Former Youngstown State University student Mike Forney is out to give his past love life a chance. He’s decided to revisit his previous relationships, but he’s not calling his exes.
He’s been writing, producing and directing a theatrical production instead.
In December 2010, Forney, 32, the founder of Hot Topix Book Club, began writing a play script titled “He Loves Me! She Loves Me Not?” This production about love, commitment, fear and relationships hits the stage Feb. 18 at the DeYor Performing Arts Center in Youngstown.
The story involves character Dajah Henderson, played by Terrie Hughes, and an unexpected proposal from her boyfriend, played by DeVon Thomas. The surprise provokes chatter and gossip from her friends and family, leaving an impressionable Dajah with a tough decision.
“Everything Dajah hears are all a bunch of stories from my past dating life about different types of relationships … when I was a cheater, arrogant, successful, etc.,” Forney said. “I can relate to every character in the play.”
Forney said American actor, producer and playwright Tyler Perry inspired him.
“It was ingenious that he created his own path and production company,” Forney said. “[Perry] took what people call nobodies, regular community people, and formed productions.”
While Forney has acted in many local plays in Youngstown and Detroit, he was eager to write his own.
“I thought plays had died, but [Perry] brought them back,” he said. “I thought I was the only one who still loved plays.”
Forney met a woman named Velma Perry while blogging. He said they had discussed ideas for a new production and kept in touch via email to continue planning the play.
“When I reached out to her again to tell her it was working and to get more advice, she was gone. … She had passed away,”
Forney said. “That’s when I knew I had to do this.”
Forney still wanted to incorporate his late friend’s ideas. But he didn’t want to do it alone. He teamed up with Darcelle Formby, a 2010 YSU alumna.
Formby, 24, who earned her degree in chemistry and resides in Cleveland, was never involved in plays as an undergraduate.
However, she said she always had an interest in acting and a knack for poetry.
Today, she finds herself playing many roles. She’s an actress, co-writer and assistant director for “He Loves Me! She Loves Me Not?”
“The hardest part of this is arranging rehearsals while keeping the cast together and informed,” Formby said. “We have many different, strong and confident personalities like most actors … but at the end of the day, it’s about keeping it cohesive and fun.”
Casting auditions were held downtown at Imbibe Martini Bar, but Formby said most of the parts were chosen by word of mouth.
She and Forney worked on the script while she was in Youngstown. She added that they correspond over the phone and computer to formulate ideas when she is in Cleveland.
Formby said she is happy to have such a talented cast of students. They have been rehearsing on Saturdays for the past seven months.
Freshman communications major Dana Dumas is part of the 22-member cast. Though she participated in plays during high school, Dumas said this is a very different experience.
“Our directors have less experience, so it is more of a relaxed, less structured, going with the flow,” Dumas said. “I’m not nervous for my part, but I’m nervous for the play.”
Interacting with people is something Dumas said she enjoys. She added that she feels this experience is beneficial to her major.
“I love seeing how different people from different places work and take correction,” she said.
Brandi Black, a sophomore studying theater, is also an actress in the play and said she hopes to add this to her experience at YSU.
“We have a very focused cast, and the vision is coming to life,” she said. “Now it’s just the tedious things like development and becoming the character.”
Sophomore Adrian Watson, another cast member, relishes being in the spotlight.
Watson is a member of the Premier Poets Guild and said he is used to performing in lounges, churches and at other events.
He added that, with his passion for poetry, he isn’t nervous for the show and looks more at the big picture.
“The best part is getting to know people I never knew before. … Even though ages are all different, I enjoy seeing people at different stages of their lives,” Watson said.
Tickets for “He Loves Me! She Loves Me Not?” can be purchased online at http://youngstownsymphony.com. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., and the play begins at 8 p.m.
Forney said he has one main goal for the production.
“They say the coolest stories are the most real, and I just want to inspire,” Forney said. “I want people to pick up where we left off.”