An Interview with Tina Ball, Director of “Sister-Mothers of Gulfport” Now Playing at The Off-Central Players

TTB: How did you come to this project with a brand new theater company, The Off-Central Players, directing a play by William Leavengood? 
Director Tina Ball:  Incredible luck! 
    Bill and I first met many years ago when his play FLORIDA CRACKERS was produced in New York at Circle Repertory Company, where I was a member of their artistic staff as well as a director in their LAB. Most importantly, both Bill and I have developed work at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center’s National Playwrights Conference, so we share a process that has become foundational for artists who develop new plays. That has been critically important. When Bill asked me to direct this production, part of what interested me was being able to bring the play to life in a brand new cultural venue in Florida, a state that in the past has had very few places to present challenging new work. I’m so glad that’s changing – because I live in New York State. And it’s December. 
TTB: Tell us about the process of casting and directing an original play. 
Tina Ball: Both Bill and I are members of a kind of spin off of Circle Rep in New York, the New Circle Theatre Company, which has taken root in a space just off Times Square. A collaborative company of actors, writers and directors, Bill began doing readings of SISTER MOTHERS with company members Amanda Ladd and Amber Paul before I was even a glint in his eye. We hadn’t seen each other in years, but when the pandemic forced the company to create work remotely from all over the country, Bill and I reconnected – like everyone else – via Zoom! We clicked immediately. He is an amazingly creative and responsive writer, one of the best I’ve ever worked with, and we had a blast! Then he dropped SISTER MOTHERS in my lap.  Bill invited Amanda and Amber to recreate their roles as Dixie and Renelle, and we held local auditions for the role of Maddie – again via Zoom. How fortunate we were that Sydney Reddish walked through that door and onto my Zoom screen (I was at my farm in upstate New York at the time) She is a great talent, a real find and I can’t imagine anyone else creating that role. 
TTB: The tagline is “a drama filled with human comedy, meant to make you laugh before you cry” . Can you elaborate on why audiences will have such mixed emotions about this presentation?
Tina Ball: We live in a country seething with mixed emotion. In my view, the function of art, in times like these, is not to take sides, or provide answers. It’s to show us who we really are. 
TTB: What is your favorite scene in the show and why?
Tina Ball: That’s like asking, who’s your favorite child! I’m so lucky to have a cast that makes every scene my favorite, every night. I’d love to hear what you think!
TTB: Overcoming family dysfunction is a popular topic at this time of year, why do you think Sister Mothers of Gulfport is actually the perfect Christmas-time story? 
Tina Ball: That actually never occurred to me. I’m Jewish, so I guess this would be a Chanukkah story?

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