Dana Pellebon: How Lucky Are We!

Dana Pellebon

Luck is the residue of design. That’s a saying by Branch Rickey whose fame as being the first courageous general manager of a Major League baseball team in the 1940s to integrate the game through the addition of Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers squad of 1947. Many other figures of that day are forgotten but Rickey persists in the popular imagination to this day as an example to all of us to have the courage to lead change, to design our lives so that we will have the luck we need. My luck is very much in my friends. And the design that produces that luck of companions may seem inconsequential until we have the opportunity of retrospective. We meet a lot of people when we are young, but choosing with whom we continue to be friends represents a channels of choices, choices that we made. Who we have as friends is not accidental, the way in which we continue to stay in touch with them, to attend to those relationships, to be a giver and not just a taker, is a kind of design.

The linkages among friends accounts for how we now enjoy the extraordinary good fortune to have Dana Pellebon as Director and Co-producer of Genealogy nearing its opening on November 5 at Broom Street Theater in Madison Wisconsin. How so? Through a lineage of friendships that stretches back half a century. I first met John Clay over 50 years ago in the Players at Manhattan College in the Bronx where John was a few years ahead of me and an outstanding actor and director. Our friendship continued through lots of changes in our lives so that when Joe Queenan and I wanted a director for Alms, our first Equity showcase production at TheaterLab in May, 2018. John was the obvious and… lucky choice.

That meant that when I decided to stage a reading of Within the Context of No Context, the seminal 1980 New Yorker essay by George WS Trow, I asked John not only to be part of that cast but also to suggest other actors. He introduced me to Quanda Johnson. My connection to Quanda was so immediate and rich that I dared to ask her to read our play Genealogy and consider playing the part of Aaliyah. She said yes and when I told her I really needed to find a director who could help us to bring this work alive in a dynamic but sensitive fashion she introduced me to Dana Pellebon, whom she described in our first joint email as “a force to be reckoned with in the world of Madison theater.” Understatement alert!

The design part of this luck is putting myself in a place where I get to meet wonderful artists and establish links to their lives and work. The luck part is Genealogy gaining the perfect director for this play where secrets in family trees surprise two couples appearing on a ‘reality’ ancestry podcast. Again and again since that first email introduction, I’ve had the opportunity to thank my blessings in gaining Dana as a collaborator for a ‘problem comedy’ in which the characters manage audaciously to conjure a few shocks for each other and their host while also confronting some key culpabilities in our country’s heritage.

One bio describes Dana as “a Madison, WI based activist, artist, and educator.” Even with my acquaintance being fairly recent, I find this description insufficient. Her work in  Madison is already legendary including such important innovations as helping to make a  Black Theater Festival happen there. The breadth of her work encompasses achievements such as directing the powerful Dominique Morisseau play ‘Detroit ‘67 ‘ and being part of the Peach Pies Caburlesque group. She has been a regular director and producer with StageQ and other local theater companies including our wonderful host theater for this production Broom Street. Dana acts sometimes, too, as in in StageQ’s 2018 production of “A Lady and a Woman,” about two Black women who fall into a romantic relationship in a small, late-1800s town.

More recently Dana was one of the organizers of the Loud ‘n Unchained Black Theater Festival. She has served as Chair of the 2020 Magic Pride Festival planning committee and a member of the Outreach board. I have to stop and just say luck is the residue of design and we can’t believe how lucky we are to have Dana Pellebon not only as director but as co-producer of Genealogy. Another piece of luck that we recently heard from Doug Reed , Artistic Director of Broom Street, that we will be able to have a live streamed performance of genealogy available to people all over the country and indeed all over the world as was the case with earlier Knowledge Workings Theater productions. That means everybody else will get to see how lucky we are to have followed the connections to Dana Pellebon.

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