In 1939, Marian Anderson stood at the Lincoln Memorial and lifted up her voice to perform a powerful rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” (also known as “America”) on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Now, actress Thursday Farrar is stepping onstage to help tell the hidden story behind that iconic concert in My Lord, What A Night by Deborah Brevoort.
An accomplished actress, Farrar is no stranger to embodying legendary women. She has starred as Fantine in the U.S. National Tour of Les Misérables, as well as the titular character in the Broadway musical Aida. She has also appeared on several major network television shows, including NBC’s hit mystery Manifest and FX’s Emmy-winning drama The Americans.
We sat down with Farrar to learn more about how her past iconic roles, as well as her experiences as an African American actress, have prepared her to take on this story.
Tell us more about your character, Marian Anderson. What did you already know about her and what were you surprised to learn?
I didn’t know about Marian Anderson’s long time friendship with Albert Einstein until doing this play, but I was quite aware of her musical and historic contributions. She was a humble diva, if you like. When not on stage, she carried on as any woman who had family to attend to. She felt her gift of music was from God and she took her art most seriously. But I would note that she was a woman who understood who she was. She was a humble woman who didn’t feel her voice made her superhuman—though if I could meet her, I’d ask her what it was like to sing for royalty in Europe, and then come back to the states and encounter Jim Crow.
How did you prepare to embody this woman who was not only a living, breathing person, but also an influential historical figure?
Not any differently from preparing to portray any other character. I like to read and re-read the script and then start working through the language. Language in different time periods tell us so much more about a character’s status, class, education, and emotional state. These are real human life experiences, and as a woman of color, I understand racism and its aggressions, both micro and large.
You have starred in several famous works—including major Broadway musicals, like Les Misérables and Aida, as well as television shows. How have these past roles influenced you as an artist and prepared you for your work on My Lord, What A Night?
Simply. Work begets work. Plus, life experience helps you be more discerning when it comes to choosing projects to commit to. None was more profound for me than when I left Aida to portray Fantine in the national tour of Les Misérables. As the second African American actress to be cast in the role, I knew I had to bring it. I couldn’t have been more ready, willing, and able after a year with Aida to be Fantine.
My Lord, What A Night is based on historical events, but—unfortunately—not necessarily ones with which audiences might be familiar. What about these events are you most excited for audiences to discover when they experience My Lord, What A Night?
There’s a misconception in America that the African American community did not have positive reaffirming interactions with Whites until after the Civil Rights Movement. Hollywood has misrepresented our combined contributions and have eased the long legacy of African American icons and legacy. Sure, a few have been given a place in our retellings of history, but there are countless stories not told. I would like the audience to leaved intrigued, entertained, educated, and informed.
Much of Marian Anderson’s story in My Lord, What A Night deals with her struggling to use her voice in a new, more personal manner. What advice would give to someone looking to find their voice, both as an artist and as a member of their community?
That’s a hard question to answer, because we are like snowflakes—no two persons have the same path toward their passions. If you’re going to be an artist, you must educate yourself. Go to school. It doesn’t have to be the most prestigious or expensive. Do this within the means you have so you are not burdened with debt you can’t pay back while creating your art.
Then simply start. There are so many more available resources to artists today than when I was coming up. If it’s too daunting, start by creating a wish board. It’s simple creative visualization. Put every wish, every desire as specifically as you can. Be it pictures, drawings, or mantras you create yourself, stating what you want the universe to bring into view and about who you dream to be.
My Lord, What a Night by Deborah Brevoort is now playing in FST’s Keating Theatre through August 15, 2021. A Rolling World Premiere with the National New Play Network. For tickets or more information, click here.