|Posted on December 16, 2009 at 2:14 PM|
Trio of Washington High graduates started Nu Image Productionz
By SAM HARTLE, Kansan Staff Writer Published: Monday, July 14, 2008 2:03 PM CDT
T. J. Strong’s play, “Just in Love II: Addicted 2 Love,” opens with two characters, Jazzmyn and RaShod, pondering a life in which both are addicted to crack-cocaine.
Ninety seconds later, at the end of the first scene, RaShod, crumpling under the weight of life, commits suicide.
“I wanted to start with high expectations,” Strong said of his play’s opening scene.
The rest of the play, put on by Nu Image Productionz - a production company created by three Washington High School graduates - will debut with a 2 p.m. matinee performance on Saturday, July 26, at the GEM Theater, 1601 E. 18th St, in Kansas City, Mo. A second performance will be held later that night at 8 p.m.
Strong says his play is a continuation of a stage production, “Just in Love I,” that he wrote while still at Washington High School. Both plays seek to bring issues that affected Strong and his family onto a broader stage, but the author says his newest work focuses on more adult issues that he didn’t fully explore in his first play.
“It deals with addiction, rape, suicide - everything that hit close to home,” Strong says. “’Just in Love I’ dealt with a lot of premature ideas like promiscuity and drug use - issues that were more common to my age group.”
But nine years after graduating from Washington and studying theater and speech communication at Kansas State University, Strong says he is ready to explore topics that mean more to more people.
“I started writing [Just in Love II] in 2005, but I could never sit down and focus completely on it,” Strong says. “I didn’t want to force it.”
Strong says many of the ideas in both plays came from the same source: his life.
“I got the material from hanging out with friends or out in public - there are a lot of real life-issues in it.”
While the opening scene spares viewers no mercy, the scene is just as much for effect as for substance.
Strong says he views the opening scene of his play as the window to his abilities. To back up the opening scene, Strong and the cast come back from the drama and preview a more humorous scene where a mother is attempting to discuss sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies with her children, trying to relate her own experiences during a version of “the talk.”
“The whole scene is funny,” Strong says. “We go from one extreme to another, but life happens like that.”
Not Just a Play
While Strong certainly has theater the bug, he’s hoping his ability translates into success for a business partnership, Nu Image Productionz, that he and fellow Washington High School graduates Brian Colon and Adrian Hamilton created earlier this year.
Colon, a researcher at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and Hamilton, a liberal arts major and specialist in film and video production from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, are 1992 Washington graduates.
“We’re all from Washington and wanted to come back,” Colon says. “We started talking about it a couple of years ago and after connecting the dots, things started to come together.”
Colon and Strong are first cousins, and even though the two are seven years apart, that bond was enough for Colon to give Strong’s play writing a serious look.
“I heard that he was doing acting (in college),” Colon said. “Once I saw it, he sent me some scripts and I said, ‘We’ve got something.’”
The trio hopes this month’s play will be the springboard for loftier projects in the future. Hamilton’s background is in documentary filmmaking, something Nu Image hopes to get into in the coming years.
“I’ve worked on a number of documentary films,” Hamilton said, adding that the “play aspect is something I’m excited to be a part of.”
For Colon, the company, officially founded in January of this year, offers the trio the ability to bring serious arts back to the greater Kansas City community, including Kansas City, Kan. He envisions a renaissance festival, similar in style to Bonner Springs’ Renaissance Festival, but different in substance, instead highlighting the urban environment of the 1970s.
“We want to bring the arts back to the common guy,” he says.
Whatever future projects the group tackles, it appears to be off to a good start in lining up the renowned GEM Theater for their first production.
“It’s a large responsibility,” Hamilton says. “When you’re given that kind of opportunity, you’ve got to respect that and step up or be gone.”
The group says they’ve had a number of sleepless nights assembling a cast and making sure the production goes as smoothly as possible.
“It has been a struggle, but we assumed that would happen,” Colon says. “It’s just part of what goes on these days.”
They also realize starting big, while potentially rewarding if pulled off, carries drawbacks.
“It’s either going to be something special or you have to go back to the drawing board,” Colon said. “But that’s what we’re all about.”
They know the production company won’t make it big right away, instead describing their vision as a process.
“We’re going to get it done and will be doing it the right way,” Colon said. “It is a process to get to the level we want to be at, but we’ll get there.”
Full Speed Ahead
Strong says the play’s 12-person cast, which relies heavily on local and sometimes rookie talent, has been asked to a lot, rehearsing four days a week. Strong held auditions at Kansas City Kansas Community College late last year, and has been putting the pieces together since then.
“Just putting the play together has been tough for the cast,” Strong says. “We’ve had so many obstacles come into our way, but it will be special to be able to overcome that.”
Though the play has its dramatic moments, the three know the play is just pure entertainment, giving the audience a distraction from reality.
“For those two hours, if we can help people get away from the monotony of day-to-day life, then we did a great job,” Strong says. “If something can help them, then I think that’s OK too.”
Back when he was at Washington High School working on “Just in Love I,” Strong envisioned performing the play at the GEM Theater, but wasn’t able to make it happen.
“I personally feel I have some unfinished business there,” Strong says.
The parallels between Strong’s decade-long theatrical efforts, combined with the messages and subject matter in his productions, are too strong to ignore.
“People go through crazy situations, but the only option is to get through it,” Strong says.
Tickets for the July 26 play are available through ticketmaster.com or by calling the GEM Theater Box office at (816) 474-8463.
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