Get ready to take a road trip to the Grand Canyon just by sitting in a local theater.
That’s the premise of the new play “It’s Not a Trip, It’s a Journey,” which makes its world premiere at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland, through May 8.
“It’s a fun time,” actor Erin Margaret Pettigrew told WTOP. “I hope that y’all join us and really strap in to go with us across America on this stage, because that’s what we’re doing and that’s how it feels. We invite you to come with us. We need you to come with us.”
Written by Charly Evon Simpson, the story follows June (Pettigrew), who convinces her friends Frankie (Cristina Pitter), Willie (Dezi Bing) and Rain (Afua Busia) to ditch New York City for an impromptu road trip to the Grand Canyon. As the four wildly different friends travel across America, they confront the reality of being Black, femme and American.
“Four Black femme friends decide to travel via car from New York City to the Grand Canyon,” Pettigrew said. “All the things start to come into play, meaning the irritation, the fun, the music, the exhaustion, the hopefulness, the expectations. … That will sit differently with Black femmes moving across America … because there’s a lot to unpack there.”
Speaking of packing, the characters all have metaphorical baggage.
“What’s the baggage we carry with us?” Pettigrew said. “The baggage that you literally are bringing and the things that are sitting on your heart, mind and soul? Are you running from something? Is it an escapism thing? Are you trying to search for something? Running toward something? Or just trying to be in the wind and experience something different?”
How does director Nicole A. Watson show a cross-country road trip on stage?
“Aesthetically, the stage is pretty bare, there’s naturally a car on stage, and there’s a road, but the road extends all the way out into the audience,” Pettigrew said. “The tip of the road points out into the audience, so you can almost touch the edge of the road in the front row. Then it runs all the way to the back of the stage and curves up toward the sky.”
Scenic designer Lawrence Moten hangs other fun elements above the stage.
“Above it is this big … extended sign that has every single road sign you can think of, that has the map of the U.S. that lights up, that has hotel signs that light up, that have different iconic things that you would see on a road trip or on the side of the road,” Pettigrew said. “The stage itself is open, it’s big, it’s bare, it’s a road, it’s a car, it’s us.”
Even the costumes symbolically evolve during the journey.
“The changes we are making physically in our clothes,” Pettigrew said. “Our costume designer Ivania [Stack] is brilliant, seeing us in New York … what we might be wearing in such a fast-paced, business city, then seeing us closer to the Grand Canyon trying to fit into that Western lifestyle. How are we changing ourselves even by our clothes?”
It’s part of the theater’s inaugural National Capital New Play Festival.
“These shows wouldn’t be thriving … if it wasn’t for the environment,” Pettigrew said. “I really have to thank everyone involved, that being Round House, our directors, our writers and everyone who decides to come into this room … and say, ‘We’re going to hold space and hold time for us to journey through these very hard but very real stories.'”