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Nancy Medina: Two Trains Running felt like the right challenge for me at this point in my career

The 2018 RTST Sir Peter Hall Director Award-winner reflects on her connection to the August Wilson play

Nancy Medina
© Manuel Harlan

Award-winning director Nancy Medina, whose hit production of Two Trains Running is currently touring the UK, explains her career thusfar and the exciting opportunity to revive August Wilson's hit play – co-produced by Royal and Derngate and English Touring Theatre.

I moved to the UK in early 2008. I am originally from Brooklyn, NY. I was an actor for a long time, devising shows with friends, starting theatre companies and working on the fringe/ off-off-Broadway sector of theatre for a very long time. We fundraised to put on our shows and had super short runs.

I learned so much on the job, and organically I stepped out of performing and started directing. I felt we had so much to say and the writing was really good – I always look back at those shows with pride. We made good art with nothing but our sweat, imagination and work ethic. The theatre talks so much about trying to diversify and find more stories. They are there, just look at the artists making their own work on extremely small budgets. In our minds we are not creating diverse stories, we are just another human telling our story.

Moving to the UK, project by project I gained more insight, confidence, new skills, honed some old ones and found myself working as a freelance director and applying to awards. I was awarded the Genesis Future Director Award at the Young Vic and directed Dael Orlandersmith's Yellowman. That is still a huge highlight in my career and opened so many doors. Receiving the RTST Sir Peter Hall's Director Award is immense for me, as it is exactly what I need at this point in my career, the opportunity to do a play of my choice that would tour midscale theatres regionally.

Andrew French with Derek Ezenagu in Two Trains Running
© Manuel Harlan

Co-produced by Royal and Derngate and English Touring Theatre, the play is Two Trains Running by August Wilson. I have always been drawn to WIlson's work, but this play in particular felt like the right challenge for me at this point in my career. It takes place in 1969 in Pittsburgh, PA, and we meet seven African American characters in a restaurant, which is in danger of being torn down due to the city's urban renewal plans. All the characters in the play are invested in this restaurant and its future. Most of the characters have come from the South and as the story unfolds we come to understand the reasons why many fled, escaping terrorism and seeking better opportunity up North.

The displacement of a people is a theme I am very much interested in, as a child of the diaspora, I too am constantly searching to understand my past and roots and for a place to belong. Two Trains Running is an extremely layered play which looks at a complicated American history through the prism of everyday life. The characters are familiar to me, the unsung heroes of normal daily living, trying to get by, who have strong, important voices and opinions that only get aired in private. That aspect really spoke strongly to me in wanting to direct this play, as I grew up with these people all my life. My family is from the Dominican Republic and my parents emigrated to NYC in 1966. I have met all these characters either as members of my family or people in the neighbourhood, to be able to amplify the voices I grew up with is an immense privilege.

What I find to be most profound is that everything the characters speak about in 1969 is still relevant to us in 2019 – issues with police brutality, a rigged economic system, housing inequalities, crime, poverty, trauma, mental illness, race hostilities. This play is very political in very subtle ways and I found that to be very powerful. The element of protest is one I wanted to draw out and put a focus on because these people's lives matter.