During the months of July and August, I got the chance to work with a fantastic group of artists to bring my play Delivery to life. As apart of the New American Voices Summer 2020 Virtual Reading Series at the Queens Theatre, my play was directed by Ruben C. Gonzalez and put on as a reading. I was approached by Rob Urbinati, the Director of New play Development. We both had a piece in the Black and Latino Playwright Celebration. Speaking of BLPC, Eugene Lee's (the Director of the Celebration) piece Lyin' Ass was in the Reading Series too! The whole process was like a reunion. I got to work with many people from the BLPC session including Ali, Joe Luis, Ruben, and Preston.
It was also a wonderful experience to work with new actors too. Shout out to Ruben for casting. The group that he brought together was thoughtful, talented and top-notch. Each of them brought their flair to roles, their questions, feedback and their best selves. I got the chance to do some rewrites as well. I know I still have more to do, but I am happy with the progression of the work. What you will be seeing online, has been recorded and edited by the great Tech director and Queens Theatre General Manager Jay Rodgers! He fielded our tech issues and put together the show with ease and awesome energy.
Between Sean's impromtu talent shows, Rachel's rendition of "Kiss by a Rose", Yeniffer's pep talks, Ruben's jokes, Nickclette's ode to "baby hairs" and Ja'Michael's positive energy, I found this to be one of the most joyful rehearsal spaces I'd been in a while. YOU MUST FIND JOY WHILE WORKING. This was also a grand opportunity to work with two colleagues from UT Austin (Nickclette and Ja'Michael). It was awesome to work with Ruben and Joe again. During Black and Latino Playwrights Celebration, they were in the trenches with me figuring out the play!
I wanted to take the time to share a little bit about the incredible cast and creative team!
You can read about them below. Check out their bios and hire them!
I hope you can come see this fantastic cast kill it Tuesday August 25th 7pm Central time. You can RSVP here.
Cast and Crew
RSVP here for the Reading of Delivery on Tuesday August 25th 7 pm CST.
I would like to thank everyone for this opportunity. It was a pleasure working with you all.
If you kept reading through all of this, thank you. I do this to share my playwriting journey in hope that it will help someone begin or continue their journey in this craft. Keep pushing. Keep fighting. Keep going!
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.
If there is anything I've been known to find, it's a community. When I was in college, I would find my way to campus organizations. Whether I would stay a few month or the entire school year, each organization gave me a space of support, accountability and laughter. After graduation, it was a bit harder to find these spaces. As a writer, you sit in your room or maybe a coffee shop alone. You write, you edit, you think: alone. So much of it is alone, so when I find the groups of people I have to appreciate them.
During this time with the Black Lives Matter and CO-VID, I have realized that I have been depending on my tribes. Being a Black woman writer is challenging, but with the support of my communities, I am succeeding, and hopefully I helping them to do the same. We rise together! I didn't always have these spaces. In fact, it wasn't until three years ago that I started finding my adult writers tribes. Rec Room Writers, several writer friends, and a group of Black women writers are my own writers rooms. Each serving a different purpose in my journey and helping me build professionally and personally.
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!