What springs to mind when you think of the ’90s? Perhaps it’s a specific song, film or TV series. For multi-hyphenate creatives Troy Crossfield and Sheronna Osbourne, the ’90s elicit warm feelings of nostalgia, vibes and Black love. Enter Ninety Four, the latest play from the pair and their production company, Crossfield House Productions, which just completed its debut in Toronto at the Alumnae Theatre. 

Ninety Four is a love letter to the ’90s. It stars Troy as Marcus and Sheronna as Tawni, two people who meet and fall in love in Brooklyn, New York, bonding over hip-hop and Caribbean culture. When the pair reunite in 1994, they realize things aren’t as simple as they once were. They must navigate the complexities of their relationship while clinging tightly to the memories that once bound them. 

Recently, I had the privilege of chatting with Sheronna and Troy about what inspired them to create Ninety Four, why they chose to tell this story on the stage, their ’90s hip-hop Hall of Famers and more. 

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This interview is condensed for length and clarity. 

Melody McCune: We at GGA love a good origin story. What are your origin stories?

Sheronna Osbourne: Troy and I met in the early 2000s. We were both in Atlanta at the time and we met through a mutual friend. We were in our respective fields doing art. He was doing music; I was doing styling. Then, we connected over our interests in acting and started working together after that, doing small productions and scenes. Fast forward to 2017, and he wrote his first play and I played the lead. After that, we were like, “Hey, we could do this. Let’s do this again and again and again.” That’s how Crossfield House Productions came together.

For myself, I was always the kid acting in the high school plays. I knew I wanted to act but didn’t know how to get there professionally. So, through working in the film union after college, I started taking acting classes. By way of Crossfield House Productions, I was able to write, produce and direct shows and films that we could cast ourselves in. 

Sheronna Osbourne and Troy Crossfield in the play Ninety Four.

Pictured: Sheronna Osbourne and Troy Crossfield in NINETY FOUR

MM: Let’s talk about Ninety Four. Can you tell me what it’s about and what inspired you to create it?

Troy Crossfield: The ’90s was a love era for both of us in terms of music, film, fashion, and being born in that time. I can’t remember what sparked the conversation but we started talking about going to New York back in the days of shopping a lot and bus trips. That started this idea of, “Let’s write a whole play about that, a love story of two kids from Toronto meeting in New York.” 

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SO: For us, it was an easy era to connect to organically because we were around. We were present for the first time experiences, the first time seeing Black family dynamics on TV, comedy with shows like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Martin. For my personal reference, a show like Sister, Sister, where I’m seeing two teenage Black girls on TV. We think about the music. Some of our favorite artists are from that time and our favorite movies. We ran with it and created the characters around the ’90s.

MM: Describe this play using three words.

SO: Stylish. Love. Culture.

TC: Family. Vibes. Entertaining.

MM: What was the impetus behind making Ninety Four a stage production as opposed to a short or feature film?

TC: We chose to make Ninety Four a stage play because there’s this genuine authenticity about being on stage and connecting with your audience. They can feel what’s happening and see what’s happening on stage. The colors, music — there’s nothing like a play, you know what I mean? Of course, I love film and TV, but you get to feel the energy of the audience.

SO: You feel it more. Historically, we promote a very interactive experience. While we’re doing our show, we love to hear the audience’s oohs and aahs and “Oh no, he did this.” That type of stuff is part of the experience.

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So, knowing we were going to incorporate music and visual references from the ’90s, we thought putting this on stage first would be the best way to experience it. When it comes to costumes, the conception of this started in 2019 and that’s when we first thought of the idea. We wanted to have fun on stage and challenge ourselves to make a show with a small cast. Our other shows were 20-piece casts, so we were like, “Let’s see what we could do with smaller numbers and a tighter script.” 

TC: It’s filmed too, we use a projector. We have the cheat codes. You’re still going to get some film while watching our play.

MM: It’s the best of both worlds. What can audiences expect while watching your play?

SO: They will get vibes. The presentation happens long before our show starts, long before you hear the first piece of dialogue. You enter the space. There’s music playing that brings you back into that world. We’ve created a promotional commercial that acts like a nostalgic music video. We’re of Jamaican background, so we inject that flavor into the show too.

I always say it’s a perfect girl’s night; it’s a perfect date night. An opportunity to come out and leave on a high note. If you weren’t from that era, you’ll be like, “Man, I wish I was there.” If you were from that era, you’d be like, “Oh yeah, I totally remember that.” 

TC: There’s so much stuff going on in the world right now. There’s a lot of stuff in the media not reflecting Black love. We’re expecting our audiences to feel what it is for us in that space. That we do love each other. We have a community. That’s important for audiences to take away, to see Black love.

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MM: What was this creative process like for you both since you’re writers, directors, actors and producers? What was it like wearing all of those hats?

