12.06.18

Jeremy O. Harris Talks New York Theatre Workshop's "Slave Play"

The old South lives on at the MacGregor Plantation—in the breeze, in the cotton fields...and in the crack of the whip. It’s an antebellum fever-dream, where fear and desire entwine in the looming shadow of the Master’s House. Jim trembles as Kaneisha handles melons in the cottage, Alana perspires in time with the plucking of Phillip’s fiddle in the boudoir, while Dustin cowers at the heel of Gary’s big, black boot in the barn. Nothing is as it seems, and yet everything is as it seems. In the provocative and explosive new play, "Slave Play," Jeremy O. Harris rips apart history to shed new light on the nexus of race, gender and sexuality in 21st century America.

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** As Captioned Live **

>>> HEY, EVERYONE. WELCOME BACK TO BUILD. I'M YOUR HOST BRITTANY JONES-COOPER. NOTHING IS AS IT SEEMS AND EVERYTHING IS AS IT SEEMS IN "SLAVE PLAY.” IN THE PLAY WRITER JEREMY O. HARRIS RIPS APART HISTORY TO SHED NEW LIGHT ON THE NEXUS OF RACE, GENDER AND SEXUALITY IN 21st CENTURY AMERICA. CRITICS ARE RAVING ABOUT THIS PROVOCATIVE AND THOUGHT PROVOKING PLAY AND IT IS UNLIKE ANY THEATER EXPERIENCE I EVER HAD. PLEASE HELP ME WELCOME JEREMY O. HARRIS. [ APPLAUSE ] . HOW ARE YOU DOING TODAY?

>> I'M GOOD.

>> GOOD.

>> A LOT OF KIND WORDS ABOUT A REALLY SCARY PLAY.

>> IT IS A SCARY PLAY, BUT IT IS ALSO, LIKE SO MANY THINGS AND IN THE PLAY THERE IS A CHARACTER WHO HAS SOMETIMES AN ISSUE FINDING HER WORDS AND THAT'S ALMOST HOW I FEEL ABOUT IT BECAUSE AFTER WATCHING IT, I WAS THINKING AND FEELING SO MANY THINGS AND I THINK THAT'S SO RARE. SO WHAT YOU'VE DONE IS REALLY, REALLY SPECIAL. HOW DOES IT FEEL THAT SOMETHING YOU CREATED AND THAT IS SO PERSONAL TO SHARE IT WITH PEOPLE?

>> I MEAN, IT FEELS -- I TWEETED A THING ABOUT THIS YESTERDAY, IT IS LIKE IT IS NOW WE DID IT AT SCHOOL, LAST YEAR, AND THAT --

>> YALE.

>> YALE. THAT WAS A GIFT UNTO ITSELF. I SAW THE IMPACT OF THE PLAY IN OUR SMALL COMMUNITY. BUT, LIKE, WHEN ALL YOUR FRIENDS ARE TALKING ABOUT IT, THAT'S ONE THING. NOW THERE IS 200 PEOPLE EVERY NIGHT WHO GET TO SEE IT AND ARE TAKING THE CONVERSATIONS AND I WANTED TO START A CONVERSATION WITH THIS PLAY, BUT NOW I FEEL LIKE -- I WANT TO BE IN ALL OF THE CONVERSATIONS AND I CAN'T. IT IS LIKE YOU'RE IN A GROUP PROJECT AND TEACHER SPLITS YOU GUYS ALL UP AND YOU'RE, LIKE, I WANT TO BE IN THAT GROUP OVER THERE AND HEAR WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY.

>> I WANT YOU TO DESCRIBE, FOR ME, VERY MUCH EXPLORED HOW OUR VERY COMPLEX RACIAL HISTORY AS A COUNTRY IS SO MUCH A PART OF OUR CURRENT TRAUMA FOR SO MANY PEOPLE. THAT'S WHAT I TOOK AWAY FROM IT. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE PLAY TO PEOPLE?

>> YEAH, I THINK THAT -- I THINK I WAS SAYING TO -- LIKE I'VE BEEN SAYING ABOUT THIS PLAY SINCE I STARTED WRITING IT, THERE IS A SCAR IN OUR COUNTRY THAT WE PRETEND DOESN'T EXIST, YOU KNOW. AND WE'RE, LIKE, WE THINK WE CAN IGNORE THIS MAJOR WOUND THAT IS THERE. IF WE IGNORE A WOUND OR A SCAR FOR TOO LONG, KEEP PUTTING MAKEUP ON IT, YOU BECOME, LIKE, DISASSOCIATED FROM YOURSELF. SO I WANTED TO ASSOCIATE US BACK WITH OURSELVES AND HAVE A DIFFERENT CONVERSATION ABOUT THIS PAST WE CARRY WITH US ALL THE TIME.

>> SOMEHOW YOU'RE ABLE TO DO IT WITH SO MUCH HUMOR. WHAT WAS THAT DECISION? BECAUSE YOU'RE TACKLING SOME VERY HEAVY THEMES AND TOPICS, BUT AT LEAST FOR THE FIRST HALF YOU'RE LAUGHING A LOT.

>> YEAH.

>> WHAT WAS YOUR THOUGHT PROCESS BEHIND THAT?

