Satchel Williams: A one-woman powerhouse — on stage and off

Satchel Williams: A one-woman powerhouse — on stage and off

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Inis Nua is a theater company you should know. In addition to presenting plays that are thought-provoking and moving, the theater is committed to its audiences by providing work that is "affordable, intimate and relevant." That translates to $2 ACCESS tickets, special $15 student and senior tickets and a free reading series along with various fundraisers and nonprofit events. Inis Nua even offers a Parent's Day, where it provides licensed caretakers so you can enjoy the show. 

As someone who refuses to take my tree down until we get our first good snowfall, I'm excited to check out the theater's latest show, "A Hundred Words for Snow," a one-woman show about a 15-year-old girl on a mission to pursue the lifelong dream of her late father to journey to the North Pole. Tackling the lead in this funny and moving one-person show is the talented and personable Satchel Williams. 

So how did your name come to be?

[Laughing] My mom heard that Spike Lee was naming his daughter Satchel, and she liked the name, so she gave it to me too. It's actually my middle name. My first name is Kaara, and everyone kept pronouncing it incorrectly, so I just started using my middle name. I figured people would remember someone named, in effect, Handbag Williams more then they would Kaara spelled weird. 

I thought of Satchel Paige. 

I get a mix — sports fans immediately think of Paige. What's funny is that my parents don't care at all about baseball; they just liked the name. But when I'm putting in a Starbucks order, I have to say, "Satchel, yes, like the bag."

Tell me about growing up in Brooklyn.

Well, it's odd, whenever I see people depicted from Brooklyn, especially in the media, they always show a very specific type, but I grew up in a Hassidic Jewish neighborhood, I went to grade school in a very Italian neighborhood, and then I said, "I want to go to a performing arts school!" That was in Manhattan, a sharp turn from the life I was living before. We moved around a lot, so I kind of felt nomadic. So I have a lot of affection for New York, but I don't feel attached to any particular part. I just miss the speed of the city and the ability to get anywhere. I miss pizza being normal and sorry Philly, I wish I could be passionate about cheesesteaks, but I just can't.

What did the folks do?

My mom has been a nurse for longer than she's had kids — over 30 years — and my dad used to work in food science. They're immigrants, both from a small little country called St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean. My dad ran a factory there, but when my mom got a job offer in the states, she decided to go. After trying to do it long distance for a bit, she got him a job at her hospital in New York. Unfortunately, their degrees didn't translate the same in the U.S., but my mother went on to get her master's here.

Any sibs?

I have an older brother. He was a great big brother. He always wanted a sibling, so he was willing to take me places and do things with me, even though we're nine years apart. After he went to college, he'd pick me up after school. 

So "A Hundred Words for Snow" is about a girl trying to reach the North Pole. Where's the coldest you've ever been?

Well, being of Caribbean descent, I am biologically ill-equipped to deal with low temperatures. The coldest it gets there is 60 degrees, on a bad day! Soooo, I'm a big fan of "Doctor Who," and one of the companions of the doctor was in the play "Once" in New York, and I was like, "Oh, my God, I have to see him!" It was the last performance, and at the same time, we were having the first snow of the season. I camped out from 6 a.m. for about four hours in the freezing cold. I had on a ton of layers and my biology book because I was studying for a test. I was so cold I couldn't feel below my knee caps. That's the coldest I've ever been. I'm not a fan of the cold. Once it hits 40 degrees, I add another layer of leggings with every 10 degrees it goes down. 

I just read there's a new "Doctor Who," and this incarnation stars a Black woman.

I read that!! And I was like woah, woah, woah, woah, woah! What? Wait. Me? Me? There's someone who looks like me playing the doctor? I'm going to see my face up there? I'm super excited for it. 

What made you get into theater?

I've always been a ham. I think it's always been a thing. But mostly I was obsessed with Beyoncé; to this day, she's my favorite. [Laughing] You cannot say an ill word about her, or I will become wildly unpleasant. I was always into singing and performing, but as I've gotten older, I've become interested in writing as well. Word games and wordplay were always important in our family; being able to fire witty quips back and forth was a bonding exercise for us. Being funny got me out of a lot of scrapes in school. I was a good kid, but I was definitely the "work smarter, not harder" kind of gal. So I'd humor my way through a lot of stuff. 

What are some things people will learn from this show?

That there are Black British teenage girls! It's silly, but some people don't realize something that simple. But it's a show about the different ways people grieve. It's not always sad and mopey; sometimes, it's about love and the crazy things you do to honor a loved one.

What was your coming out experience?

It was kind of difficult. In my Christian elementary school, I was very passionate about the issue of whether or not queer people could go to heaven. And I was always like (in a high voice), "You don't have to be gay to feel this is important!" Meanwhile, I had a huge crush on my best friend's mom. Later, when I went to a performing arts high school, I started to think, "You know, it may be the case that your girl is bisexual." Then, when I moved away from home to go to Temple, I was like, "OK, you're 18, you really need to figure this out now." And I started saying it out loud to people, and no one seemed to care. My parents were good about it, and my brother was a champ. But I also come from a family where we didn't really talk about relationships in any case. I rarely know who my brother is dating. As far as the extended family is concerned, I try to keep them from seeing my pride photos because that's a discussion I'm not ready to have. So sometimes it feels a little passive. I just live my life, but I'm planning on starting to do a lot more activism in the near future. 

