“…Stephens in the initially subdued but increasingly intense buildup to the final, powerful split soliloquy…”
In this “Get To Know”, we learn more about Eddie Stephens who is playing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in All The Way. Many remember him from his powerful performances in Ragtime and Thoroughly Modern Millie. Always marked with energy and passion while on stage, he continues to inspire as he reveals these characters. He shared more about his background and how portraying this determined, important icon is “a dream come true.”
What does it mean to you to be embodying Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Portraying Dr. King is a dream come true for me, not only as an actor, but just as black man. Dr. King is the embodiment of strength, courage, and perseverance. I was born in Alabama, and was living there as a child during the time period “ALL the Way” focuses on. So this is much more than a play to me. Preparing for this role has allowed me to go back and do more research into not only the icon Dr. King was, but more importantly into the man he was. His legacy and what he fought for will continue to live on, and is especially relevant in these times. While we have made incredible progress in this country thanks to him and other key advocates of the Civil Rights movement, we still have a long way to go. I am truly grateful that God saw fit to choose him as His leader for this critical work, at such a critical time.
What introduced you to the world of theatre?
I was initially introduced to theater at MSU. My junior year I took a beginning acting class, to provide some relief to an overloaded academic schedule. I fell in love with acting, but being a very focused and logical business major, I did not pursue it. Having lived twice in the Northeast, I was able to attend several Broadway shows, which kept the passion and enjoyment alive. After retiring from a 30 year corporate career in 2012, I said I wanted to look into It at some point. In 2016, after watching my good friend Marissa Baty perform at Civic theater in “Good People”, she mentioned that she was going to audition for Ragtime, and told me I should consider it. Well I did, and as everyone warned me, I was hooked. All the Way will be my 4th show in the past 12 months, and I look forward to hopefully doing many more. I guess I am trying to make up for 30+ years of not doing it. J
When you aren’t on stage, what are you up to? (career, hobbies etc.)
Having retired from P&G in 2012, I started a consulting business called Actionable Solutions, LLC. My primary focus is working with young people on goals and success planning. I do this through both group workshops, as well as 1:1 focused sessions. I work with students from middle school to college graduates. For the past 4 years I have been part of Professional mentor programs at GVSU in both the Seidman Business school, and now at the Hauenstein Center’s Cook Leadership Academy. Additionally, I am obsessed with golf, I live on a golf course and am a ranger at another one.
What do you think this show means for this community?
I think this show is a prime example of the ability of theater to entertain, educate, and challenge the public. This is one of the most critical pieces of theater in a long time, as it provides very honest and open insights into the hearts and minds of those critical to the passing of one of the most important pieces of legislation in the history of this country. All the Way provides some “cause” to some “effects” we still see today in what differences still exist in the US. 1964 (Civil Rights Act), and 1965 (Voting Rights Bill), weren’t that long ago. There are still very raw feelings that we are dealing with today from the treatment of Black people in this country for a very long time. As All the Way highlights, not everyone was in favor of passing this legislation despite the moral and legal obligation. While the U.S. is still a great country, the dark history it has in terms of race cannot be ignored or somehow minimized, if we are ever going to achieve sustained healing.
Why Civic Theatre?
While there are other great theatrical venues in Grand Rapids, Civic sets itself apart with its ability to deliver incredibly powerful scale productions. The sets, wardrobe, props, etc., are second to none. I have been told by other actors who have performed across the country, that Civic rivals many “professional” theater venues in its overall approach. Lastly, as is the case in most successful organizations, the people that I have met there are special. Civic will always hold a special place in my heart, as it was the first time I hit the stage (Ragtime, 2017).
What if your favorite line from the show?
Dr. King says to Bob Moses, “ The arc of the moral universe bends towards justice…but very slowly!”
We couldn’t be more grateful for Eddie who is the perfect example of the passion and personal reflection that is brought to the Civic Theatre stage. Without our volunteers, stories like All The Way wouldn’t be told. Don’t miss Eddie and the rest of this talented cast on stage through January 28th.