Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Treme CD and DVD signing at Louisiana Music Factory

Posted By on Wed, May 4, 2011 at 3:21 PM

Treme actor Wendell Pierce, seated next to Steve Zahn, poses for a picture with a fan.
  • Bill Haber
  • "Treme" actor Wendell Pierce, seated next to Steve Zahn, poses for a picture with a fan.

Fans wielding cameras and smartphones snaked around the Louisiana Music Factory's shelves of CDs to catch a glimpse at some of the Treme cast, who appeared at the store today to sign copies of the show's soundtrack and season 1 DVD. Show creator David Simon was there with cast members Khandi Alexander (Ladonna Batiste-Williams), Rob Brown (Delmond Lambreaux), Lucia Micarelli (Annie), Clarke Peters (Albert Lambreaux), Wendell Pierce (Antoine Batiste) and Steve Zahn (Davis McAlary).

The signing came a day after the HBO series recreated a certain "2007 music festival" at the Fair Grounds to film for an upcoming episode. "That was a lot of fun. It went well for us onstage," Peters, who performed for the filming, told Gambit. "It was a pretend Jazz Fest, so we didn’t have the full ambiance of the festival, but for our tent and our scene, it felt very much like I would imagine how it feels to perform at Jazz Fest."

(From left, clockwise) David Simon, Wendell Pierce, Clarke Peters, Khandi Alexander, Lucia Micarelli, Steve Zahn and Rob Brown
  • Bill Haber
  • (From left, clockwise) David Simon, Wendell Pierce, Clarke Peters, Khandi Alexander, Lucia Micarelli, Steve Zahn and Rob Brown

Working on the show for the last few years, the cast members have not only been able to portray New Orleanians, but also have become them themselves. Alexander, who visited New Orleans several times while working as a dancer and choreographer, has begun to settle in as a resident.

"This is my first time settling, staying here for a significant amount of time. It really opens your heart (living here), because you become friends with people, you have your market that you shop at regularly and people know you," she said. "Once they get over the initial shock of meeting you in person, then you just become part of the family. Southern hospitality is real — they really take you in and treat you as one of their own, and that has been unbelievable to experience."

Khandi Alexander at Steve Zahn at the Louisiana Music Factory signing
  • Bill Haber
  • Khandi Alexander at Steve Zahn at the Louisiana Music Factory signing

Mingling among natives has proved to be a unique method of research for the cast members. Peters tries to bring his experiences with Mardi Gras Indians to his role as a stoic, dignified Big Chief.

"Talking with Mardi Gras Indians … it goes back to why they’re still here, and their integrity and their pride and for some people, their alleged arrogance," he said. "The way that it has informed me is to carry Lambreaux with that pride, and to maintain within Lambreaux the integrity that he carries when something is not correct."

Alexander has had a similar experience.

"The best part is to have the chance to meet someone who’s actually lived through the experience — female business owners, bar owners here in New Orleans who emotionally and financially found the resolve to come back and fight for their place here," she says. "That was amazing, absolutely amazing, as an actress to do that kind of research, to meet these people and have that in my repertoire."

As a New Orleans native, Pierce has carried an extra sense of responsibility in his portrayal of the struggling trombonist Antoine Batiste. He says the role has come with a range of emotions and the opportunity to get to know the city in a different way.

"It’s been a real roller coaster ride, because I feel a sense of obligation and responsibility. I felt that a lot last year — not so much this year, because a lot of my cast mates have become overnight New Orleanians. We have indulged in the culture so much ... but I do feel an extra sense of responsibility to get it right and be authentic, especially since I have so many musician friends," he said. "I thought I knew the musicians (in New Orleans), thought I knew the clubs, but now I really do. ... I’ve really become attuned to how many musicians there are, and how talented they are, what a great gift it is to be able to go hear so many great musicians at any time of the week."

More so than with many other shows, fans have high expectations that Treme gets New Orleans — which has a history of comically inaccurate portrayals in film and TV — right. This lends itself to emotional reactions and discussion from viewers.

"The first couple of weeks here, I couldn’t walk down the street without someone saying 'Thank you, you’re doing the right job', 'That was painful, but I’m glad we saw it' and 'The show is such a service to the city, so we wanna say ‘thank you,'' Peters said. "(The show) is resting in the bones of people who live here, in their psyche and in their hearts. It’s a different experience from just your regular acting gig. It comes with a little bit more responsibility."

Pierce appreciates the discussions Treme sparks in New Orleans.

"The role of art is it’s the place where you’re supposed to be affected by the world that you create. What thoughts are to the individual, art is for society — we collectively reflect on who we are and where we’ve been. Especially with this story, it’s so cathartic to be in a city where people are collectively reflecting on what we’ve gone through as a city. It’s an amazing thing to be apart of, because there’s groups of people around this city watching our story with the perspective of 'I’ve lived through some of this,'" he said.

"That spawns so much conversation and so much reflection on where we go from here. I’m sure they’re not doing that after Celebrity Apprentice."

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