Thursday, March 9, 2017

Interview With The Playwright

The upcoming production at JACK marks the second time Everday Afroplay will have been mounted. I was hoping that in addition to sharing some of her thoughts on the creation and curation of the text itself, Daaimah Mubashshir would explain the motivations behind several production choices that have been made so far as well as her hopes and new goals for getting a second chance at exploring this territory.

Below you will find our dialogue, my questions in bold, about goals for the production, collaborator choices, working with inherently political material and material dealing with identity, and her creative processes.

First, and I know there is a website devoted to the show itself that answers some of this in detail, could you say a little bit about this production's past life, how that came about, who was involved and why you got started on this project? I had the outrageous opportunity to play with Everyday Afroplay in space with FIVE women directors : Anne Cecelia Haney, Dara Malina, Jolene Noelle, Kat Yen, and Tatiana Pandiani at Bushwick Starr Reading Series - Curators Edition. These directors chose 3-4 plays from Everyday Afroplay then created interpretations of those plays with their own teams (very low tech no lights, built sets or sounds from the board) On July 25th we spent the day tech-ing all 15 ish plays together for one evening. It was a blast because July 25th was the first time I had seen what the group(s) put together.

You've tended toward large production teams with this piece, is there a particular reason for this? There are a million and one ways to produce Everyday Afroplay. The large production team comes out of an interest of “doing something that scares me” and widening my creative circle. I met so many new actors and directors from the Bushwick Starr show. Producing Everyday Afroplay is giving a platform to develop my craft and along the way I have consequently strengthened collaborative relationships.  

Additionally, with a work like Everyday Afroplay that deals explicitly in questions of personal and social identity, and in particular black personal and social identity or at least conceptions of it, how is that reflected in your choice of collaborators? What’s most important to me is who will understand the text, who is brave enough to ask the scary questions and who willing to have fun.

Was the race or ethnicity of the collaborators you've accumulated a central consideration? Yes it was. I subscribe to the line of thought that notions of (american) race are too complex for singular examination- ie blackness or “otherness” is in constant relationship with its counterpart whiteness or “neutrality”  it would be hard to have solely one type of perspective in the conversation without the other and expect to have a rich conversation.  So I fully intended to have a mix of creative voices. I did want to have more people of color especially black voices in director roles. I reached out to good number of black directors whom I thought would be able and interested in working on something like this. All but one were unavailable. This led me to questions about where I “exist” in the theatre landscape. Is this project too experimental/weird for other black folk directors… would working on my project hurt their careers? (YES I fully admit that awful thoughts like that cross my mind) Also there is the economics of self production while still virtually unknown. If a director is upwardly mobile then why spend a ton of time on something too risky. Then I had to snatch myself up and ask “Dexter Downer” to leave my head space and take all their baggage with them (why does depressive self doubt have to be gendered as purely female, I say equal opportunity for all).  Once “Dexter” was gone I had to ask myself what is it about me that had the doubt in the first place. I asked a couple of my playwright friends what their experience was on working on weird plays with black directors. To them it wasn’t an issue. So it is me then. Huh. That feeling of being alone in something is so wonderful. I was all ponies and rainbows. No I wasn’t. I didn’t want dexter back so I decided to embrace the feeling of rejection. Use it. For good. For the project. Where else, right? So now I am writing some text that addresses this to place in the April Show at JACK. Stay tuned.

What is your goal for returning to the piece? To explore the work further. We had such a great time at Bushwick Starr, I knew I wanted to make it bigger - take it to the next level.  

Is there something specifically you wish to hit upon, emphasize, or revisit that you felt did not manifest in the first production?  I see Everyday Afroplay having the potential of multiple ways of existing in space. What’s  exciting about the JACK show is that we have more time for everyone to work off each other collaboratively. Towards the end of the rehearsal period we plan to build the show as a group versus putting the plays together “festival style”.

What has the process of creating each discrete Afroplay been like? Did you develop a standardized writing process over the life of the project or has it been all ad hoc and based on flurries of inspiration?
Usually an “afroplay” will come to me while I’m sleeping; an image will stay with me while walking down the street; or maybe the tone of someone’s voice as they order a cup of coffee. Allowing myself the freedom to shape a play from whatever is inspiring me at the moment felt more honest than being more prescriptive. .

What would be some of the better or worse things spectators might take away from the piece? This is harder to quantify at this point because there are so many unknown variables. I will be able to answer these questions closer to show dates.

What inspires you to write, anything and works like this?
Writing is vital for my psyche so I have to… it’s my version of prozac. Reading fiction and visual art are my main muses. Recently I got to experience the Kerry James Marshall show at The Met Bruer. The show is long gone but I am still consumed.

There is significant variance in the themes and forms of the mini plays that constitute Everyday Afroplay. Is there any formal construct or theme or idea that couldn't be or form the basis of an Afroplay? Or conversely, is there any issue or form or theme that you could not address through an Afroplay? Basically, is there anything that by its nature wouldn't belong in this project?
Yes there are things that don’t fit in this schema but I need more time to wrap my head around explaining this.

Who did you write this for? Initially for myself but now it has definitely grown from that. In the act of writing these plays I feel like I am carving out a space in the universe. It’s comforting in a way. I feel like I’m building my own artistic foundation one play at a time.