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Erica Sutherlin directs ‘Pass Over’ at thestudio@620

Bill DeYoung



The characters in "Pass Over," says director Erica Sutherlin, "have all these joys and ideas, but they still feel this huge gulf between them and the thing that they desire. And I think that’s the conversation." Photo: Lifetime.

In their rave reviews of playwright Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s Pass Over – in which two men discuss life, the afterlife, troubles, pleasures and the pros and cons of reality – critics have called the 95-minute play a sort of urban contemporary Waiting For Godot.

Opening Thursday at thestudio@620, Pass Over presents the characters Moses and Kitch: “Two young inner city Black men hanging out on a corner and talking about how they see the world,” according to director Erica Sutherlin, who clarifies the story arc thusly: “It’s like Waiting For Godot meets Black Lives Matter meets the Book of Exodus.”

Presented in collaboration with Outcast Theatre Collective, Pass Over presents some hard truths. “They’re talking about all their hopes and dreams,” Sutherlin explains. “In the show they talk about getting to the Promised Land, and the Promised Land equals getting off the block. Not hanging out on the corner.

“The conversations they’re having about their fears, and dealing with the police, and how they see white America from their perspective … I think that’s an interesting exploration. We need to talk about that.”

Lance Felton, left, as Kitch, and Tron Montgomery as Moses in “Pass Over.” (Joshua DuPree will play Kitch on certain nights). Photo provided.

Originally from St. Louis, Sutherlin has been a St. Petersburg resident for a dozen years.

Sutherlin relocated to the Sunshine City in 2008 for two reasons: One, her sister lived here and two, L.A., where she was working in theater, was just too darn expensive. “All starving artists get to that fork in the road: Do I stay on this path, or do I pay my bills?” she says.

She taught theater at the Boys & Girls Clubs center at the Royal Theatre, spent six years on the faculty of the Pinellas County Center for the Arts, and became the first Black director at St. Petersburg City Theatre.

“My undergrad is in performance, with a minor in directing,” she says. “Starting off as an actress, I knew I wanted to direct. I knew eventually I would move into film and television.”

In 2016, she co-wrote and directed a low-budget feature film, Stratosphere, in Florida. From that, Sutherlin reports, “I learned a lot of things. I learned that I needed to go to school! I needed to get the tools.”

And so it was back to La La Land. Sutherlin worked on the Warner Bros. film Voodoo MacBeth, and earned an MFA in Film and Television Production from the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

She actually finished her degree online, in St. Pete, after Covid shut the physical campus down.

But Sutherlin had made several important contacts in grad school, and in 2021 she was tapped to direct the Lifetime TV move Kirk Franklin’s A Gospel Christmas.

“I’m considered a baby artist in the film and television world,” she explains, “so I’m trying to break through those doors. Even though I’ve directed a movie it’s still difficult. But the goal is to live my life as a director, and apparently a producer. So, director, producer, writer.”

Times have certainly changed, she adds, for a director, producer, writer of color. “I would say there are more opportunities now. Could those opportunities be greater and better? Yes. And then as a woman, could those opportunities be greater and better? Yes.

“A lot of people think ‘Oh, you directed a Lifetime movie, Kirk Franklin is attached to it, people are knocking down your door.’ And I’m like ‘No. I’m still the one saying Hello? Please, I’m right here! See me?’ I’m still trying to get representation. It is a fickle beast.”

St. Pete was, is and will probably always be home. “I couldn’t just pick back up and move to L.A,” Sutherlin says. “Also, I think the pandemic taught us that filmmaking doesn’t necessarily have to be brick and mortar. We make movies all over the place. Atlanta is 50 minutes away on a flight. So it just depends.”

Pass Over is at thestudio@620 Feb 3-13. Details and tickets are here.

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