A: Art is the DNA of species' memory and let's face it--the b.s. that African Americans have had to endure makes for some pretty passionate and powerful material. As a dramaturg, my mission is to locate, promote, present and preserve the most important dramatic literature of my day. Given the obstacles faced by black playwrights, you've got to figure things are pretty daunting, which is a shame, because I have a stack of astounding scripts piled next to my desk and I'm doing everything I can to see that those scripts don't just sit in a stack next to my desk.
I also live in Nashville, which has one of the most dynamic African American theater communities in the country. We also have a superior film festival, The International Black Film Festival of Nashville. I respond to what inspires me.
Q: When did you write your first play, and what was it about?
A: I wrote my first play, Cafe Escargot, after I got fired from a restaurant job. It was about a waiter who gets fired and comes back in drag as a food critic. It was also a satire of Atlanta society. It finally got a real production in New York in 1994, and had a cult following which was a blast and great for my sex life.
Q: What was it like having your first play produced?
A: The first of my plays to get produced was Alice In America. There was an Atlanta production in 1987, and I invited the Lewis Carrol Society of North America to it. They couldn't come, but invited me to present the play the following year in New York for their annual convention. I mounted the production by telephone from Atlanta, showed up for opening night and began a New York adventure which continues to this day. So all in all, it was pretty awesome.
Q: You're known for your unconditional support of women in the creative arts. Can you explain why?
A: Women get stuff done.
My strategy for producing is to find a great script with a serious leading lady role. Then I find my leading lady, give her the script and pretty much get out of her way. Fine actresses usually have an entourage of fellow artists who are ready to get behind an artist they admire.
But beyond that, I come from a major Southern aristocratic matriarchy. I barely remember seeing any men during my childhood, and all the good advice I ever got came from women.
Also, when I worked in Student Dining at Vanderbilt, I was pretty much the only white male on a staff of mostly black women, many of them grandmothers who were raising children and grandchildren, doing the job, covering the billls and dealing with the drama. They were meticulous and demanding, and absoutely wonderful to me. They tolerated my lectures on theater over the sandwich line to future lawyers, doctors and engineers.
Q: Do you think black playwrights are getting produced more now as opposed to 10 years ago?
A: More, but not enough and not in the proper way. The writers I'm working with don't care to be on the chittlin' circuit, thank you very much.
Q: Can you envision a time when producers will just produce material without thinking about racial demographics?
A: I could envision such a thing if I thought there were such things as producers. Producers are a myth. You have to get up off your a** and produce yourself and you have to build your own audience one by one.
Now if you mean, do I think regional theaters will ever get there, I doubt it. Boards of Directors are far too nervous. The obligatory Black History Month play, of course. Good for the grant writing.
If I get where I'm trying to go, that may change. The plays I want to produce--Nathan Ross Freeman's Hannah Elias, Mike Oatman's The Chittlin Thief, Merrill Jones' Mrs. Streeter and Ben Marshall's The Balcony Goat--could all set racial demographics on its ear.
Q: Did you grow up to be what you always wanted to be?
A: You'll have to wait until I grow up for me to answer that one. My generation is in no hurry to grow up. It's all those LSD flashbacks.
Thank you, Jaz, for all you do. You're an amazing Hip Hapa Homee with a heart of gold. If any of you readers would like to contact Jaz, you can find him here:
Stay tuned to read about more cross-cultural folks in the weeks ahead. Meanwhile, here's an interesting thought. Last week, as I flipped through a Macy's circular, my eyes paused on one of the female models. As I checked out her cafe au lait skin, green eyes, and wavy brown hair, I wondered if she was biracial. While I was thrilled to see a model of unidentifiable ethnicity in a major publication, I also wondered if she was chosen because she was simply more palatable to some than a darker-skinned, more black African-looking sister. I know, I know. I'm being nit-picky, but the thought crossed my mind so I thought I'd put the question to you. Do you think the growth of multiracial communities is going to take away from other racial minority groups? If a major department store or fashion designer had to choose between a brown-skinned, black African identified model or a light-skinned, green-eyed, wavy-haired one in order to meet an unwritten EEO rule, which do you think they would pick and why?
Again, my HHH's, thanks for hollahing. We appreciate your cards, letters and emails. Remember we're still collecting headshots for the Watermelon Sushi fan page on Facebook. And, of course, we still have Hapa*Teez t-shirts for you.
Until next time, I promise I am and will always be...
Your Hip Hapa,