Since October, I have been working on a play very near and dear to my heart with the Rec Room Writers Program. The play was birthed in Esurient Arts writing course taught by writer Timothy Eric. We Both Suck Our Teeth is at it's core my love letter to Black people across the diaspora. I have always been inspired by the various stories of Black people.
The story synopsis reads: "Igbo class is a safe space for Black students at Texas Light University. When that class becomes the backdrop of a viral video of an intense argument between Faith, a Black American Senior and Uchenna, a Nigerian American graduate student, the divide between the African community and the Black American community on campus is pushed to the forefront. In order to alleviate her campus' issues, Dean Thompson assigns Faith and Uchenna a mandatory project that will seek to connect the members of the Black community... if only they can put aside their differences long enough to create it."
In order to complete this process, I knew I would need to work with a dramaturg!
What is a dramaturg anyway?
There are several types of dramaturgs. I worked with two New Play Dramaturgs who were specifically hired to help me develop my new play. When it came to picking a dramaturg, I wanted to work with people who could help me with cultural notes, as well as structure. Ja'Michael Darnell and Nickclette Izuegbu are two awesome artists who are writers and actors themselves. It was also important for me to work with people who could provide insight into the cultural nuances of both my Nigerian and Black American characters. While no one experience is the same, it is always helpful to work with people who have a cultural understanding, especially when you are writing experiences outside of you own. After receiving the Groundwork grant from Scriptworks, I was able to hire them to read my work, provide feedback and outside resources to help me color the world.
What are the benefits of working with a dramaturg?
Ja'Micahel and Nickclette did an excellent job at asking me questions, questions and more questions. They helped me to sink my teeth into the play, and in tell me when these things were not as clear. They also let me know when I got things wrong. It's helpful to see these thing outside of yourself. When you are in the story it can be hard, to actually see what needs to be changed. That is why I always recommend finding someone outside of your self.
How can you find one?
A few of the amazing dramaturgs that I've gotten the chance to work with and to see in action are: Joe Luis Cedillo, Martine Kei Green-Rogers and Briandaniel Oglesby. You can also check out the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas for a list of their members. You can reach out to them and inquire about their process and rates.
We Both Suck Our Teeth New Play Dramaturgs
Here are the awesome artists that I worked with during the process. Check them out!
Where is the play now?
It is still in the works.
I have many notes that I am still working on implementing, scenes I'm reworking and characters I am building. As I got off of the call with the director (Rachel Dickson) of the Rec Room reading (Scheduled to take place in the Fall), I am reminded that this play, like all my plays, is going to be a continuous, challenging but beautiful process. Rachel asked the tough questions that are going to help me hone in on structure, character arc and the logistics of the piece. She is truly brilliant.
I'll admit sometimes constructive feedback is hard to swallow, but I recognize it's the ONLY way I am going to get better. It's the only way the play is going to say what it needs to say in a clear and concise way. That is why I let people like Nickclette and Ja'Michael into the world. I want to continue honing my craft and telling the stories. So, don't be afraid. Keep writing. Keep revising. Keep getting critiques, but remember you know your play better than anyone else.
Jelisa Jay Robinson
I'm a playwright, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll see my questions and musings on life and writing, theater and the world. My posts highlight my writing process, the inclusion of Black voices in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. I hope you enjoy!