So how did they know to nominate you for my column?

[Laughing] Well, if you talk to me, you get the vibe, the girl is queer. Especially when I talk about where my family is from, and I'm like, "Yeah, it's beautiful and a great place, but being gay is illegal, so that's a lot of fun." And people see me out and about at Philly Pride, etc. And I work at a coffee shop, Menagerie, with a lot of queer folks.

Among your other skills, I see you do combat fighting.

Yes! There are eight disciplines of combat fighting, and I'm certified in five of them. It's a lot of fun. There's something about the way your physical body gets to tell a story that is exciting. I love when a fight scene comes together — it's super interesting. You have to go full out with your actions, but use your safety makers to make sure you don't actually hurt someone while still making it look real. It's also very cathartic!

What's your craziest stage mishap?

I'm a small gal, and my bladder is similarly sized. I was doing a two-hour show with no intermission, and I was sick, the whole cast was, and we were on stage the entire show. It was disgusting, we all had tissues and cough drops all over the sides of the stage. I was drinking water because I had to sing, and I sounded like a baritone because of the cold. I went to the bathroom three times before the show, but one night, 30 minutes into the show, I was like, "Ooooh no. What am I going to do?" So that night, there was a three-minute blip where I was not on the stage, resulting in a terrified stage manager when he saw me sprinting off the stage, but I don't think anyone really noticed. We were just talking about this because "A Hundred Words For Snow" is a one-woman show, and I'm the only one on stage for the whole 90 minutes! We're going to have to build Depends into the costume, or I'm going to refrain from drinking anything an hour before curtain. Preferably the latter.

What's a movie character that's most like you?

Daria, from the MTV series. I really feel for and like her with her ethical qualms about the people around her. Dealing with the hypocritical nature of humans and having absurdly high standards that even you fall short of. 

 

What was the most difficult age for you to turn?

One-hundred percent it was sixteen. I was obsessed with being perfect so that I could get into a good college. I was having breakdowns in the hallways of my high school. It was a really competitive performing arts school, and I thought I wasn't good enough. I was fighting with my mom about anything, and they were like, "This girl is crazy!" I'd shout, "OK, that's true, but you're not supposed to say it!" Add to that grappling with my sexuality, and it was awful. There was a lot of teen angst and drama. But I did get my learning permit that year, so that was good. 

 

Which celebrity would you bring back for a scene partner?

Heath Ledger, 110 percent. I mourn Heath Ledger every day. I can't watch "Ten Things I Hate About You" anymore because I get too sad. 

 

What's the most exciting event you've witnessed?

The first time I saw Beyoncé. It's terrible; I should have a better answer. Before she even walked on stage, I started crying! The lights dimmed, and the band was starting to play, and I burst into tears! It was at Made in America; it was super dark. I was standing in dirt, and I couldn't find the friend I came with, so I was standing by myself sobbing. It was ridiculous! She hadn't even opened her mouth to sing! 

"They couldn't pay me enough to do" what job?

Telemarketer. I did that for a summer, and it was just the absolute worst time. The people I worked with were lovely, and the office was super nice, but I was selling subscriptions for the Manhattan Theater Club. Trying to get people to spend $400 on tickets was like pulling teeth for me; I felt so guilty, especially since most of them were older. I'd call the house, and the person answering would snap, "They died two years ago!" It was awful. 

If you were a multi-millionaire, what would you be doing right this minute?

I'd be in grad school. I know it sounds lame, but I just had a stress dream about paying for grad school. I'd pay my loans, my friends' loans, all that nonsense. I'd get my mom a house in the Caribbean so she could stay whenever she wanted and donate money to shelters and other nonprofits. 

Ever have any paranormal experiences?

It's possible we have a ghost in the house right now. My roommate said she was in the house and heard a knock on the basement door by the kitchen when no one was there. He or she or they like to turn on our ceiling fan. Things will move around, so yeah, there might be something there. 

Any tattoos or piercings?

Just my ears, but I'm waiting for the show to close to get my first tattoo. It's going to be of Captain Marvel because I'm just that kind of nerd. Brie Larson and I are engaged — she just doesn't know it yet because we haven't met, but we are. 

Have you done much traveling, and what's something that stands out?

I studied abroad, so I lived in London and then went to Poland and Northern Ireland and Amsterdam. And OK, this is silly, but I made it my mission to try out the KFC in every country I went to. The London KFC? Incredible, fantastic! The chickens tasted like they were alive and happy at the same time! Polish KFC? Solid, but not as good as the Caribbean or U.S. KFC. And that's how I made good use of my study abroad dollars — exploring the fine cuisine! 

Did you go to your prom?

I did. I took myself to my prom. I wore 6-inch heels. Looked great, could not move. But that was fine because we all know appearances are what matter! [Laughs]

Three favorite sounds?

I love the sound of an orchestra or band tuning before a show. I love the sounds that small animals like baby kittens or puppies make — those little baby meows that are so cute. A violent love takes over me when I hear that. And when people snort-laugh. It's such a joyful sound. The more obnoxious and deep the snort, the better. 

Here's to hoping people snort-laugh at your play. 

I'm 100 percent hoping it happens! That's what I'm working for! Of course, I want to prioritize telling the story and hitting all the emotional beads, but if I get a snort-laugh in too, then I've won. 


For tickets and more information, visit https://inisnuatheatre.org/show/hundred-words-snow


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