>> I THINK -- SARAH CANE IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE WRITERS. BUT HER HUMOR IS SO ABJECT THAT AMERICANS ARE, LIKE, WHAT IS THIS? WHAT SHE WAS WORKING WITH WAS LOOKING AT GENDER AND, LIKE, MENTAL ILLNESS AND WANTING US TO SEE, LIKE, THE SORT OF PUTRID, LIKE, NATURE OF, LIKE, YOU KNOW, WHAT WE HAVE DONE WITH THAT, LIKE, OVER A MILLENNIA. SHE PUNCHED YOU IN THE FACE WITH IT. I DON'T THINK AMERICANS JUST LIKE TO BE PUNCHED IN THE FACE. YOU TO GIVE SOME HONEY TO AMERICANS AND THEN PUNCH THEM IN THE FACE. I THINK I'M DOING THAT A LITTLE BIT WITH THE PLAY. HERE IS A LOT OF HONEY, AND, LIKE, IT OPENS YOU UP, RIGHT. LIKE IT OPENS YOU UP TO A DIFFERENT IDEA WHEN YOU'RE LAUGHING. AND THEN YOU CAN -- IT IS LIKE RICHARD PRYOR OR ALL THESE AMAZING COMEDIANS WHO HAVE A SOCIAL LENS INSIDE OF THEIR COMEDY. I THINK "SLAVE PLAY" ALLOWS PEOPLE TO HEAR THE THING THAT IS BEING SAID, BECAUSE THEY'RE LAUGHING FOR SO LONG.

>> AND THEY HAVE TO THINK ABOUT WHY IS THAT FUNNY, WHY AM I LAUGHING, IS THAT OKAY, I'M UNCOMFORTABLE, SHOULD I BE UNCOMFORTABLE? LIKE THERE IS SO MANY EMOTIONS YOU GO ON IN THIS PLAY. WE TALKED ABOUT THE THEMES. THE FIRST THING I WANT TO EXPLORE WITH YOU IS THE IDEA OF WHITENESS.

>> YES.

>> AND IN THESE CONVERSATIONS WITH MY FRIENDS ALL THE TIME, DEFINING WHAT IS WHITENESS, WHAT IS PRIVILEGE. YOU'RE ABLE TO REALLY, I THINK, TACKLE IT IN AN INTERESTING WAY WITH YOUR CHARACTERS. WHY WAS THAT SOMETHING YOU WANTED TO HELP DEFINE AND CLARIFY FOR PEOPLE?

>> IT IS FUNNY. AFTER THE YALE PRODUCTION, WE GOT REHEARSAL REPORTS, AND SOME MAN WALKED OUT OF THE THEATER WITH HIS WIFE, WHAT IS WHITENESS? AND I WAS, LIKE, HE WAS REALLY ANGRY. AND I THINK THAT'S REALLY GREAT BECAUSE SOMETHING WE DON'T CONFRONT IS THAT, LIKE, OUR CONSTRUCTION IS, LIKE, BLACK BODIES IN AMERICA. YOUR CONSTRUCTION IS A WOMAN. MY CONSTRUCTION IS A MAN. THEY'RE ALL CONSTRUCTIONS. THESE ARE MADE BY BOTH HISTORY, BY NARRATIVE, BY ALL THE DIFFERENT THINGS AND THE ONE SPACE WE HAVEN'T INVESTIGATED DEEPLY IS, LIKE, WHAT IS THE CONSTRUCT OF WHITENESS. IN RELATIONSHIP TO THE CONSTRUCT OF BLACKNESS, ASIANNESS, ALL THESE DIFFERENT IDENTITY GROUPS. I THINK I WANTED TO PUT A MIRROR UP TO THAT, LIKE, ACTIVELY. SO ESPECIALLY IN A THEATER WHERE THE MAJORITY OF THE AUDIENCE IS WEALTHY AND WHITE. I WANT TO LOOK AT THEMSELVES, WHAT CONSTRUCTED ME AND WHAT PUT ME HERE.

>> AND REALLY HAVING TO KNOW THAT EVEN IF THEY DO FEEL OTHER, THAT THEY STILL HAVE THAT PRIVILEGE THAT OTHER PEOPLE DON'T HAVE AND DON'T EVEN HAVE ACCESS TO. WHICH THE WAY YOU FRAMED THAT WAS JUST GENIUS, HONESTLY. ANOTHER THING YOU REALLY LOOK AND EXPLORE IS COLORISM. AND WHEN SOMEBODY IS BIRACIAL, THEIR IDENTITY AND HOW CONFLICTING THAT CAN BE. THAT'S SOMETHING WE LIKE TO SKATE OVER AND PRETEND IT IS NOT A PROBLEM.

>> YEAH. I SAID THAT IN ONE OF THE STAGE DIRECTIONS FOR THE PLAY, IT SAYS, LIKE, "SLAVE PLAY" COULD BE A COLOR PLAY. IT IS A SHADE PLAY. WE'RE LOOKING AT A LOT OF DIFFERENT SHADES. WHAT HAPPENS IF GARY ISN'T -- IF GARY ISN'T IN THE WORDS OF TONY MORRISON BLUE/BLACK BUT IS BLACK/BLACK. HOW DOES THAT CHANGE THE ROOM OR THE LANDSCAPE OF THE PLAY? AND OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE CHARACTER. AND I THINK, LIKE, YOU KNOW, WITH RACISM, LIKE, THE THING THAT IS REALLY IMPORTANT IS THAT, LIKE, MOST OF COLONIALIZATION WAS BUILT ON THE BACK OF ANTI-BLACKNESS. THESE -- THE DARKER YOU ARE IN ANY COUNTRY BASICALLY THAT YOU VISIT, LIKE, THE WORSE OFF YOUR LIFE IS GOING TO BE. YOU GO TO INDIA, THE DARKEST PEOPLE THERE ARE USUALLY TREATED THE WORST. YOU GO TO --

>> AMERICA.

