It's easy to be excited about Leontyne Mbele-Mbong, our latest featured member. She's rounding out a pretty spectacular year of work by sharing the stage with her mentor L. Peter Callender in the TBA Award-recommended Breakfast with Mugabe at Aurora Theatre Company. Just last month, Leontyne received the TBA Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Principal Role in a Play for playing the title role in Medea with African-American Shakespeare Company. The title of the award is a little long, but with Leontyne's adeptness with text, she'll have no problem saying it!
TBA Featured Member Leontyne Mbele-Mbong.
Tell us a little about your theatre work.
I've been performing in the Bay Area for sixteen years. I moved here after graduating from Macalester College with a BA in Dramatic Arts. I started off singing with Lamplighters Music Theatre, but I realized that I missed doing legit theatre. My first play in the Bay Area was Map of the World with TheatreFirst—they paid me to act! I have since performed with Woman's Will, Central Works, Solano College, ACT's First Look, Impact Theater, SF Playwrights Center, Altarena Playhouse, African-American Shakespeare Company, Aluminous Collective, and most recently Aurora Theatre Company where I am currently doing Breakfast with Mugabe.
I seem to have done a lot of Shakespeare and classics—not by any particular design but I guess we are drawn to each other. I love figuring out the poetry of Shakespeare, rolling the vocabulary and sentence structure of classic theatre on my tongue. I don't know if Lorraine Hansberry and August Wilson count as classics yet, but, lord, to speak their words—what a treat!
I think that is what I love most about theatre: to speak the speech. To discover how each character speaks, why, and what that says about them. It's an adventure every time.
What's one of your favorite shows that you've worked on?
Am I allowed two? A Raisin in the Sun: I love that play, for starters, and Ruth is such a wonderful character: she's so fully realized, though not a woman of many words. She watches a lot, absorbs and reflects back. It was a fun challenge to make sure she didn't just become part of the furniture. She is a study in active listening.
The title role of Medea was a journey I had never taken. I had never worked so hard on a role, developing her language and movement, fine-tuning every moment. When I first looked at that script I was terrified. There were no stage directions, no easing into things—just raw emotion from the start. And I thought, what on earth do I with this? There is nothing to hold on to. I just have to jump and free fall. That was an exhilarating rush!
What do you like about the theatre scene here in the Bay?
I admire the collaboration, the variety, the multitude of cultures telling their unique stories. What boggles my mind is how in spite of financial difficulties, all of the theatres are devoted to serving the community. Such hard work, countless hours, creativity, resourcefulness. It's amazing!
Do you have a resource or piece of advice you'd like to share?
Hard work and preparation are what allow me to step on stage with confidence. To help me in that process, I have found that having a coach who knows me and how to make me express myself to the best of my ability, and can help me focus on the specifics on my performance, can be a tremendous boon. For me that coach is L. Peter Callender—that's my resource. My advice: find the coach that works for you, who challenges you and helps bring out your best work.
Theatre Bay Area members: Creative. Committed. Community.