Interview with ‘Red Thread’ actress Julie Rosier

Detroit Free Press Article
November 20, 2008

Home-schooled until eighth grade and with little access to television, Julie Rosier didn’t know who Lily Tomlin was. But when a local newspaper reviewer singled out Rosier’s performance in a story about Mosaic Youth Theatre, comparing the 13-year-old to the Detroit-born comedian and actress, Rosier did some research. “Here was someone who came from a working class background and had it in her mind that she was going to be an actress,” Rosier, now 28, says of Tomlin. “It gave me the courage to do it, to realize that you can do this for a living.” An open letter to Tomlin, delivered by Rosier as a monologue, is part of “The Red Thread: Interwoven Performance Portraits,” on stage at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday at the Boll Family YMCA in downtown Detroit. Rosier joins three other Detroiters (Peter Putnam, Cara Graninger and Ce’Ann Yates) in a show best described as a mix of storytelling and social activism. Rosier, who graduated from Renaissance High School and the University of Michigan, got the idea for the show after moving back to Detroit from New York City, where she worked as an actress, director, choreographer and production assistant. Today she is educational coordinator for Mosaic, where the stage bug first bit. She says the name “Red Thread” comes from a Chinese belief that all of our lives are connected.

Question: So how exactly did the show come about?

Answer: I was applying to grad school. I had to make a personal statement, and my story started coming out. I had such vibrant questions about community, from the church as a kid, but also from performance opportunities I had. I realized that I wanted the ability to build relationships with people across cultural and socioeconomic boundaries in deep ways through artistic expression and creation.

There are so many developmental opportunities for young people that seem to stop after college. So I thought, “What if adults could do this and take the time that they needed to tell their stories and maybe put it on the stage?”

Q: How do the various performers use the stage?

A: Performers use their bodies, voices and four simple chairs to create any scenery or props that they might need to tell their story. Cara uses structured improvisational movement, and ensemble members read her narrative as she dances her story. Ce’Ann’s one-woman show incorporates song and dance, drawing from contrasting styles of musical theater and hip-hop.

The stories are linked in that they all describe the meaningful revelations of self-discovery. Other themes that occur in multiple stories are parent-child relationships, the search for a place to call home and unleashing one’s full potential.

Q: Three of the four performers in “The Red Thread” are white, yet Detroit residents are primarily black. What does the show say about race?

A: The show does not focus explicitly on living in Detroit, as much as it explores the lives of four people who live in Detroit. … Each performer gets at his or her own lived experience around race and class, sometimes surprisingly similar to another performer’s experience and sometimes quite different.

Most people living in Detroit, whether black or white, are painfully aware of the separate worlds that race and class divisions can create, especially in this city. As Detroiters, all four performers have known the uncomfortably charged experience of navigating between those worlds, as well as the tremendously gratifying moments of being able to take off social masks and reveal the vulnerable human stories underneath.

Q: Is the idea here that everyone has an interesting story to tell?

A: Yes, for sure, and it’s a story that is hardly ever told by other mainstream outlets. That’s what’s so frustrating to me, how little people know about the isolation and dismissal (that people have faced) in this horrible economic downturn and the end of our industrial era that Detroit has faced alone. I think that people are going to be looking more and more to our story as these hard economic times hit the rest of the country.

Q: What do you hope people will take from the play?

A: I hope they see how their lives are intertwined with the people around them. I hope that some energy and spirit will carry into the room to those gathered, and they might be motivated to look more closely at their own stories or see how they could make change in their lives or effect community development.

BY JOHN MONAGHAN, Free Press Special Writer

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