>> EVERYWHERE YOU GO. I THINK, LIKE, YOU CAN'T THINK ABOUT RACE IN THE PERILS OF COLONIALISM AND THE TRAUMAS OF COLONIALISM WITHOUT LOOKING AT COLORISM.

>> AND THE PERSON AND HOW THEY THEN DEFINE THEMSELVES AND HOW SOCIETY DEFINES THEM AND A LOT OF THE TIMES THAT'S VERY DIFFERENT, A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE FOR THEM. YOU TAKE A SERIOUS LOOK AT ANXIETY AND MENTAL HEALTH IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY. AND YOU DO IT IN THIS PROFOUND WAY WHERE SHE'S NOT NECESSARILY ABLE TO VERBALIZE IT, BUT SHE KNOWS SHE HAS ANXIETIES AND SHE DOESN'T EVEN REALLY UNDERSTAND WHERE THEY COME FROM IN THAT ROOT. IS THAT SOMETHING YOU HAVE A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH?

>> YEAH. I THINK THAT -- BEING BLACK IN AMERICA, LIKE, I THINK EVERYONE IS LIKE CONSTANTLY ANXIOUS. AND CONSTANTLY FEELS CRAZY, RIGHT? WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THAT? WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE FACT, THAT, LIKE, GROWING UP, WHERE I GREW UP AND, LIKE, A SMALL TOWN IN VIRGINIA, IN A -- FAMILY WHO HAD BEEN, LIKE, BORN FROM, LIKE, SLAVES AND SHARECROPPERS AND WORKED IN FACTORIES AND ALSO PEOPLE WHO WERE, LIKE, WE DON'T HAVE TO GET MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELING AT ALL, WE'RE FINE, THERE ARE TRAUMAS FROM YOUR DAYS, FROM YOUR ENTIRE LIVES. AND THEN I WAS A KID WHO, LIKE, AT 12 GOT TOLD I NEEDED TO SEE A THERAPIST AND THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING. RIGHT. MY MOM WAS, LIKE, MAYBE YOU SHOULD. AND I --

>> THAT'S REALLY RARE AND VERY SPECIAL.

>> REALLY RARE. AND NOW THAT WE'RE HAVING AMAZING -- NOW THAT, LIKE, INSECURE TALKS ABOUT BLACK MENTAL HEALTH AND EVERY RAPPER IS, LIKE, I'M IN THERAPY NOW. IT IS, LIKE, THIS IS GOOD. IT IS PART OF A CONVERSATION THAT HASN'T BEEN HAD IN THE GREATER -- JUST STARTING TO BE HAD IN THE GREATER CULTURAL CONVERSATION ABOUT BLACKNESS AND THE TRAUMAS THAT ARE IN THE MICRO OF THE MIND THAT I THINK ARE REALLY IMPORTANT.

>> TALK ABOUT THE MICRO OF THE MIND AND THOSE ARE THE PARTS THAT MAKE YOU SHIFT IN YOUR SEAT A LITTLE BIT DURING THE PLAY. EVEN WHEN THE CHARACTERS ARE DEALING WITH THEIR DESIRES, AND WHAT THEY CRAVE AND WHAT THEY WANT, AND IT FEELS REALLY TABOO TO EVEN ADMIT IT AND THEY HAVE A HARD TIME ADMITTING IT AND IT IS LIKE THIS CONSTANT CONFLICT INTERNAL AND SO INTERESTING TO WATCH.

>> MY GOD.

>> YEAH, SO --

>> DO YOU NOT FEEL LIKE IT IS INTERESTING TO WATCH COUPLES IN GENERAL. I THINK COUPLES IN GENERAL ARE THE MOST -- I LIKE WATCHING BODIES TOGETHER, EVEN LOOKING DOWN AT YOU GUYS AND SEEING THE DIFFERENT BODY LANGUAGE THAT YOU ARE ALL HAVING WITH THE PEOPLE NEXT TO YOU, IT IS TEARING ME UP A LITTLE BIT. GETS ME REALLY EXCITED.

>> WHEN THERE ARE INTERRACIAL COUPLES AND YOU ADD THE DIFFERENT LAYERS IN THERE, IT IS INTERESTING. YOU USE SEX AS A WAY TO EXPLORE THE DYNAMICS AND THE POWER DYNAMICS, WHICH IS A VERY SEXY PLAY. IT HAS GOT A LITTLE R-RATING ON IT, RIGHT?

>> YES.

>> SO THERE IS MOMENTS WHERE YOU PUSH AND I'M, LIKE, HOW FAR IS HE GOING TO GO AND YOU ALWAYS NAILED IT. YOU DIDN'T GO TOO FAR. YOU KEPT IT WHERE IT WASN'T OVERSEXUALIZED, LIKE THE PERFECT -- YOU WERE EXPLAINING A DYNAMIC. HOW DID YOU KNOW HOW FAR TO PUSH IT?

