Connect with us

Inspiration

Making Space for Brown Girls: Dominique Morisseau

Jazmine Harper-Davis

Published

on

If I asked you right now to name five black female playwrights, could you do it? And no, Lorraine Hansberry doesn’t count. If your answer to this was no, we have a serious problem. Now, it’s not entirely your fault as I often find myself struggling to come up with names off the top of my head. Recalling my days in theatre history classes in college, I could name plays written by Euripides and Shakespeare or Neil Simon and Nora Ephron, but as I sat there as the only black woman in that class, I couldn’t help but feel as though something was missing. Where’s my history?

DominiqueMorisseau-HeadshotFrom that moment forward I felt I owed it to myself, and the many black female playwrights out there to find as much content as I could. Insert Dominique Morisseau, a Detroit native making a name for herself all across New York City and beyond.

Her playwriting credits include Detroit ’67 (Public Theater; Classical Theatre of Harlem/NBT; Northlight Theatre), Sunset Baby (Labyrinth Theater Co – NYC; Gate Theater- London), and Follow Me To Nellie’s (O’Neill; Premiere Stages). As well as having produced other original works with the Hip Hop Theater Festival, Penn State University, American Theatre of Harlem, and The New Group.  Her work has also been published in New York Times bestseller, Chicken Soup for the African American Soul and the Harlem-based literary journal, Signifyin’ Harlem.

Most of her inspiration for her plays is a result of conversations in communities and the people that she is writing about. Where a common process of playwriting is overhearing dialogue on a train or a bus, Morisseau takes it one step further.

“I have to be able to engage with people and have a conversation with them and be able to go into the community to feel like I can truly bring justice to them.”

Once she does that she begins her writing process, which includes lots of color and music.

“Music really lands me in the time period or region. It helps me recapture the dialect and the words that are popular, the isms, the sayings. That process gets me textured in the world I’m writing about,” she tells the American Theatre Wing.

Well that process seems to be working for her, as her play Detroit ’67 earned her the prestigious Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama in 2014. Her play was unanimously voted on by jury members who stated her play “explores an explosive and decisive moment in a great American city. The jury was completely drawn into the world of Detroit ’67, whose compelling characters struggle with racial tension and economic instability. The jury also felt strongly that the play powerfully exemplifies the goals of the Kennedy Prize. Detroit ’67 is a work grounded in historical understanding that also comments meaningfully on the pressing issues of our day.”

Detroit ’67 had its world premiere at The Public Theater in 2013 and was presented in association with the Classical Theater of Harlem and the National Black Theater.

The Public Theater characterized it as the following:

It’s 1967 in Detroit and Motown music gets the party started. Chelle and her brother Lank transform their basement into an after-hours joint to make ends meet. But when a mysterious woman winds her way into their lives, the siblings clash over much more than family business. As their pent-up feelings erupt, so does their city, and the flames of the ’67 Detroit riots engulf them all.

The play is the first of a 3-play cycle on her hometown Detroit, entitled The Detroit Projects, which is still in development.

Morisseau, who is an alumni of the Public Theater Emerging Writer’s Group, the Women’s Project Playwrights Lab, and Lark Playwrights’ Workshop, has an extensive list honors to her name including; a Jane Chambers Playwriting Award honoree, a two-time NAACP Image Award recipient, a runner-up for the Princess Grace Award, a recipient of the Elizabeth George commission from South Coast Rep, a commendation honoree for the Primus Prize by the American Theatre Critics Association, winner of the Barrie and Bernice Stavis Playwriting Award, the Weissberger Award for Playwriting, the U of M – Detroit Center Emerging Leader Award, a Lark/PoNY (Playwrights of New York) Fellow. With awards like that, it would be hard to ignore her. In an interview with the American Theatre Wing she expressed what it meant to be a woman of color working in theatre.

“I’m a woman of color, a black woman playwright. I’m a part of a marginalized class in theatre right now, we are still working to make space for ourselves, to be seen on stage, and produced on stage. That means I have to get in conversation with theaters often and advocate for my work and advocate for a new audience. So that what’s in theaters right now, is not the only audience that has to exist. So that, theatre audiences can start becoming more diverse just like the writers who are writing for theatre – which I’m apart of. So, it’s about making space for everyone’s voice to be heard.”

Well Ms. Morisseau, I hear you loud and clear and I can’t wait for Dominique’s upcoming projects. Which include the world premiere of Paradise Blue, the second installment of her 3-play cycle, The Detroit Projects. The play will be premiered at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, directed by Tony Award-winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson and starring Tony Award-nominee De’Adre Aziza, Golden Globe-nominee Blair Underwood, and Andre Holland. The play runs from July 22 till August 2. Tickets can be purchased on the Williamstown Theatre Festival website, here.

Blue (Underwood), a gifted trumpeter, contemplates selling his once-vibrant jazz club in Detroit’s Blackbottom neighborhood to shake free the demons of his past and better his life. But where does that leave his devoted Pumpkin, who has dreams of her own? And what does it mean for the club’s resident bebop band? When a mysterious woman with a walk that drives men mad (Aziza) comes to town with her own plans, everyone’s world is turned upside down. This dynamic and musically-infused drama shines light on the challenges of building a better future on the foundation of what our predecessors have left us.

Also in the works, as recently published by Broadway Black, Morisseau is guest curator for The New Black Festival, which just commissioned five black playwrights for UN-TAMED: HAIR BODY ATTITUDE, coming this fall.

2015 is surely to be a year for black female playwrights and I’m glad to be able to witness it. So that when I’m teaching in my performing arts classes in Brooklyn in the fall, my students will not have to feel like I did. They will have a range of black playwrights and artists to draw inspiration from and be inspired by.

It’s clear that she is an artist who believes wholeheartedly in the power and strength of community and diverse storytelling.

Dominique Morisseau, thank you for being Broadway Black.

Features

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

Drew Shade

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Inspiration

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

Drew Shade

Published

on

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.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Facebook

Advertisement

Twitter: @BroadwayBlack

Advertisement

Hot Topics