“Ella The Ungovernable,” a play about 15-year-old Ella Fitzgerald’s incarceration and eventual escape from Hudson, New York’s Training School For Girls in 1933, will make its Zoom and live-streaming YouTube debut on behalf of Theater For The New City in New York City on Thursday, May 28, at 7 p.m.
“Ella The Ungovernable” was written by first-time playwright David McDonald and will be directed by Melania Levitsky, artistic director of Nikita Productions. The play is made up of actors from throughout the country.
The two stars in this production -- Alexis Ward, playing Ella, and Kylie Anderson as her cellmate Alice -- are both in Chicago. Other cast members come from New York City; Princeton, New Jersey; and Fort Worth Texas.
McDonald first learned about the Ella Fitzgerald story several years ago while living in Hudson, New York. In 1933, the then-unknown young girl was incarcerated at the Training School For Girls. Little is known about her incarceration, except that she is presumed to have escaped after less than a year at the institution. She won the first-ever Amateur Night at The Apollo Theater shortly thereafter, commencing her quick rise to fame as a jazz singer.
This video, directed by McDonald, tells the basics of the Ella narrative: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoyQg2cIOOE&t=2s
When McDonald first heard the story, he recognized its power immediately.
“On a surface level, it was probably the greatest allegory for centuries of African-American incarceration I had ever heard,” McDonald said. “Plus, it’s the story of people being trapped with no visible means of escape. I feel that this is the way half of the country feels living under the Donald Trump regime.”
McDonald started directing the theatrical production in Hudson in June 2019, doing casting and rehearsals in a gallery on Warren Street and at The Hudson Area Library. Cast members included a wide swath of the community, including Hudson Alderwoman Tiffany Garriga playing Ella’s wicked Aunt Edna, and WGXC news reader Philip Grant as Apollo Master of Ceremonies Ralph Cooper. Both actors are in the new Zoom iteration of the play.
“Ella The Ungovernable” debuted the weekend of Feb. 14-15, 2020, at the Valatie (N.Y.) Community Theatre. The play sold out both nights and led to other offers of theaters
in the New York cities of Albany, Kingston, Troy and Schenectady. Then the coronavirus pandemic struck and the theater community was shut down.