The Geffen Playhouse continues to affirm its commitment to supporting diverse storytelling by bringing together its Black partners to learn more about upcoming productions that close out the 2023-2024 season.
The evening began with guests noshing on a buffet style meal courtesy of sponsor Bludsoe’s BBQ with guests enjoying mouth watering brisket, links, macaroni and cheese and cornbread complete with honey butter.
Craft cocktails were made possible by Uncle Nearest, a premium, black-owned whiskey and ended with sugary confections courtesy of Southern Girls desserts!
Partners then moved into the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater for a TED Talk-style presentation and conversation with Kristen Adele Calhoun (Playwright, Black Cypress Bayou), Tiffany Nichole Greene (Director, Black Cypress Bayou), James Ijames (Playwright, Fat Ham), Sideeq Heard (Director, Fat Ham) and Tarell Alvin McCraney (Artistic Director, Geffen Playhouse) and learn more about these artists and their upcoming productions.
Academy Award (Moonlight) and Peabody Award (David Makes Man) winner and Tony Award (Choir Boy) nominee Tarell Alvin McCraney was named artistic director for Geffen Playhouse last September. McCraney was an assistant to the late, great August Wilson who always said “our job as artists are to follow the music”.
“We come to do nothing else but celebrate the Black experience,” said McCraney.
The conversation started with how the playwrights came up with ideas for the productions we will see this season.
Kristen Adele Calhoun, playwright Black Cypress Bayou, began with explaining her journey began in Ghana where she went with the intent to read 21 books over three months. Then COVID hit.
“Everything got very quiet. I had a lot of time to dream and think about what kinds of stories I wanted to tell and I began to think of home,” said Calhoun.
A lot of references in the play come from the books she’s read and her time traveling.
“In my dreams I kept seeing this image of a woman, middle-aged Black woman, walking through the bayou with a laundry basket and I started asking her questions. Then she started talking back to me and then some other people showed up and I had a full play.”
James Ijames, playwright, Fat Ham, which happened to win the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, was a theatre major at Morehouse College which ironically offered no classes on the subject – he had to take them at surrounding colleges and while there he was in a student production of Hamlet, playing the lead role.
“I am not Hamlet, at best, I am Horatio,” said Ijames.
He explained in graduate school you take an entire semester of Shakespeare and then realized “I have never seen a Hamlet that was overweight”.
“There’s a line in the duel between Leartes and Hamlet where Gertrude is watching the back and forth and she says ‘he is fat and slick with breath’ and I said I should write a Hamlet that’s fat,” said Ijames. “And I said the characters should look and sound like the people I grew up around.”
The evening closed with the panel and audience singing happy birthday to Ijames, which coincided with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. Founder’s Day.
The underlying theme of the night was the creatives behind these amazing body’s of work wrote them with the intention of them being seen by a Black audience.
I hope to see you at the theatre!
Black Cypress Bayou opens February 7 and runs through March 17. Click here to purchase tickets.
Fat Ham opens March 27 and runs through April 28. Click here to purchase tickets.
If you are interested in group sales and/or becoming a theatre partner, contact Karen Gutierrez, Director of Advertising & Audience Development at [email protected].