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The Old Settler
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Interviews 1

Interviews 2

From the Edit Bay

Quilly's Reverie Scene Study

Print Version

Savoy Ballroom: Key Scene Study


Interviews Page One

John Henry Redwood, Playwright

John Henry Redwood 
"A lot more is made of the Savoy Ballroom in the film [than in the play], where you can really create the atmosphere of it. In the play, the Savoy is more of a presence offstage. The Savoy is symbolic in a number of ways. It was one of the places that blacks were able to go. They couldn't go to the Cotton Club or other places in Harlem. They could play there but they were not allowed in as patrons. The white presence in Harlem was ubiquitous at that time. So the Savoy was one of the places where they could gather and have fun, great bandleaders were there, wonderful dancers were there."

"People talk about why the Savoy got closed down. Sometimes you had a situation, white women dancing with black men. The people downtown, and the government, don't mind when it's white men dancing with black women, but they can't hold their water when they see white women dancing with black men. That was a big thing. The Savoy got closed down for one great reason. Too many white folks were coming uptown having a good time."


Dancing at the Savoy
Cast members dance at the Savoy


Shauneille Perry, Screenwriter

Bucket, the MC, at the Savoy


Shauneille Perry 
"Debbie told me we were going to add a scene at the Savoy. I thought it was an excellent idea. That's one of the places they would've gone to in that period. Once she said we're going to have a scene with dancers, then my imagination was free to say what else would go on. It's my job to help the scene propel the action, which is fun. So I said, 'We can bring Husband there, and there are certainly some friends.' Bucket is a new character who was only talked about onstage. I gave him one scene, then it came to me, 'There's an MC at the Savoy. Let's make Bucket the MC.' And I had Lou Bessie with some dancer friends who had a few lines."


Debbie Allen, Director

Debbie Allen 
"We did the Savoy Ballroom scene because it visually opens up the story, and it was an obvious way to showcase the energy and musicality of that period. Actually going there to see what those people were doing, and not just hearing about it as you do in the play, became the dynamic thing to do to open up the movie."

"Directing the Savoy Ballroom scene was a great deal of fun. I hired as many dancers as I could afford because I knew they would give me energy and life and it would just be a matter of capturing on camera what was happening in that room. Because we didn't have the money to hire 150 extras (which we would've loved to have), we had to shift the people we did have around. They had to change clothes."

"As far as wearing a choreographer hat, since there was no time, I just held a big call for dancers who already knew how to swing dance. So the choreography for the Savoy scene was about finding those wonderful dancers who love swing dance, giving them blocking, and getting it on film."

"It was fun to dance in it, even though I often wondered why I had to go and open my big mouth about it. But I loved it because I loved what it said about the character of Quilly. And I loved dancing with the young man that played Herman, Steven Smith, who's a former lead dancer with Alvin Ailey."

"Norma Miller, the star of the Savoy Ballroom when she was fifteen, came the day of our audition for dancers from her home in Las Vegas. Norma is always my consultant whenever it comes to anything dealing with swing dancing. She's like the Griot. She knows everything. She can just look at something and say 'kid, that never would've happened,' or 'no honey, take that out,' or 'that's perfect.'"

"The budget had a lot to do with why the ballroom set was so minimalist. With lack of money comes creativity, and I suggested we show only four of the musicians instead of an entire bandstand. We got a sense of it as it went on. All we needed were some tables and a dance floor. The dancers would add color and make this real and true. Costuming helped too. We had a few soldiers in there. John Iacovelli took what was there and made it work."

"The DP and I designed it so that the camera went in and creeped on Quilly slowly, and when she talks about a storm coming the lights actually change and then we go to black. And when we come back to her the lights come back up. It's a beautiful sequence."

"For the scene where Quilly reveals the truth about Herman, I directed Phylicia to simply listen and to go deep into how she feels."


Debbie Allen dancing
Quilly, played by Debbie Allen, dances in the Savoy scene


Synopsis   |   Interviews Page One   |   Interviews Page Two



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