TC: It comes to that word: vibe. It’s easy when you have a partner who can read the same thing as you. We can challenge and work with each other so well; it’s this seamless thing. We have a team who’s on the same vibrations as us, and we can come up with ideas, scripts and stories. Sheronna is an amazing director. I direct too. My strength is writing. We go back and forth on everything together. Where one lacks, one picks up.

SO: It’s about honoring and acknowledging each other’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, when it’s his scene, I turn into the director and vice versa. There are no egos involved and that’s a key thing. We understand what leadership is about. So, we have to be in sync at the top in order for our cast and crew to feel secure. We are the ones producing behind the scenes, paying everybody, booking hotels, booking theaters around the country — all of that stuff. Each responsibility has its time. It’s like, “Okay, we’re done producing for the day; let’s be actors now.” We have to compartmentalize like that to get it done. 

TC: It’s a dance. 

MM: What do you enjoy most about working on a theatrical production?

TC: The vibe of the audience, and getting to see them laugh, and cry. It’s also therapy. People get to escape and see themselves on stage. The connection of everything between the audience, God and us. We’re there in the room together for that two hours. You can come empty and leave filled or come filled and leave empty. 

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SO: For me, particularly with this show and it being our first tour, it’s about the connection between cast and crew. We’re a small team of 12 people. It was an amazing experience to hire our friends. It’s such a beautiful thing to watch each other grow. Though Troy and I are at the front of this, it’s a team effort and everybody is so important. We have rituals that we do before each show where we go around and ask everybody, “What are you grateful for? What do you want more of?”

It allows us to speak things into existence. What we are doing is a dream actualized. It started as a conversation. We didn’t know where the money was coming from; we’d never done a tour before. Here, we’re bringing our loved ones on, paying them and sharing an experience with an audience. Aside from the show itself, the community we built means so much to us.

Sheronna Osbourne and Troy Crossfield pose in a promotional photo for their play Ninety Four.

Pictured: Sheronna Osbourne and Troy Crossfield in NINETY FOUR

MM: Your characters in Ninety Four connect through music. Which ’90s hip-hop artists are in your personal halls of fame?

SO: The first group that comes to mind is TLC. They’re young women, a stylish trio that set the tone for style. As far as delivery, as far as look, I grew up with them. Word for word. That’s a group I always gravitate to when I think about getting myself in that ’90s vibe.

TC: I would say Beenie Man because of my dancehall and Jamaican roots. The R&B stuff would be Jodeci and SWV and the hip-hop stuff would be Biggie Smalls and Nas. 

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MM: What do you hope audiences take away from Ninety Four?

TC: For the new generation, they glimpse not just the hardships we went through, but the good times had as a family. I feel some of these kids are entitled nowadays. I hope the young generation gets to take away what the ’90s were like. Some of the music they’ll be hearing. The energy, vibrations, costumes and style. The audience may not see this but Sheronna did an amazing job with the costumes. She’s the lead on that. They’ll get to see Black love.

SO: We refer to this show as our love letter to the ’90s. Definitely the overall feeling of joy, love and unity. Also, a point of reference for where we get culture, music, art and style from. There was an origin place. Even if you’re a Millennial or any generation in the audience, we make it easy to follow and understand because you may not have been there in the moment, but there are conversations that are still had today.

Everybody has an Uncle Fitzroy in their family who is the disciplinarian. Everybody knows what it feels like to hide a secret from your parents. Everybody knows what it feels like to have a crush or flirt innocently. The ’90s as a backdrop was a treat to the audience from us. We want them to feel the nostalgia of that.

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MM: What else is on the horizon for you both, career-wise?

SO: We’re back in the writing room. We’re transitioning more onto the TV and feature film scriptwriting side of things. For myself, my goal and plan are to do more directing and acting outside of what we’re doing on stage in our productions. We’re still the working artists who are auditioning weekly and trying to figure it out. 

TC: As Sheronna said, we’re heading back into the writer’s room. We’re going to be doing a documentary on Ninety Four. Then, we’re working on some shorts in the New Year. I’m a songwriter, so I’ll be developing new parts in the future. Some new platform ideas.

I’m going to do a lot more filmmaking in the New Year. I want to get back to that, that first love of creating. We might do a third installment of our play, which will be our final. This is going back to our A Little White Lie days. We have one more piece we wrote, so I would love to see that on stage in the next year. 

MM: Thank you so much, Troy and Sheronna, for chatting with me! Congratulations on Ninety Four!

TC and SO: Thank you, Melody! 

You can follow Troy on Instagram (@troycrossfield) and Twitter (@troycrossfield). You can follow Sheronna on Instagram (@yoursheronna). Click here to learn more about Crossfield House Productions and future projects. 

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