Kiya Watson ’25 directs play that highlights Southern Black women’s lives

Four actors on the stage during the play Saturday Night/Sunday Morning.
Image credit: Levuna Watson
Author  Morgan Gallegos ’25
Published on 

From March 7 to 10, Wellesley College’s student-run Upstage Theatre presented Katori Hall’s Saturday Night/Sunday Morning, directed by Kiya Watson ’25.

Set during the final days of World War II, the play follows five Black women—Miss Mary, sisters Taffy and Mabel, Leanne, and Gladys—who live in a Memphis, Tenn., boardinghouse and work at a beauty parlor. United by the uncertainty and powerlessness they feel on the home front, the five women and their regular clients, Dot and Jackie, find sanctuary in the beauty parlor. They gossip, discuss social issues, and long for the day when they can “party hard all Saturday night into Sunday morning” to celebrate the war’s end and the return of their boyfriends and husbands.

“Katori Hall and I are from the same neighborhood in Memphis, and her career has really inspired me,” Watson said. “I knew I wanted to direct a play set in Memphis that focuses on the experiences of Southern Black women. … It’s written in our Southern dialect and depicts an unconventional but beautiful sisterhood, and I wanted audiences to see this story told on stage.”

Watson and her production team transformed the stage of Wellesley’s Diana Chapman Walsh Auditorium into Miss Mary’s Press and Curl beauty parlor and women’s boardinghouse. They divided it into two sections—the beauty parlor and one bedroom in the boardinghouse—and decorated with pale green damask wallpaper, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong posters, antique furniture, and old-fashioned hair dryers. Set designer Kenya Francis ’26 said the play’s script and the in-home salons she visited as a child were her primary sources of inspiration.

The audience surrounded the stage on three sides. “Hall describes the set as a living, breathing ‘character unto itself,’ so I wanted the audience to act as the walls of the beauty parlor and boardinghouse and feel like they’re a part of these women’s lives,” Watson said. “I really hope the posters and stencils on the set walls felt homey and made the audience feel like they came to Memphis.”

Ziyah Shorty ’26, the costume designer, wanted costumes that would reflect the behaviors and attitudes of each character, and she researched the era to get ideas. “The internet didn’t have much information about Black fashion in the 1940s. … Luckily, I found some pictures taken of Black women and men during this time,” Shorty said. “I also talked to my great-aunt and uncle, who were born around the 1940s, which was the closest firsthand account I could get.”

“I hope audiences realize that Blackness, sexuality, and sisterhood are multifaceted, and they left feeling more educated on these topics.”

Kiya Watson ’25, Director

Stage manager Cassandre Cyriaque ’26 said watching the script come to life on stage was the most exciting part of the experience. “Kiya encouraged the actors to explore their characters and experiment with their lines, so it was nice to see what they came up with,” she said. “Just seeing the sisterhood form [among] the actors was really great.”

Though the five women in the play have a strong sense of unity and sisterhood, tensions arise, and they frequently disagree. When Taffy and Mabel tire of Leanne, who has spent four years moping around as she waits for a letter from her boyfriend, Bobby, they persuade aspiring writer Gladys to write love letters to Leanne using Bobby’s name. As they find friendship and romance in unexpected places, the five women must reevaluate their understanding of love and sexuality.

Watson was involved in theatre in high school and joined Upstage Theatre last spring, when she worked with Zaria Bunn ’23 on Wellesley’s production of Flyin’ West. After the production wrapped, she knew she wanted to direct a play for Upstage.

“I often say how grateful I am for Zaria and her production of Flyin’ West because it brought the experiences of Black people to a place of visibility at Wellesley,” Watson said. “I didn’t want that to be the last all-Black production we saw for a while.”

Leigh Pendleton ’24, who played Leanne, said Saturday Night/Sunday Morning was a great experience, even though acting is outside her comfort zone. “This was my first time doing anything related to theatre at Wellesley, and I’m proud that I pushed myself to do this in the first place,” she said. “I did this play with a really awesome group of people, so I had a lot of fun.”

She said the most challenging part for her was distancing herself from the characters in the play: “Because I identify with a lot of the characters, I had to do a little bit of extra work to decenter myself and not internalize the things that were said to my character or other characters when we were practicing.”

Saturday Night/Sunday Morning covers some heavy themes, Pendleton said, including racism, colorism, internalized homophobia, and religion, and she hoped audiences would “use this play as an opportunity to do some internal reflection to ensure that the traumas depicted onstage are not passed down to future generations in the real world.”

Watson agreed. “Stories like this one are so important because they allow audiences to step into the characters’ shoes and learn from them,” she said. “I hope audiences realize that Blackness, sexuality, and sisterhood are multifaceted, and they left feeling more educated on these topics.”