Ask Nigerian-American playwright, actress and educator Mfoniso Udofia what her first love is and she’ll tell you, to the surprise of many, “singing.” Surprising only because in the last decade, the American Conservatory Theater graduate has become renowned for several of her writing and philanthropic efforts, not her ingenue operatic vocal stylings. She is currently busy with her most recent work Sojourners, which opened Jan 21.
Abasiama came to America with high hopes—for her arranged marriage and for her future—intent on earning a degree and returning to Nigeria. But when her husband is seduced by America, she must choose between the Nigerian and the American dream.
Still, Broadway Black got the chance to sit down with Udofia and discuss why she took a break from singing, how she defines her work, and what exactly is “Nigeria-dar.”
Broadway Black (BB): You’re just like…a master of everything!
Mfoniso Udofia (MU): Oh, my mother is like ‘Be careful Mfoniso, don’t become a jack of all trades and master of none!’ Because I did, I liked to dabble!
BB: What’s the last incredible show you saw?
MU: I just saw The Color Purple and Cynthia Erivo… it’s like my Nigeria-dar went off! She was so good, like incandescent. From this little body came this gorgeous, gorgeous voice. The Color Purple itself, by Alice Walker, the book tore me up. The movie destroyed me. Then watching it… I think I forgot how deep the story was and the type of healing that story demands. Alice Walker is a beast. Reading her canon is good for the Black body.
BB: So did seeing Color Purple inspire you at all [to want to return to acting/singing]?
MU: For a hot HOT second! But I don’t sing like that, and that was a big thing when I was auditioning. I think people want me to sound a very particular way, because of what I look like. So it’s gonna demand a breaking of our gaze which sometimes is easy and sometimes is not.
BB: There’s been a lot of talk about the white gaze over the different productions. What would you say to someone who is trying to work under what we might veil as a “white gaze?”
MU: Having the uncomfortable conversations, in the beginning, is important and right at the start dismantling privilege. I do think that is something that Playwrights Realm was wonderful working with me going, ‘Listen, the play I’m writing right now, the gaze from which I’m writing it is not the gaze that most western theatergoers might understand and I am not interested in changing the internal heartbeat that way’ and I was actually listened to. But, you can’t make an assumption that you are understood. I push from the beginning so that in the middle when I’m pushing it can’t be like ‘Oh, I didn’t know this might be coming one day.’ I’m pretty upfront.
BB: What is unique to you and your storytelling?
MU: I make sound. It’s poetry, really. I may break the form of what feels like spoken word. My father was giving me narratives to read when I was young and I think I started thinking in poetry and it’s leaked into my writing. I love it because it confounds itself. The line will play on six different levels. The way poetry and prose fuse…
BB: If you had to give it a name…?
MU: If I had to give it a name… [You can hear her struggling to create the vocabulary for her art] You’re asking me to create on the spot, you’re watching the creative mist [she laughs]…. It is “true north.” My poetry is the container in Sojourners and is true north in Run Boy Run.
BB: What do you want your audience to take away from Sojourners?
MU: I want them to have critical sight into what the African-Nigerian body actually is. How certain immigrants might have come here to build a life. Especially since now, we’re having really interesting conversations on immigrants and there’s a particular sense of phobia in certain pockets, so to really understand what it’s like. I want audiences to understand that the WAY immigrants come into this country, they’re varied, there might not even be a desire to stay, and that building within the Amerian dream is a particular crisis. I hope this play complicates the idea of the American Dream and makes us understand that when immigrants are coming in they’re coming in with their own dreams and will become a fuel for the American Dream.
Also, I do hope people start to grapple with the African body vis-à-vis the African American body and we start to build language and see where connections fail and where connections can be made between those two communities.
On the set of #Sojourners today with playwright @mfudofia! Tonight the first preview for her stellar new play happens at @playwrightsrealm! This off-Broadway play is a dynamic debut for a playwright who is bound to have many more produced! Can’t wait to share all of what we talked about today. Look for it on BroadwayBlack.com! #BroadwayBlack
Behind-The-Scenes: The Men of Ain’t Too Proud VOGUE Photo shoot
Go behind-the-scenes of the Vogue photo shoot with the men of Ain’t Too Proud.
Leading the cast as The Temptations will be Derrick Baskin as Otis Williams, James Harkness as Paul Williams, Jawan M. Jackson as Melvin Franklin, Jeremy Pope as Eddie Kendricks, and Ephraim Sykes as David Ruffin. The Broadway cast will also feature Esther Antoine, Saint Aubyn, Shawn Bowers, E. Clayton Cornelious, Rodney Earl Jackson Jr., Taylor Symone Jackson, Jahi Kearse, Jarvis B. Manning Jr., Joshua Morgan, Rashidra Scott, Nasia Thomas, Christian Thompson, Curtis Wiley, and Candice Marie Woods.
Ain’t Too Proud is the electrifying new musical that follows The Temptations’ extraordinary journey from the streets of Detroit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Five guys. One dream. And a sound that would make music history. With their signature dance moves and unmistakable harmonies, they rose to the top of the charts creating an amazing 42 Top Ten Hits with 14 reaching number one. The rest is history — how they met, the groundbreaking heights they hit, and how personal and political conflicts threatened to tear the group apart as the United States fell into civil unrest. This thrilling story of brotherhood, family, loyalty, and betrayal is set to the beat of the group’s treasured hits, including “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination,” “Get Ready,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” and so many more.
Ain’t Too Proud will play the Imperial Theatre on February 28th, 2019, with an official Opening Night set for Thursday, March 21, 2019.
Behind The Curtain: Eclipsed Will Air The Historic Broadway Journey On Centric TV
Eclipsed is returning and this time it’s on television. Well, kind of.
According to the press realease:
BET International releases a multi-part documentary series chronicling the ascent and realization of ‘Eclipsed’; a Broadway play all written, directed and acted by women of African descent.
- Danai Gurira (Zimbabwe), playwright
- Liesl Tommy, (South Africa), director
- Lupita Nyong’o (Kenya), actress
- Akosia Busia, (Ghana), actress
- Zainab Jah (Sierra Leone), actress
- Saycon Sengbloh, (Liberia), actress
- Pascale Armand, (Haiti), actress
A winner of nine accolades including a Tony Award, the play tackles the survival stories of five women near the end of the second Liberian civil war. Written by actress, Danai Gurira who was inspired by a New York Times article about Black Diamond, a female freedom fighter and the female peace activists.
Broken into three episodes, each part delves into a central theme; Context, Cultivation, and Community. The series documents the fearless women using art to combat social injustice and give voice to the voiceless. With a strong production team including Stephen Byrd, Alia Jones Harvey and Michaela Angela Davis the documentary uses cinema-verite style to complement the rehearsal/show footage and ancillary interviews.
Ava L. Hall, executive producer and Vice President, Programming & Brand Advancement, BET International commented:
“It was really important to us to capture and to some extent immortalise the extraordinary stories of these women in Liberia and also the women who fought to bring it to fruition on the other side of the Atlantic, in New York on Broadway. This is a tale of how sisterhood, support and humanity travels globally to create a vision which breaks boundaries, sets new standards and while sobering, inspires a generation to find value and strength in their stories.”
This ground breaking play took its place firmly on Broadway and this documentary will take a place firmly in your heart and mind. Celebrating the intersection of Black and women’s history months airing on March 1, 2017 at 8pm EST on Centric
This is not one you’ll want to miss. You’ll even see a guest appearance from a photoshoot Broadway Black did before the Tony Awards. Live tweet with us tonight! @BroadwayBlack