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5 Black Women Playwrights We Can’t Go a Day Without

Broadway Black

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Black women are the backbone of our culture and in the theatre community, it is no different. They’re creating stories and spaces for us all. We could not be more blessed to have these voices filling the air with their words. These are not the only just FYI, these are just a few. Get into them!

Lydia R. Diamond is your author’s favorite playwright. After falling in love with theatre in high school, Diamond attended Northwestern University where she earned a B.A. in Theatre and Performance Studies. She’s best known for her adaptation of Toni Morrison’s coming-of-age story, “Bluest Eye”. Her work often reflects history and literature, and her writing is deeply academic in nature. Her newest play, “Smart People” is set to take the stage at New Haven, Connecticut’ s Long Wharf Theatre on March 15th.

Recommendations: Smart People, Bluest Eye, and Here I am…See You Can Handle It

Kirsten Greenidge is a poet and a playwright all at the same time. She’s known for her Obie Winning play Milk Like Sugar. The play follows 16-year-old Annie’s struggle to find happiness despite having a disconnected mother and a pregnancy pact to fulfill. Greenidge’s work constantly brings cadence to difficult discussions. Greenidge finds room for an impassioned language where we see awkward silence. Her work is akin to the choreopoems of Elizabeth Alexander and Ntozake Shange. 

Recommendations: Milk Like Sugar, Yes, Please, and Thank You, and The Gibson Girl

Dominique Morisseau is Detroit through and through! Since her days at the University of Michigan, her work has propelled audiences into serious conversations about race and community. Her plays are celebrated for giving people of color a chance to take the stage. Morrisseau has won an Obie Award, been honored by the city of Detroit and even been awarded the Jane Chambers Playwriting Award. This award focuses on women playwrights that represent the feminist perspective and give performance opportunities to women.

Recommendations: Detroit ’67, Follow Me to Nellie’s, and Sunset Baby

Katori Hall is not only a playwright, but an actress, a journalist and an intellectual. After graduating from Columbia University in 2003, Hall made her way through Harvard’s American Repertory Theatre and Julliard’s Playwriting Program, earning her Masters by 2009. That same year, The Mountaintop premiered in London at Theatre503. The fictional retelling of Martin Luther King’s last night earned Hall a West End premiere, Broadway preimere, and Olivier Award. Hall’s excellence led her to the Pershing Square Signature Theatre’s Residency where her work is guaranteed three world premieres, two of which she’s already celebrated. Since The Mountaintop, she has brought more than six plays to audiences throughout the world. Did I mention she and Morrisseau are best friends and frequent collaborators?

Recommendations: Our Lady Kibeho, Pussy Valley, and Hurt Village

Finally, Lynn Nottage is the woman of the hour! Last year, Nottage won the coveted Sarah Blackburn Prize for her play Sweat. The play tells the story of camaraderie’s quick descent into chaos as factory workers deal with maintaining their livelihood amidst layoffs. Nottage is celebrated for telling the stories of African descendants, especially women. Her play Ruined focused on the Democratic Republic of Congo’s war and its target towards women. The play beat out Lin Manuel-Miranda’s In The Heights for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Nottage has written over a dozen plays that have been constantly produced regionally and off-Broadway. You can find more information about the Yale grad’s Broadway debut here.

Recommendations: Sweat, Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Udine, and Poof!

 

Who are some of your favorite black women playwrights? Sound off in the comments below!

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Q&A: Kyle Beltran & Kristolyn Lloyd Talk Blue Ridge, Actor Growth, What Makes Them Smile & More!

Drew Shade

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Kyle Beltran & Krystloyn Lloyd Photo by Drew Shade

Kristolyn Lloyd (Dear Evan Hanson, Paradise Blue) and Kyle Beltran (In The Heights, Head of Passes, The Cherry Orchard)  are currently starring in Blue Ridge through Sunday, January 27th, 2019 Off-Broadway at Atlantic Theater Company in the Linda Gross Theater .

Kristolyn Lloyd & Kyle Beltran Photo by Drew Shade

A progressive high-school teacher with a rage problem retaliates against her unscrupulous boss and is sentenced to six months at a church-sponsored halfway house, where she attends to everyone’s recovery but her own. Set in Southern Appalachia, Blue Ridge is a pitch-dark comedy about heartbreak, hell-raising and healing.

Get into the gems dropped by the pair in this Q&A below!

When did you first know you wanted to become an actor?
Kristolyn Lloyd: I was 17 playing Hamlet in a high school production that would compete all around the state and I was sitting with my director mapping out Hamlets arc in the show. It was like a bolt of lighting, “I wanna do this for the rest of my life.”I had always been obsessed with performing for family, at my church, and in school shows. The kind of bubbly nervous I got before going on stage was so different from the gut-wrenching nerves I felt before a track or swim meet. I knew what I was doing when I went out on stage. I felt powerful and I felt like I finally belonged somewhere.
Kyle Beltran (KB): I knew from an early age. I was an only child with a very vivid imagination and I loved playing pretend to occupy myself and to entertain others. I performed constantly for my family–skits, magic shows, song and dance. I was obsessed with movies, music and musicals. Someone suggested to my parents that they should seek out representation for me and I signed with my first agent at age four. I grew up auditioning for and, sometimes, shooting commercials.
 