>> I THINK IT IS JUST -- I THINK WHEN YOU WATCHED AS MANY MOVIES AS I WATCHED, YOU -- OR READ AS MANY PLAYS, IT IS NATURAL. THE FIRST ACT I WROTE IN OVER A WEEKEND, AND I WROTE IT IN, LIKE, BASICALLY TWO SITTINGS. AND I STOPPED -- AND I HAVEN'T TOUCHED IT REALLY SINCE THEN. AND IT HAS BEEN EXACTLY THAT. I THINK THAT YOU HAVE AN INTERNAL CLOCK OF HOW MUCH YOU WANT CERTAIN THINGS TO HAPPEN OR HOW LONG CERTAIN THINGS ARE GOING TO GO ON AND THEN, LIKE, ACT TWO I WROTE OVER THE BREADTH OF A WEEK. I KNEW HOW LONG I WANTED TO SIT IN THIS WORLD. I THINK IT IS, LIKE, I FEEL REALLY LUCKY THAT A PLAY, LIKE, IS TRYING AS MANY THINGS AS IT IS TRYING AND WORKING IN SO MANY DIFFERENT PARADIGMS IS, LIKE, CONNECTING TO PEOPLE. ALL THE THINGS IT IS TRYING AND ALL THE PARADIGMS IT IS SHIFTING AND MOVING THROUGH -- WITHIN ARE PARADIGMS THAT EXCITE ME. I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE EXCITING TO ME AND MY FRIEND MAXWELL WHO I TOLD THE ENTIRE IDEA OF THE PLAY TO AND PEOPLE ARE LIKING IT. THAT'S CRAZY.

>> HOW PERSONAL IS IT BECAUSE I READ SOMETHING YOU WROTE FROM VICE ABOUT COLONIZING YOUR DESIRE AND THEN YOUR -- THE CHARACTER GARY IS KIND OF DEALING WITH THOSE SAME CONFLICTS. IS THERE A LOT OF YOU IN GARY IN THIS PLAY?

>> I DON'T KNOW GARY IS THE CHARACTER I FEEL THE MOST CONNECTED TO. ONE THING I TOLD OUR ACTORS IS, LIKE, LISTEN, THIS PLAY IS FUNNY, BUT I'M NOT MAKING FUN OF ANYONE IN IT. I AM -- I HAVE BEEN EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER IN THIS PLAY, INCLUDING ALANA, I'M SUCH A GEMINI THAT THERE ARE EIGHT PEOPLE IN MY HEAD TALKING ALL THE TIME. AND SO ONE THING -- ONE OF THE THINGS ABOUT THE PLAY IS IT IS A REPRESENTATION OF LIKE MY ENTIRE LIFE LIVED IN AMERICA, RIGHT, MY ENTIRE LIFE GROWING UP IN VIRGINIA. IN A LOT OF WAYS EVEN THOUGH I'M INCREDIBLY VERBOSE, I FEEL A LOT OF CONNECTION TO KANEISHA, EVEN THOUGH I AM -- I VERY MUCH KNOW WHAT MY RACIAL IDENTITY IS, I FEEL CONNECTED TO PHILLIP BECAUSE I GREW UP IN A VERY SPECIFIC SET OF CIRCUMSTANCES. SO, BUT, YEAH, I THINK THE -- ONE THING I TALK A LOT ABOUT IS THAT, LIKE, I FELT LIKE KIDNAPPED BY WHITE SUPREMACY. AT A VERY YOUNG AGE. I WAS PUT INTO A VERY ELITE PRIVATE SCHOOL IN VIRGINIA, WHICH IN -- SHOUTOUT TO CANDICE WILLIAMS, SHE'S COMING TO THE PLAY TONIGHT, A PHENOMENAL DRAMA TEACHER AND TAUGHT ME A LOT. I WAS ONE OF THE ONLY BLACK KIDS AT THE SCHOOL. AND BEFORE THAT IN PUBLIC SCHOOL, I WAS THE ONLY BLACK KID IN THE GIFTED AND TALENTED CLASSES. SO I WAS SOCIALIZED TO, LIKE, SEE MY WORTH IN MY RELATIONALITY TO WHITE PEOPLE. I THINK A LOT OF BLACK PEOPLE, BLACK PEOPLE WHO END UP IN SCHOOLS LIKE YALE OR SPACES LIKE THIS HAVE THAT SAME RELATIONSHIP. AND I THINK THAT OVER THE LAST FIVE YEARS I'VE BEEN TRYING TO UNPACK WHAT THAT MEANS AND HOW I CAN GET BACK TO A DIFFERENT VERSION OF MYSELF OR PROCESS WHAT THAT LIFE LIVED HAS BEEN.

>> AND BEING A -- IS THAT HOW YOU CAN UNPACK IT, IS BY WRITING IT?

>> BECAUSE THE IDENTITIES OF BLACK, QUEER AND SOUTHERN AND POOR DON'T EXIST, AS READILY AVAILABLE AS YOU WOULD LIKE THEM TO, TO EMBODY, I HAD TO START WRITING THOSE THINGS SO I COULD EMBODY THEM AND CREATE SPACE FOR OTHER PEOPLE TO EMBODY THOSE THINGS TOO.

>> WHEN DID YOU START WRITING? WHEN DID YOU WRITE YOUR FIRST PLAY?

