do.”