Bold, Black, and Groundbreaking Cast of the @broadway play #Eclipsed.

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@uptownmagazine New Cover showcase the Bold, Black, and Groundbreaking Cast of the @broadwaycom play #Eclipsed.
@lupitanyongo leads the brilliant cast of the play by @danaigurira featuring #AkosuaBusia  #ZainabJah #PascaleArmand and LIBERIAN Own @vintagepopsoul #SayconSengbloh
ECLIPSED is the first Broadway play written by, directed by, produced by, and starring Black Women.

Broadway audiences are currently witnessing history in the making with the critically acclaimed production of Eclipsed. The brilliant and brutal masterful work of art holds the distinction of being the first play to be written by, directed by, produced by and starring black women. And according to its playwright Danai Gurira, it’s about time.

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Gurira, who is most notably known as an actress — the star of the wildly popular AMC series The Walking Dead — wrote the play fresh out of finishing her studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she earned her Master’s of Fine Arts. She’s starred on Broadway in the August Wilsonplay Joe Turner’s Come And Gone but is making her Great White Way debut as a playwright with Eclipsed.
Gurira, who has a new play, Familiar, also playing this season in New York City, said her mission with her work is to amplify these types of stories. “We want to provoke change. And that’s really why I started to write; it’s about social activism. It wasn’t just about fame or anything like that.”

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GOLD MEMBER Saycon Sengbloh is the only one in the cast with roots in Liberia, where Eclipsed is set. “I think it’s really awesome to be a part of something like this, in terms of making history.”

For Sengbloh, Eclipsed hits home the most. She’s the sole cast member with roots in Liberia. The singer/actress, who has appeared in Broadway productions of Motown The Musical, Holler If Ya Hear Me, Fela!, Wicked and Rent, is elated that the show is on Broadway—and making history.

“I’m really proud. I think it’s really awesome to be a part of something like this, in terms of making history.”

Nyong’o, who is of Kenyan descent, said having Sengbloh as part of the production was a great resource for helping with the research and even mastering the voice of the people. “YouTube was a great, great place to find samples of Liberian dialect,” she reflected. “And we were so fortunate to also have Saycon who is of Liberian descent as well.”

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THIS WOMAN’S WORK Ghana native Akosua Busia, best known as “Nettie” from the film version of The Color Purple, has worked with refugees from the Liberian Civil War, which Eclipsed tackles. “You cannot put everything on that stage, but you do your best and bring some kind of homage to the people who went through that.”

Eclipsed is a return to The Great White way for Busia—last seen on the boards in 1991’s short-lived Langston Hughesplay Mule Bone. The veteran actress, who is most remembered for her role as Nettie in the landmark Steven Spielberg film, The Color Purple, retired from the business after giving birth to her daughter Hadar Busia-Singleton (with ex-husband filmmaker John Singleton) in 1996. The daughter of a former Ghanaian prime minister, Busia is actively involved with humanitarian causes in her native land. Her sister, a professor at Rutgers University, told her to read the script because she knew of Gurira after being dazzled by her at an event for the African Women’s Development Fund.

“So I read it and a couple of days later I met with Liesl and Danai and when I was going back to the rail station, they asked ‘Where do you live?’ and I said, “Ghana.” When I got back to Penn Station, they said ‘You cannot go back to Ghana, you have to do this thing with us,’” she chuckled. So I did it and at the end of the run, they said this is going to Broadway. I went home and now I’m back.

“This work resonated with me because of the work I’ve been doing with the refugee camp for Liberians. Ghana was one of the countries they fled to,” she added. “Danai’s writing is so specific and although, as an actress, you cannot put every [thing] on that stage, you have to do your best and bring some kind of homage to the people who went through that.”

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Nyong’o, who won the Oscar for her breakout performance in 2013’s Best Picture 12 Years A Slave, became familiar with Gurira’s play during her undergraduate studying at the Yale School of Drama.

“I was first cast as the understudy in the role I’m playing now so it was the very first role I under-studied and it was the very first role that I was assigned to at Yale,” she confessed. “I was just drawn. I thought it was an incredibly engaging and riveting story and I was just dumbfounded that I never experienced anything like it before — five African women telling their stories and each of the women are so distinct from the other one. And it was so funny and also heart-breaking at times. It was just a very powerful story.”

Recently starring in the global box-office juggernaut, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Nyong’o said Eclipsed left a lasting impression. “I made a mental note that I really wanted to do it some day and so it just lingered with me over the years and so when I had theater practitioners asking what I wanted to do after the success of 12 Years A Slave, I came back to this over and over again. I just very, very strongly felt for it and believed in it.”

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BORN TO DO IT Pascale Armand, of Haitian descent, has been with Eclipsed the longest, performing in three productions before Broadway. “This is my role.”

Armand has been with the play the longest (performing in three productions before making it to Broadway) and the feminist aspects of Eclipsed are what drew her to it initially. “There are no men … You’re seeing the story from the female perspective … being able to tell this story and not have a male voice in it is just wonderful because most of the time women’s voices are silent. And so being able to speak for ourselves and tell the story the way we want to is wonderful and it’s something we haven’t seen in a long time.”

The New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts alum, who is of Haitian descent, briefly worked with producers of the play before, as an understudy in the Broadway production ofThe Trip to Bountiful, starring Cicely Tyson, Cuba Gooding, Jr.and Vanessa Williams. “This is the first time that I’ve been a part of the production from beginning to end,” she stated. “This is my role.”

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REBEL YELL “I have family members, who were involved in the Liberian Civil War and I haven’t seen them since the war,” says Sierra Leone native Zainab Jah, who portrays a female rebel soldier in Eclipsed. “So this character was very real to me.”

Jah plays the brazen female rebel soldier and hails from Liberia’s neighboring country Sierra Leone. The actress, like Nyong’o, is making her Broadway debut in Eclipsed and described the experience as “nerve wracking.”

Though a seasoned theatrical actress (she portrayed a black female version of Hamlet in a Philadelphia production of Shakespeare’s classic last year), she recognizes she’s performing the role of a lifetime — one she also connected with as soon as she read it on the page. “I read it and I said I know exactly who she is,” she revealed. “When I first went to the audition, I asked Danai was it based on real-life women and she asked me ‘How do you know that?’ and I told her that I knew much about their stories … I have family members, one female cousin, who were involved in the war and I haven’t seen them since the war. So this character was really real to me.”

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Eclipsed, which played a sold out run at New York City’s Public Theater last fall, stars Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o joined by an ensemble of fierce theater thespians, including Pascale Armand, Akosua Busia, Zainab Jah andSaycon Sengbloh.

Through the lens of Obie award-winning director Liesl Tommy, audiences are exposed to a remarkable story never told before: of five extraordinary women brought together by upheaval in their war-torn homeland of Liberia. They forge a close-knit bond during the devastating despair and severe brutality of the African nation’s second civil war.

“Creating this play was an act of love and it was really something that I couldn’t let go of,” Gurira said. The actress/playwright, who is of Zimbabwean descent, journeyed to Liberia to interview the women who survived the brutal war. “I really felt like I had to tell this story and I was really scared out of my mind.”

“I got on a plane from New York to Ghana and from Ghana to Liberia and I was broke,” she revealed. “All of those grants … you get the money after you get back. I needed it before I went … but I knew I had to do it, my heart felt really driven to tell the stories in the voice of the women. We all knew who [Liberian politico] Charles Taylor was, but no one knew who these amazing women were who survived the war and helped it end, but they know who he is. So that sort of infuriated me. So I said I’m going to try and get these women to tell me their stories. I was crazy.”

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