>> I WROTE MY FIRST PLAY BY ACCIDENT IN COLLEGE. THEY NEEDED AN ACTOR. AND I HATED EVERYTHING THAT I WAS LOOKING AT, SO I JUST WROTE A PLAY. AND I DID IT AND THEY'RE, LIKE, THIS PLAY IS SO GREAT, WHERE IS IT FROM? I'M, LIKE, I WROTE IT, I GOT IN TROUBLE FOR WRITING A PLAY. YOU'RE NOT ALLOWED TO DO THAT. I WAS CUT FROM DRAMA SCHOOL, WE THINK YOU MIGHT BE A WRITER. YOU'RE LYING. I'M NOT A WRITER. BUT THAT PLAY WAS PUBLISHED IN THE DePAUL, LIKE, LITERARY MAGAZINE, WHICH WAS REALLY COOL.

>> DID YOU NOT FEEL CONNECTED BECAUSE YOU FELT LIKE THOSE VOICES DIDN'T REFLECT YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE? OR WHAT WAS --

>> IT WASN'T THAT. JUST I WAS VERY -- I WANTED TO STAND OUT IN SCHOOL. AND, LIKE, I LIKE STANDING OUT. I WANTED TO STAND OUT AND I KNEW I WOULDN'T BE ABLE TO PUT MY BEST FOOT FORWARD IF I WAS DOING AN AUGUST WILSON SCENE. THERE IS MAYBE, LIKE, THREE AUGUST WILSON CHARACTERS I COULD PLAY. BUT THEY GENERALLY WEREN'T THE THING AND, LIKE, I COULD MAYBE HAVE DONE THE AFRICAN GUY, I CAN'T REMEMBER HIS NAME, IN RAISIN IN THE SUN, BUT HIS CHARACTER -- LIKE, I'M BAD AT ACCENTS. I DIDN'T WANT TO DO THAT. AND THEN I KNEW IF A BROUGHT IN A KENNEDY PLAY, MY TEACHER WOULD BE LIKE WHAT. I THOUGHT I'LL BRING IN A PLAY THAT IS REALISM BUT LIKE FOR ME, YOU KNOW, IT IS GOING TO BE, LIKE, A 19-YEAR-OLD, BLACK, GAY GUY AND GOING TO DO THIS AND THEY WEREN'T FEELING IT. THEY WERE FEELING IT UNTIL I TOLD THEM I WROTE IT AND THEN THEY WEREN'T FEELING IT.

>> WHO ARE YOUR LITERARY INSPIRATIONS?

>> SO MANY. I THINK ALICIA HARRIS IS AMAZING. BRANDON JACOB JENKINS, SUCH A FAN OF TEDDY KUSHNER. WE'RE GETTING TO THAT SPACE WHERE PEOPLE START WRITING ABOUT THIS PLAY AND THING I HAVE A LOT OF ANXIETY ABOUT IS HOW PEOPLE FRAME BLACK WRITERS, FEMALE WRITERS, LIKE, YOU KNOW, LIKE THE LINEAGE OF ANNIE BAKER SHOULDN'T JUST BE, LIKE, EVERY WHITE WOMAN WHO HAS WRITTEN A PLAY BEFORE HER, RIGHT. I HOPE THE LINEAGE OF ME IS NOT EVERY BLACK PERSON WHO HAS WRITTEN A PLAY BEFORE ME. SO MANY BLACK WRITERS HAVE INSPIRED ME. TEDDY KUSHNER AND DOUG WRIGHT, ALL THESE PEOPLE WHO HAVE DONE CRAZY DISPARATE WORKS THAT, LIKE, I FOUND ALONG THE WAY. PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON IS, LIKE, MOST OF MY MONOLOGUES ARE INSPIRED BY THE FACT I WATCHED MAGNOLIA 85 TIMES IN HIGH SCHOOL. JUST LIKE MAGNOLIA AND THE DREAMERS. THAT EXPLAINS A LOT OF THE PLAY.

>> I LOVE THAT YOUR INSPIRATION COMES FROM SO MANY DIFFERENT PLACES. YOU CAN FEEL THAT, LIKE THE RESEARCH YOU'VE DONE AND HOW WELL READ YOU ARE, I FEEL LIKE WHEN YOU WATCH AND READ WHAT YOU'VE DONE. I CAN FEEL THAT. ON THAT NOTE, YOU RECEIVED THE 2018 KENNEDY CENTER ROSA PARKS PLAY WRITING AWARD AND THE LORRAINE HANSBERRY AWARD. THOSE ARE HUGE HONORS. HOW DOES THAT FEEL, BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, YOU HAD VERY HUMBLE BEGINNINGS AND REACHED THIS LEVEL WHERE YOUR ART IS BEING RECOGNIZED.

