Kim Wafer never really had much of an acting bug. At least not until her kids got it first.
"I was dropping my kids off so they could audition for 'Ragtime' at SLOC and somebody there said, 'Hey, we could use you, too,'" remembered Wafer, who is starring in the title role in "Harriet Tubman Visits a Therapist" Friday and Saturday at the Schenectady Civic Playhouse. "I said, 'No way, I can't do that. That's for other people.' But I ended up doing it, and it was so much fun."
That was 2011. She did "A Raisin in the Sun" with Our Own Productions in 2012, and this year has been a busy one so far. In February she was in "An Inspector Calls" with the Schenectady Civic Players, and in April she was in "A Lesson Before Dying" at the First Congregational Church in Albany with the Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate New York, which is producing this weekend's shows at SCP.
"I did a little acting in high school, but I was more into track," said Wafer, who as Kim Sharp was one of Niskayuna High's top sprinters and triple jumpers when she graduated in 1988. "I went to Oswego for two years and then the University at Albany, and while the theater was in my family and I always loved it, I just hadn't done too much with it. Now I really look forward to it, and this has been a busy year so far. I usually act in dribs and drabs, but this year I feel like I've been at it all year."
In "Harriet Tubman Visits a Therapist," Wafer plays the famous historical character before she embarked on a career of helping runaway slaves via the Underground Railroad. The play is set with Tubman still the property of her master.
"This is before she gets famous risking her life so other people could be free," said Wafer, who shares the stage with Carol Durant. "They know she's thinking about running away, so the master sends the therapist to try to talk her out of it. It's a very powerful piece and a very important play that speaks to what a wonderful woman Harriet Tubman was."
Wafer, who now is a Clifton Park resident, works at The Sage Colleges in Troy, where Tubman did some of her best work on the Underground Railroad.
"I read the script and then we did more research on her, and what she did right here in this city was amazing," said Wafer. "To think that she was really doing it in Troy made it so much more interesting to me."
"Harriet Tubman Visits a Therapist" was written by Carolyn Gage, an American playwright known for "The Second Coming of Joan of Arc" (1994) and "Ugly Ducklings" (2004), along with a number of books and essays on feminism.
"Medal of Honor Rag" earned author Tom Cole a Drama Desk nomination back in 1976. Set in an U.S. Army hospital, it tells the story of a black Congressional Medal of Honor winner and his psychiatrist. Both men are survivors of Vietnam and dealing with that guilt.
A New York Times Review from 2001 said, "Twenty-five years since its premiere, 'Medal of Honor Rag' retains its relevance, its power, its tortured compassion. (It) remains absorbing theater and a bracing reminder of the time past and distance yet to be traveled."
Jean-Remy Monnay is directing both productions. He formed the Soul Rebel Performance Troupe back in 2009 and changed the name of his organization earlier this year.
"We've been around for almost 10 years, and I was just getting tired of explaining to people what the name meant," said Monnay, a native of Haiti who moved to the Capital Region in 1997. "People tended to associate us with something military, so by changing the name we just became more specific. Now people know exactly what we do without me having to tell them. We are becoming diverse and work with all races, but we do still focus on minorities and theater training for them."
Monnay said he is retiring as a state worker in a couple of months after 30 years.
"I didn't want to be a starving artist," he said. "Now I'll be able to focus on the things I need to do for this group. I don't think I'm going to take a break after this show. We're going to keep busy."
Monnay said the next production for the Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate New York will be "After the Darkness" by Troy playwright Joe Starzyk.
'Harriet Tubman Visits a Therapist' and 'Medal of Honor Rag'
WHAT: Two productions from the Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate New York
WHERE: Schenectady Civic Playhouse, 12 South Church St., Schenectady
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
HOW MUCH: Pay as you wish