[The Stage] Coffee Shop
It’s always a pleasure to catch up with Shaneisha Dodson of Black Girlz Productions. Together with her amazing team of actors and actresses, she puts on some of the best stage plays the industry has to offer, and that holds strong with her latest production, Coffee Shop! Set to kick off in Houston, TX in January 2017, Coffee Shop will address the torturous effects of rape, not just on the victim, but their friends and families as well. The story gets pretty deep, and is definitely one the world needs to see. Following the upcoming Houston date, the play will then travel to Arkansas for another run. We caught up with Dodson to talk about the play and just what can be expected from the actors and actresses.
U.G. Digital Mag: As always, thank you for your time in discussing this project. The last time we spoke, I believe this project may not have really been on the horizon, or perhaps we just hadn’t discussed it. But I’m happy to join in on the promotion efforts. I’m excited about opening day. Talk about the basis of Coffee Shop?
Shaneisha Dodson: Coffee Shop centers around the owner, Carla, who hires a new stylist named Robin. Carla soon learns that Robin is being molested by her Step-father. The characters are completely opposite. The story opens a can of worms and forces them to walk in their own truth and talk about things that some people consider to be uncomfortable. I came up with the idea of Coffee Shop because so many people getting light sentences when involved with rape and sexual assault. I said we needed to bring this to the forefront to encourage people to speak out, and to show people what can happen if you do these things to people.
U.G. Digital Mag: I think it’s good that you touch on these things. You see it happen a lot, and many times people don’t get the charges that they likely should. Why do you think that this happens so much? Will the play get into the meat and potatoes of that?
Shaneisha Dodson: The story line does touch on that. It shows what happens in the case of four different victims. For one, it happened on a college campus. The officers of her campus said not to talk about it, and boys will be boys. He’s the star of the football team, and people are going to question you. So you have one person whose issues have been suppressed, and she’s been talked out of telling anyone. They try to make her feel like she did the right thing, but she ends up having years of pain. Then you have another character who ends up fighting this guy off, but it runs over into her personal relationships, so she doesn’t trust men at all. Then another character, it comes from her father, and she ends up pregnant, so she doesn’t know if the baby is her boyfriend’s or her father’s. So you have all these different things that come to light as far as why someone might talk and tell, and why they may take the secret to their grave.
U.G. Digital Mag: Obviously, with this story, when you deal with victims, you can go in many directions with what happens to them, how they deal with it, and ultimately get help. How deep does the story line go?
Shaneisha Dodson: You’ll definitely see it toward the end. You’ll see them pull themselves away from the world because they feel alone, and then you see the rebuilding process. The people around them blame themselves as well. You ultimately see them live normal lives in the end.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s definitely a great topic to address. What other importance do you see in this story?
Shaneisha Dodson: It was important for me because I know people who have been raped. When I was a teenager, someone tried to rape me, and I was able to fight them off, but I know people who were not able to fight them off. It leaves a long term effect on people. I was a teenager, so I didn’t really realize how deep it was until I got older. I could have died. I could have been killed. What if I wasn’t able to fight them off? When you’re younger, you don’t look at how serious an issue is. It could have really gone wrong. It’s something that we need to discuss.
U.G. Digital Mag: A lot of us who look at this story, we know people who have been in similar situations. This will be something that proves to be helpful to so many. How does it help those who have not experienced it, or don’t know anyone who has suffered from it?
Shaneisha Dodson: I think it will help people to understand what’s going on, and how to not re-victimize those who have gone through it. I know someone who has a cousin who was raped, and when they get into arguments, it gets thrown in their face. It gets thrown in their face, and it’s not fair. They don’t realize the psychological effect it has. This will teach people empathy, and how to understand those who have gone through it.
U.G. Digital Mag: Looking at the full gamete, I think it’s amazing that you were able to put this together. Many of your story lines deal with things that help so many people. What is your ultimate goal for this play? How much further would you like to take this story?
Shaneisha Dodson: I would like to take it as far as possible. When you think about rape or sexual assault, it’s not something that people deal with in certain places. It happens all over the world. Our goal is to touch as many people as we can, to encourage them to speak out, and encourage them to get help. You don’t know the long-term psychological effect It can have on people.
U.G. Digital Mag: The actors in this play, you have an amazing roster. How did you go about selecting the final people to play the characters?
Shaneisha Dodson: I look for certain personality traits. A few people are new, but I also bring in actors and actresses whom I’ve worked with in the past. As I wrote the story, I was thinking of certain people for the roles, and I would reach out to them to see if they were interested. Everyone else, as we went through the auditions, if I saw he passion and drive, I selected those individuals.
U.G. Digital Mag: How was Houston selected as the opening location?
Shaneisha Dodson: This is where I live now. It’s a new city for me, and I wanted to reach out, get into the arts, and make new connections.
U.G. Digital Mag: What took you to Houston in terms of relocating?
Shaneisha Dodson: I had a younger sister here. Wanted to try a new area, and it was easier because I had family here.
U.G. Digital Mag: Many times with story lines like these, it makes you think of the area where it’s taking place. Houston is huge, so it should do well. I see you’re doing Arkansas as well. Will it go anywhere else?
Shaneisha Dodson: I’m still working it out, but having it my way, I would do as many as possible. April is sexual assault month. I would do college campuses if I could.
U.G. Digital Mag: Again, I think this is amazing. Bring me up to speed with Black Girlz Productions.
Shaneisha Dodson: Well we’re getting ready to do our annual scholarship announcement. Every year, I award a scholarship to a high school senior or college student, and people can always get info on our website. I’m working on a book. I’m working on a screenplay. I would like to transition into film.
U.G. Digital Mag: Realistically, that’s a natural progression. Many who start off with stage move into film.
Shaneisha Dodson: That’s true, you do see it a lot. That’s my goal.
U.G. Digital Mag: What type of timeline, in your mind, is there with you moving to film.
Shaneisha Dodson: I would say a couple of years. What I’m doing is working on the screenplays. I’m trying to build a catalog. Right now I’m on my third screenplay, and I have a fourth in the back of my head [laughing], but right now I’m on my third. I’m always writing. It’s a never-ending process. I jot down notes everywhere, and it keeps going.
U.G. Digital Mag: I love creative minds. I could never sit and write a play. I’d be writing forever. The stories you have really need to be seen and heard. I love the story of Coffee Shop, and I love that it’s in Houston and that we’ll be out to cover.
Shaneisha Dodson: We all have different gifts. Everybody has a gift. I can write forever.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s definitely a gift for you. It hasn’t been so long since we spoke on your last project. In the eyes of everything else that goes on, that is no time at all. I feel like you put this together in record time, and that’s huge. It solidifies your status as a professional. Any final comments and thoughts of encouragement?
Shaneisha Dodson: I would say just keep up with Black Girlz Productions? We have done cast introductions so you can get familiar with some of the faces. We’ll be doing Q&A’s with fans. We’ll let people ask questions, and we may do some giveaways. Just keep up and you’ll see what’s going on with upcoming productions.
U.G. Digital Mag: Will the updates hit the website?
Shaneisha Dodson: They can always hit the website, which is www.blackgirlzproductions.com, and through social media. Instagram is @blackgirlz12, Twitter is also @blackgirlz12, and we have a Black Girlz Productions fan page on Facebook. Those are the best ways.