>> YEAH, IT FEELS CRAZY. I STILL DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO ABOUT THAT. ALSO, LIKE, IT WAS SUCH AN AFFIRMING MOMENT BECAUSE TWO PHENOMENAL WOMEN, BLACK WOMEN, LIKE WERE THE JUDGES FOR THOSE AWARDS, KRISTEN GREENWICH AND -- I CAN'T REMEMBER THE NAME OF THE OTHER WOMAN WHO GAVE IT, BUT TO WIN THIS -- TO WIN THESE AWARDS FOR A WORK THAT, LIKE, I THINK HAS A LOT OF ELEMENTS THAT, LIKE, ONE OF THE MAIN CHARACTERS IN MY PLAY IS A BLACK WOMAN AND I WAS RAISED BY A BLACK WOMAN AND MY SISTER IS A BLACK WOMAN AND MY -- AND, LIKE, THE PEOPLE THAT ARE CLOSE TO ME, I GREW UP IN A WEIRD COVEN OF BLACK WOMEN. I THINK IT IS IMPORTANT THAT PEOPLE ARE, LIKE, CHALLENGING THE IDEA -- THE NOTION THAT MEN ARE WRITING CHARACTERS THAT ARE OUTSIDE OF THEIR IDENTITY GROUPS. SO TO BE AFFIRMED THAT THIS PLAY IS WORKING AND A PARADIGM THAT IS, LIKE IN THE LINEAGE OF ROSA PARKS OR LORRAINE HANSBERRY WAS, LIKE, FUCK, YES, THAT'S COOL. AND IT IS STILL -- STILL A LOT OF WORK AND STILL A LOT OF QUESTIONS THAT, LIKE, I WANT TO ANSWER. SO, LIKE, I ALSO DON'T WANT, LIKE, ME WINNING THESE AWARDS TO FEEL LIKE A STOP FROM, LIKE, DOING THE WORK OF, LIKE, DEEP INVESTIGATION, BOTH MY OWN PSYCHE AND THE COLLECTIVE PSYCHE, THAT, LIKE, I ENGAGE WITH WITHIN A THEATER.

>> I FELT LIKE WHEN I LEFT I HAD HOMEWORK TO DO. I FELT I NEEDED TO READ SOME MORE AND JOURNAL SOME MORE AND HAVE CONVERSATIONS. AND YOU ACTUALLY HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY FOR PEOPLE TO HELP UNPACK THINGS AFTER THE SHOW. THERE WAS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR PEOPLE TO TALK WITH CAST AND PROCESS SOME OF IT. WHY WAS THAT IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO HAVE AS PART OF THE PLAY?

>> WHEN EMMA WEINSTEIN, WHO DIRECTED AT YALE, BROUGHT HER MOM TO THE PLAY, HER MOM IS, LIKE, THIS PLAY IS AMAZING. HER MOM IS AN AMAZING PLAYWRIGHT AS WELL, SHE'S, LIKE, BUT MY ONE CRITICISM YOU DON'T HAVE ANY PLACE FOR US TO TALK. SHE IS LIKE THERE IS A DEMAND FOR TALKBACK EVERY NIGHT AFTER THE SHOW. I WAS, LIKE, I CAN'T DO THAT. MY BODY WOULDN'T BE ABLE TO HANDLE THAT. WE'RE THROWING OUT IDEAS, I'M LIKE WE NEED TO CREATE A FACILITY OR SALON WHERE THERE IS DRINKS AND PEOPLE CAN HANG OUT AND A FREE COCKTAIL AND THEY CAN TALK. THE THEATER IS, LIKE, WE CAN'T AFFORD THAT. WE CAN BARELY AFFORD A SET. I WAS, LIKE, OKAY, COOL, EXACTLY. SO THEN THEY WERE, LIKE, BUT WE WILL, LIKE, REACH OUT TO SOME PEOPLE TO FACILITATE. MY WORRY WAS THAT IF IT WAS DONE IN A CERTAIN LIGHT IT WOULD MAKE IT FEEL LIKE WE WERE SAYING, LIKE, YOU NEED TO, LIKE, THIS PLACE. I UNDERSTAND WHAT I'M MAKING, I UNDERSTAND WHAT I'M DOING, BUT IT IS STILL A PLAY THAT I THINK IS RIGOROUS ENOUGH THAT IT IS NOT JUST PROVOCATION FOR PROVOCATION'S SAKE. I DIDN'T WANT IT TO BE -- FEEL LIKE A SPACE LIKE THAT. WHAT IT TURNED INTO IS A REALLY LOVELY PLACE WHERE PEOPLE ARE TALKING AND, LIKE, EXCITED TO TALK AND THEY'RE, LIKE, CAN I GET A READING LIST AND I'M, LIKE, PEOPLE ARE GOING TO READ, LIKE, SADEA HARPEN AND JENNIFER NASH. THAT'S REALLY COOL.

>> LISTEN TO WORK, WORK, WORK, JUST LIKE ON REPEAT, JUST TRYING TO PROCESS WHAT THAT MEANT IN THE PLAY WHICH IS WHAT I DID AFTERWARDS. MUSIC, YOU USE MODERN MUSIC IN THE PLAY AT TIMES THAT MAYBE DON'T SEEM MODERN. AND THAT'S THE HARDEST THING I HAD TO FIGURE OUT, WHY. WITHOUT GIVING TOO MUCH AWAY, WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO -- I THINK I FIGURED IT OUT.

>> I THINK THAT, LIKE, YOU KNOW, FIRST OF ALL, LIKE, RIHANNA'S WORK IS ONE OF THE GREATEST SONGS OF THE LAST TEN YEARS. NOT EVEN KIDDING. I THINK IT IS A TRUE POP MASTERPIECE. ALSO I THINK THERE IS SOMETHING IN THE FACT THAT IN THE FACT THAT, LIKE, IT -- IT DEMANDED THAT WHITE AUDIENCES AND POP MUSIC AUDIENCES LISTEN IN A DIFFERENT WAY. THAT, LIKE, I THOUGHT ATTRACTED THE PLAY. WHEN SHE PULLED OUT THE -- IN THAT SONG, A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE, LIKE, I DON'T KNOW WHAT SHE'S SAYING BUT SHE EXCEPT LISTENING. THAT IS A GREAT METAPHOR FOR HOW I HOPE THAT, LIKE, A PREDOMINANTLY WHITE AUDIENCE, LIKE, LEAVES THE PLAY THINKING ABOUT HOW THEY EXPERIENCE BLACK PEOPLE. I THINK THAT WHEN A BLACK PERSON SPEAKS TO A WHITE PERSON OR PERSON OF COLOR SPEAKS TO A WHITE PERSON, SAYS, THIS IS MY EXPERIENCE, AND THE WHITE PERSON DOESN'T UNDERSTAND, PERHAPS INSTEAD OF SAYING I DON'T UNDERSTAND, EXPLAIN IT TO ME AGAIN, JUST SIT BACK AND LISTEN. I THINK THAT'S WHAT THE PLAY IS ULTIMATELY TRYING TO GET PEOPLE TO LEARN HOW TO DO, SIT BACK AND LISTEN TO HISTORY THAT MAY BE DIFFERENT FROM THEIR OWN.

