Renee Reid’s first professional theatre role is in new musical at the Edinburgh Fringe that uses gospel, R’n’B, bluegrass and a cappella spirituals to tell the story of an 1850s Virginia slave. She tells Giverny Masso how theatre can be a channel for change…
What is Henry Box Brown – A Musical Journey about?
It’s about an African-American slave who escaped in a box, in the mail. I’m the arranger, musical director and also the female lead – Henry’s wife. It’s very intense: she goes through a lot of emotions, which are easy for me to tap into, as I’m a black female who experiences racism in every single country I visit.
Why is this an important story?
It’s important for black people to have someone to look up to – we need more role models. Also, there are not very many musicals about slavery, and this is a positive story about its abolition. I absolutely hope to continue in the creative development of the show. We’ve never really stopped developing it. It’s so rewarding to see the audiences in tears at the end of the show; seeing them weep feels like we are using theatre as a channel for change. I want to take Henry Box Brown on tour one day.
How did you get into performance?
Singing came first. I started from a very young age – and also dancing. I’ve sung in different church choirs, including the Christian Cultural Centre Youth Choir in New York. I’ve been doing musical theatre for about 13 years, and I started writing music when I was in junior high school. I’m working on an album at the moment, which is about my life journey – going through college, relationships and friendships. I’ve also been modelling for five or six years. I went to the Professional Performing Arts School in New York, which only lets in 20 to 25 students a year. I loved every moment of it – going there was a dream come true. We had the best vocal, dance and acting training with phenomenal teachers – all free of charge.
What have been the biggest challenges in your career?
For me, the biggest challenges have been race, age and being a female. The music industry is not very open to black females, especially of my age. I’m only 20, and it’s hard to gain respect. My tips for those trying to break into the industry are to know that there is always room for growth. Keep yourself in classes and vocal training. Don’t be afraid to go for it, whether that’s in an audition or singing that high note.