by Adam Thurman, guest blogger
Since J. Holtham covered the recommendations that came during the end of Day 2, that leaves me a bit of room to talk about my favorite part of the weekend, the evening performance where playwrights read excerpts of their work.
The evening began with Jennifer Nelson reading Suzan-Lori Parks "The New Black Math". Parks words reminded the audience that there is no such thing as a "black play". It was the perfect way to start the evening because, one after another, the playwrights demonstrated an incredible range of stories and viewpoints.
I'll highlight three that really stood out to me.
Lydia Diamond read a piece from her yet untitled play. After five minutes of preamble about how she was still working through the play, how unfinished it is, etc. Lydia then proceeded to deliver a stunning ten minutes excerpt of her work.
The untitled play revolves a white neurosurgeon who is actively pursuing a "genius grant" for his research. The only problem is that his research conclusions are just a tiny bit controversial. His research concludes that white people are inherently racist.
The scene Lydia read featured the surgeon and his wife discussing the explosive impact of his work. Two minutes in and I could see the entire scene in my head. When the play is finished, it is going to be incredible.
I had heard of Rha Goddess but had never seen her perform. I was in awe as she used a single prop - a chair - to present the story of a mentally ill drug user, her pain and the fantasy world she escapes to.
Rha broke past the stereotypical addict image to present a fully fleshed out human being. I know people like the woman she portrayed. Maybe you do too. But I rarely get to see the mixture of humanity and despair that I saw during her performance.
And then we went to the Valley.
Yes, Pussy Valley.
Katori Hall's look into the world of pole dancers - call them strippers at your peril - had the entire room laughing out loud. As Katori bounced back and forth between four characters, all with distinct voices and personalities, I could see the vivid world she created.
It's the sort of play that many theatres wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole, not because the piece isn't good, but because they don't have the courage to produce it.
So often when we talk about new plays and why they are, or are not, produced we place the blame on the writers.
The plays aren't good enough, we say.
If you would have been in DC that night you would have realized how ridiculous that statement is.
From the neurosurgeon to the addict to the dancer, writers are creating plays worthy of the stage.
To me the real question is this:
Is the stage worthy of those plays?
Do theatres have the courage and commitment to broaden their range of what a "black" play is?
We shall see.