>> THAT'S A GOOD PLACE TO STOP. THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT I -- YES. THAT WAS PERFECT. WE SHOULD GO TO THE AUDIENCE FOR SOME QUESTIONS. WHO DO WE HAVE FIRST?

>> HI. SO YOU PACKED SO MUCH INTO THIS PLAY. IS THERE ANYTHING YOU HAD TO CUT FOR TIME OR PACING THAT YOU WISH YOU COULD HAVE KEPT?

>> THE ONE THING WE CUT WAS AN INTERMISSION. EVERYTHING ELSE IS, LIKE, THE ONLY THING WE ADDED, LIKE, WE ADDED A LOT OF THINGS TO IT, BUT ROBERT O'HARA, A GENIUS, AND, LIKE, ANOTHER ONE OF THE WRITERS THAT INSPIRED ME, I WAS E-MAILING HIM WHEN I WAS 18 YEARS OLD.

>> HE DIRECTED.

>> HE DIRECTED. A RARE INSANE THING TO HAPPEN, THAT JUST DOESN'T HAPPEN, WHERE A YOUNG BLACK PERSON WHO IS QUEER GETS THEIR FIRST PLAY BY AN OLDER BLACK PERSON WHO IS ALSO QUEER WHO INSPIRED HIM. HE SAID, JEREMY, THE FIRST THING WE'RE CUTTING IS THE INTERMISSION. I'M, LIKE, WHY? HE SAYS, WHY DO THE WHITE FOLKS GET A BREAK? THE SLAVES DIDN'T.

>> THE MIRROR THAT IS IN THE ROOM, I WON'T GIVE TOO MUCH AWAY, WAS THAT PART OF SOMETHING YOU WROTE IN THE PLAY OR SOMETHING HE BROUGHT IN HIS DIRECTING TO IT?

>> THAT WAS SOMETHING THAT THE GENIUS CLINT RAMOS BROUGHT. AND IT WAS SORT OF A -- BOTH, LIKE, YOU KNOW, I DON'T KNOW IF THE DESIGN WOULD HAVE HAD THIS IN IT HAD WE NOT GOTTEN THE ONE WE WANTED. THE ONE THING I WANTED FROM THE YALE PRODUCTION WAS, LIKE, I WANTED THE AUDIENCE TO BE ABLE TO INTERACT WITH EACH OTHER IN SOME WAY. I KNEW THAT -- BECAUSE WE DID IT IN THREE-QUARTER THRUST AND IT IS LIKE -- THIS IS LIKE A FORUM, LIKE THIS IS ACTUALLY LIKE A MESSAGE BOARD OR SOMETHING THIS PLAY. AND I WAS, LIKE, I WANT PEOPLE TO, LIKE, BE HAVING DIALOGUE WITH EACH OTHER AS THE PLAY IS HAPPENING. AND SO WE WERE, LIKE IT HAS TO BE IN THE ROUND, WE CAN'T AFFORD THAT. AND THE THEATER HAD, LIKE, JUST LOST THEIR PRODUCTION MANAGER, SO IT WAS JUST GOING TO BE REALLY DIFFICULT AND WE'RE, LIKE, HOW ARE WE GOING TO DO IT? CLINT IS LIKE, I HAVE AN IDEA. HE BROUGHT US THE SET. IT IS TRULY, I THINK THE -- IT IS MY FAVORITE SET I'VE EVER SEEN AND, LIKE, I LOVE HIM BECAUSE I KNOW THAT WE ARE BALLING ON A BUDGET NOW. HE'S A TONY AWARD WINNING COSTUME DESIGNER AND NOW PEOPLE ARE GOING TO ACTUALLY SEE HIM IN THE -- IN, LIKE, THE WEIGHT OF HIS SET DESIGN THAT I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE MIGHT HAVE MISSED BEFORE.

>> IT ADDED SOMETHING YOU DIDN'T EVEN KNOW YOU NEEDED. I LOVED WATCHING PEOPLE'S REACTION IN THE MIRROR, SOME OF THEM, LIKE, IS IT OKAY TO LAUGH AT THIS? IT IS, LIKE, YEAH, IT IS FINE. NEXT QUESTION.

>> HI. SO FOR A PLAYWRIGHT, I ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR YOU TO GET -- WHAT DO YOU CALL IT, LIKE YOU FINISH YOUR DRAFT UNTIL YOU'RE AT A SATISFYING PLACE. HOW MANY TIMES DID IT TAKE FOR YOU TO GET TO THAT DISTINCT -- THAT MOMENT?

