Actress Obehi Janice is starring in the A.R.T.’s upcoming production of Young Jean Lee’s one-woman-show, “We’re Gonna Die,” at the Oberon opening in April. A versatile player, the Georgetown grad has spread social awareness (her YouTube short “Black Girl Yoga”), written and performed her own one-woman memoir about mental health (“Fufu and Oreos”) and will now make her theatrical singing debut in this show directed by Company One co-founder, Shawn LaCount.
Less of a monologue, more of a mashup
“We’re Gonna Die” is the brainchild of playwright Young Jean Lee who says she developed (and then performed) the show out of fear. Janice explains Lee’s biggest fear was to act, so the terror of not only performing one’s own show, but also singing in it (with a live band she named Future Wife), got the writer’s creative juices flowing.
“I’ve been a huge fan of her work forever,” says Janice. “Since I saw her ‘Untitled Feminist Show’ at a workshop and learned about this show in 2011. It became very important to me in discussing my own solo work and my voice as an artist.”
The actress says “We’re Gonna Die” explores the introspective ideas of loneliness and relationships and death, but isn’t your typical one-character show. “I was taken back by how blunt [Lee’s work] is and straightforward,” Janice adds. “I think people tend to not enjoy solo shows because it’s just people talking, but I feel like a member of a band and a curator of a series of events in this show.”
Janice will be the first actress to tackle Lee’s original role and like the original playwright, she’ll also make her singing debut.
“I love singing, but it’s not on my business card,” she laughs. Janice worked with musical director Steve Sarro to prepare for the show and says has been eye-opening for her. "I’m learning so much about my vocal quality and range,” she says. “We changed the key from the original because I’m the first person to perform this show besides her. It was originally freaking me out, but I had to let it go. Now it’s just become this huge privilege to be able to make this show our own.”
A Company act
The actress says being part of Boston’s Company One has changed her perspective on the industry and her own career.
“I think their mission is particularly clear, and that’s for the stage to become a mirror for the city,” she says. “As black female creator, it’s a privilege to be able to have a company invest in me not just because I’m an actress of color but because they genuinely like me. They make me think a lot about casting and identity in a way that’s forward thinking."
Janice adds that her ability to straddle such dramatically different ranges of productions (from ArtsEmerson's "An Octoroon" to "We're Gonna Die") has challenged her as an artist. "I’ve stretched so much as an actress and gained a lot of community through Company One. She notes, "I think investing in local artists is really really huge and says a lot about your values as a company and institutions."
If you go:
OBERON Presents “We’re Gonna Die”
2 Arrow St., Cambridge
From $25, 617-547-8300 or americanrepertorytheater.org