I was in my first school play in fifth grade, which really ignited my love for the theater and I performed in countless shows over the years, in school and at summer camp.
A big turning point for me, though, was when I transferred from the University of Pennsylvania to the drama school at Carnegie Mellon, after my freshman year. I’d always been very serious about academics, but once I got to college, the pull in my gut towards the arts was almost painful. I knew that if I wanted to pursue a career in the business, I needed to be the best craftsman I could possibly be. Making that the decision felt like the first real, adult step towards following my dreams.
 
What about Blue Ridge made you say “Yes! I want to do that.” …?
KL: The overall attempt at articulating the current conversation regarding race and privilege and the complexity of love. I felt like “Cherie” was someone I could identify with and I wanted to tell HER story. She felt so familiar. I wanted her to win. I wanted to spend time on her story and in her skin and her emotions.
 
KB: I was so excited when I read Blue Ridge because the writing is so layered, so hilarious and heartbreaking, so nuanced and subtle in its exploration of these huge socio-political and socio-psychological ideas. The play is richly and specifically drawn with no “good” or “bad guys.” The character I play, Wade, is recovering from a life-derailing addiction and quietly working very hard through past traumas and anger issues to become the best version of himself. I feel very lucky to get to bring him to life.

 

How have you grown as an actor in the last year? How have you grown since starting Blue Ridge?
KL: I think I’ve grown a deeper appreciation for directors. Every director I’ve worked with in the last year has trusted me and allowed me to have a voice and take risks. I made a decision this year to trust my director more and honor their third eye. I think as actors we make decisions about characters and get nervous or insecure when those choices are challenged. I want to direct one day so I want to be the kind of collaborative actor I would want to work with when I’m on the other side of the table. Taibi was so easy to trust. She is open and vulnerable and humble and it only made me want to hear her vision and thoughts more.
 
KB: I’ve been fortunate enough to be in four completely different plays in the last year–all new works, by talented writers. I’ve been stretched to work in different styles, playing characters with wildly varied personalities, ages, and arcs. It’s been exhausting and exhilarating. I’ve also lived through substantial show business heartbreak, which sometimes provides even more personal growth than the work does. I’ve learned so much this year about patience, grace, and resilience.
(more questions after the photo gallery)
What have you learned from doing this particular show? What have the themes of the play taught you?
KL: I have grown a deeper empathy for people. We are all just people walking around doing our best with all our baggage and trauma from childhood. No one is safe from their triggers and insecurities. So like, be kind and mind your business lol!
 
KB: Working on Blue Ridge has been such a gift. The creative team, cast, and crew are full of smart, kind, passionate people. In rehearsal, we had so many amazing conversations about race, gender, addiction, politics, religion, education, etc. It’s been an experience that has reminded me again of the power of empathy. We’re all doing the best with can with our unique set of life circumstances and traumas. Everyone is in a different place on the path toward healing, but everyone deserves compassion. Although, it can be hard to locate sometimes for people who are lashing out, or behaving in ways that harm others.
 
What is something that you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting out as an actor?
KL: Trust your instincts and the skills you possess and be constantly working to improve them.
KB: I wish I would’ve started practicing more self-compassion earlier. Letting go of perfectionism, self-flagellation, comparison to others. My advice to my younger self and to young actors is to keep returning your attention to the work over and over, like a meditation. There are a lot of distractions in the business. Be kind to yourself and others. Be patient. Hold on to your passion and joy. If you’re in the business long enough, you are guaranteed to see great successes and failures. It’s all opportunity for growth. Truly.
 
Do you think you really understood what you were in for when you decided you wanted to become an actor?
KL: Nope. Not. At. All.
KB: I don’t think anything can prepare you for life as an actor. It’s more painful AND magical that I could ever articulate. It’s good to listen to and borrow from the wisdom of people who are ahead of you in the journey. At the same time, everyone’s path is so different. Only experience can teach you.
 
What role would you love to play that you haven’t yet?
KL: Anything opposite Kyle Beltran
KB: I would love to do more Shakespeare. Hamlet, Prince Hal, Romeo, Mercutio, Ariel, Puck, to name a few.
 
What makes you smile?
KL: Kyle Beltran
KB: So many things… Good books, movies, music, plays, television. Meditation. Friends and family. My Blue Ridge castmates. Kristolyn Lloyd! People fighting for democracy.

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Inspiration

TW: From STOMP to Star Wars, Ahmed Best Opens Up About Suicide

Drew Shade

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Ahmed Best shares a story that discusses the effects of being bullied and harassed as a Black actor. He talks in detail about the racially motivated criticism from Star Wars fans about his portrayal of Jar Jar Binks that brought him to almost ending his life. Trigger Warning! This video discusses suicide, and it will bring you to be full of tears.

We all play a part in suicide prevention. If you are someone you know has suicidal thoughts or needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-8255 Available 24 hours every day.

Thank you for sharing your story, Ahmed. You’ve just saved more lives than you know.

“We talk a lot about things going viral and usually when things go viral it’s something negative. I didn’t feel like what I posted went viral. I felt like it went communal”

SoulPancake Presents That Moment You Open Up About Suicide
“Our mission is to open hearts and minds through smart and hopeful content that uplifts, inspires, and helps us all figure out what it means to be human.”

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