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Connie Drummond is an actress, an award-winning playwright, the founder of Lady C Productions … and a licensed wedding officiant, which means we have 20 minutes to chat inside her Artzscape black box theater on Market before the next happy couple she’s marrying shows up for a meeting. (The photo shoot went long when we started throwing paint around. This is the kind of thing that might happen when Connie is around.) We started the conversation by asking about her favorite places to write…
“I can pretty much write anywhere, but I write better around water. I just actually moved into a condo, downsizing. On one side, all you can see is water. Before, I had a pond. Before that, I would go to the beach in the middle of January and sit on a bench and write a play. “
“I opened this space so it could be a black box theater, but it turned into so much more. We have open mics. We have plays here, small productions. We have our art classes and we’re part of the Art Loop on first Fridays. We have poets and actors and comedians and musicians, and we’re one of the host venues for the Ladybug Music Festival. It’s just all things art going on here.”
“I don't write fast enough to produce every play we stage – I can only realistically, humanly, do three productions a year – so sometimes I get the rights to other plays. The first year we were here, we did Twelve Angry Women, the remake of the original Twelve Angry Men, and we sold out all four shows at 152 each, and that’s how it’s been running with all of our shows this year. This past December, we did They Call Me Mr. Scrooge, a comedic take on the original Christmas Carol, and we were very fortunate to have a reporter from the Philadelphia Tribune in the audience. We got a big write-up. I blew it up and put it in the front window over there.”
NorthPhillyBillies was one of Connie’s biggest hits. She produced it on stage at THEARC in Washington, D.C., at International House in Philadelphia, and at the Delaware Theatre Company.
“NorthPhillyBillies was based on my mother being a single mom raising five children in North Philadelphia at the time when drugs and gangs were really bad. The main character, Bessie Davis, was based on my mother. I played her. And we had a huge crowd from my old neighborhood come up to see the show.”
“I actually won an award for promoting community activism through theater with that one, because my mother was very no nonsense. Right now, things are so different. People see things happening right in front of them and they won't say anything. My mother, she would step right into the middle of it. She was very, very –she was a very brave woman. There is one particular story where my brothers were getting jumped into a gang and my mother heard about it. She went to the schoolyard and was like, ‘Well, my sons already belong to my gang. Who do I have to fight to get them out?’ And the gang members, they respected her. So my brothers never had to join the gang and they never got messed with in the neighborhood.”
So what’s next on stage at Artzscape?
“I have one that I've been working on for a while now, my first musical. It's a true-to-life story put into the musical realm. It’s about a young man who went to prison when he was very young and started going back around to his old neighborhood when he got out. I don't want to give the story away, but he has some repressed memories and when he starts remembering what happened as a child, it threatens to ruin everything that he's got going on.”
“I try to put the right amount of drama and the right amount of comedy in my plays, so it's not very, very heavy. The majority of my market is African-American and they can relate to the plays I write because they’re about everyday life. They may not be able to relate to something like Cats, but they love things like The Wiz. And you can tell when it's hitting home. It gets real interactive in here.”