>> IT IS REALLY FUNNY. SO I WROTE -- I FINISHED WRITING THIS PLAY THE END OF MY FIRST YEAR OF GRAD SCHOOL. I'M VERY PROTECTIVE. I HAVE -- WHEN I -- AS SOON AS I -- AS SOON AS I COME UP WITH AN IDEA OR COME UP WITH A TITLE, THE IDEA USUALLY FALLS INTO MY BRAIN. LIKE LIGHTNING, VERY COOL. AND I'VE SEEN THIS LIKE I'VE WRITTEN A THOUSAND PLAYS. I'VE WRITTEN, LIKE, FOUR PLAYS. THE FOUR TIMES I'VE WRITTEN PLAYS, I HAVE A TITLE AND I'M, LIKE, HERE IS THE IDEA. AND THEN I WRITE IT PRETTY QUICKLY BUT IT IS AFTER, LIKE -- I WRITE -- WHEN I WRITE IT, IT COMES QUICKLY. FROM THE MOMENT I HAVE THE IDEA TO THE MOMENT I'M ACTUALLY STARTING TO PUT PEN TO PAPER, IT IS NINE MONTHS. I LIKE TO READ A BUNCH AND TALK TO PEOPLE AND CHEAT. I HAVE THIS GREAT IDEA FOR A PLAY, DO YOU WANT TO HEAR IT, IT IS "SLAVE PLAY.” I WATCH HOW LONG THEY'RE INTERESTED, WHEN THEY START LOSING INTEREST, I CHANGE IT. I EDIT IT IN THE MOMENT THERE. I ACTUALLY WANT TO WRITE THE PLAY IT COMES RIGHT OUT. WHEN I FINISHED THIS, I SAID IT IS DONE, I SENT IT TO MY TEACHER AND MY AGENT AT THE TIME AND SEE WHAT PEOPLE THOUGHT OF THE ROUGH DRAFT. HE SAID, I'M SENDING THIS OUT NOW. SOMETIMES PEOPLE DON'T GIVE YOU A CHOICE. SOMETIMES PEOPLE SEE THE THING AND WE'RE DOING IT.

>> LIKE LIGHTNING. LAST QUESTION.

>> SO I WAS WONDERING IF THERE WERE ANY BIG CHALLENGES OR DIFFERENCES BETWEEN STAGING A PLAY AND A UNIVERSITY SETTING AND STAGING IT HERE IN THE CITY.

>> YEAH. I THINK -- HOW DO I SAY THIS? I THINK THAT THE -- THE DIFFERENCES THAT, LIKE, A UNIVERSITY SETTING IS SCHOOL. YOU KNOW. AND A PART OF BEING IN SCHOOL IN GENERAL IS THAT, LIKE, YOU LOSE A LOT OF AUTONOMY, YOU KNOW. PEOPLE ARE LITERALLY BEING PAID TO -- PEOPLE ARE BEING PAID TO, LIKE, EVEN IF THEY DON'T -- EVEN IF SUBCONSCIOUSLY, THEY'RE BEING PAID TO NOT TREAT YOU AS AN EQUAL. SO THE POWER IS ALREADY UNBALANCED, RIGHT? WHERE AS IN THE THEATER, I'M THE PERSON GETTING PAID AND ALSO, LIKE, THE POWER -- THEY'RE, LIKE, WE -- THERE WERE 5,000 THINGS WE COULD HAVE CHOSE FROM AND WE PICKED YOURS IS ONE OF FOUR WE CHOSE. SO YOU'RE TREATED LIKE AN EQUAL OR EVEN BETTER THAN AN EQUAL AND IT MAKES -- IT MAKES THE PROCESS REALLY EXCITING AND REALLY FUN RIGHT NOW. BUT I THINK THE WORKSHOP IS ONE OF THOSE RARE PLACES WHERE THEY DON'T -- THERE IS NOT THE SAME SORT OF HIERARCHY THERE IS IN OTHER PLACES. ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS JIM TOLD ME IS I AM A WHITE GAY MAN OF A CERTAIN AGE AND I DON'T KNOW WHAT IT IS LIKE TO BE A YOUNG BLACK PLAYWRIGHT. HE'S, LIKE, IF I EVER TELL YOU SOMETHING YOU DON'T AGREE WITH OR LIKE, JUST THROW IT OUT. YOU DON'T HAVE TO LISTEN TO IT. THAT'S THE SORT OF RELATIONSHIP THAT FEW UNIVERSITY SETTINGS HAVE.

>> THIS PLAY HAS BEEN SO -- I'M HAPPY TO KNOW IT WON'T BE YOUR LAST. YOU'RE WORKING ON DADDY FOR NEXT YEAR WITH ALAN CUMMING.

>> CHARLENE WOODARD, WHO SAY GENIUS, KAILEN KIM AND RONALD PETE.

>> I'M SO EXCITED. I WANT TO CONTINUE TO SEE YOUR WORKS. I REALLY THINK YOU'RE AN IMPORTANT VOICE IN THEATER IN THIS GENERATION. SO I WILL COME AND SUPPORT YOU AND YOU GUYS NEED TO GO CHECK THIS OUT IF YOU HAVEN'T. MAKE SURE YOU SEE "SLAVE PLAY” NOW THROUGH DECEMBER 30th AT THE NEW YORK THEATRE WORKSHOP. GIVE IT UP FOR JEREMY O. HARRIS.

>> THANK YOU. [ APPLAUSE ]

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