Training Theatre Artists to Make a Difference

“The Tin Man”: An Interview with Desiree Chappelle

An interview with M.F.A. Acting Candidate, Desiree Chappelle, about her thesis solo-show, The Tin Man. Desiree Chappelle is in her final year as an MFA Acting Candidate at CUA. CUA credits include The Love of the Nightingale (Niobe), Macbeth (Porter/Lady Macduff/Hecate/Siward), Sissy… (Talus), Bloody Poetry (Claire Clairemont), Pride & Prejudice (Elizabeth Bennet), and Legacy Street (Priss).

Tell us a little bit about your solo show. 

The Tin Man is a show I co-wrote with Garret Lee Milton, who graduated from CUA as a MFA Playwright. In this play, I portray both my grandmother at the beginning of her marriage to my grandfather, and myself at the time of my grandfather’s passing. It’s a piece based on my own family history that explores the beginnings and ends of things, and the first steps of starting a new beginning.

Why did you choose this particular show? What interested you the most about the piece? 

I was lucky to grow up with a grandfather who loved to tell stories. And he was a fantastic storyteller. Because of that man, I have learned that a well-told story can effect change in people’s hearts and even change in the world. He is the reason I became a storyteller. I feel blessed to be able to honor his memory with this play. A play that explores the beginnings and ends of life. A story about the women who loved a great man.

What did you find to be the biggest challenge of doing a one-person show?

There were many challenges that I had to work through for this show. I knew right off the bat that I wanted my thesis to be based on my grandfather, but I had no idea how to begin writing it. When Garret agreed to help me develop this piece, I was elated. I knew my grandparents’ story would be in reliable hands. And working with Garret was a fantastic experience. He helped me find the courage to write some of my own scenes. Garret kept reminding me, “This is your story and your truth. So we need to hear your words.” And that was always followed with something along the lines of, “But don’t worry. I’ll make the words flow, and fix it if it needs to be fixed.” Not going to lie, I found that very comforting. Putting my truth on paper and willingly exposing a painful time in my life was not easy. But it was necessary for this story. Granted, Garret and I took some liberties and modified a few facts for the sake of dramatic license. But the essence of this piece is rooted in real experiences and explores a truth about my family.

As a part of my research, I interviewed some of the most important women in my grandfather’s life. And forcing my grandmother to open up and share her memories of my grandfather was definitely a challenge. But once I got her going, it was impossible to get her to stop. And I loved that.

I think the biggest challenge will come when I perform as my grandmother, while my grandmother is in the audience watching me.

What has been working with the director been like, considering it is just you, the director, and the text?

Anyone who does not know Jenny McConnell Frederick needs to fix the situation. She is a wonderful director to work with. She gave me just enough control to make sure that this piece wholly belonged to me as a thesis based on my family history. But she always stepped in exactly when I needed her. She understood my vision for this piece and helped me sculpt it. And because the characters in my piece are based on myself and my grandmother, Jenny pushed me to be unapologetic in the way I portray them. She encouraged me to fully inhabit them and to simply be.


The LAST opportunity to see Desiree’s solo show is tonight @ 7:30 pm in the Callan Theatre at The Catholic University of America. Admission is free. 



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This entry was posted on December 4, 2017 by .
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