This weekend, I’m excited to be workshopping my latest play, So Goes We, which a socio-political drama that addresses racial justice and refugee rights in the United States. Under the direction of JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell with dramaturgy by Jules Odendahl-James, the cast for this workshop includes Thaddeus Edwards, Rasool Jahan, Tia James, Monet Marshall, and Sarita Ocón. Our stage manager is Erin Bell and stage directions will be read by Takhona Hlatshwako, who is working with me this semester as a research assistant through UNC's Institute for the Arts and Humanities Honors Collaboration.
I received the 2019-2020 Institute for African American Research Faculty Fellowship to support the research, writing, development, and presentation of this play. The style of this play is unlike any other play that I have ever written, which also makes it hard to describe. But thanks to the ever-brilliant Jules, we have a synopsis that beautifully captures the story and journey of the play:
So Goes We is a socio-political choral drama that follows the fraught and intersecting journeys of black asylum seekers and their legal advocates in the U.S. post-2016. Dominique, a Haitian Ethics professor and political activist, flees threats to her life with her daughter while her husband, Kervens, continues the fight at home until he may follow. Sarita and Josie, immigration lawyers with a strong track record of success find themselves undone at every turn by increasingly chaotic and restrictive national policies. Josie’s recent loss of a daughter in childbirth puts at risk her clients and her marriage. When Dominique and her daughter are detained and separated at the Texas border, Sarita urges Josie to take the case to recover her sense of purpose and justice but will even her best efforts be too late? So Goes We examines our ideas of community, justice, citizenship, and human rights as America draws shut its “golden door.”
Ultimately, So Goes We examines what happens in the immigrant rights movement when black immigrants seek asylum. I was inspired to write So Goes We after the Trump administration ended the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for Haitian immigrants. When this was announced, I hardly saw any news coverage and there wasn’t an outcry. I couldn’t help but think that race had a lot to do with the subdued response. Let’s face it, black people, whether they are immigrants or U.S. citizens, are more likely than any other population to be arrested, convicted, and imprisoned in the U.S. criminal enforcement system.
This weekend, I’ll be able to hear the draft for the first time! Of course, I’ll keep you posted on what happen next! For now, here’s more information about the brilliant and talented ensemble working with me on this play.
So Goes We Creative Team
JACQUELINE E. LAWTON is a playwright, dramaturg, producer, and advocate for Access, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in the American Theatre. Her plays include: Among These Wild Things; Anna K; Behold, A Negress; Blackbirds; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; Edges of Time; Freedom Hill; The Hampton Years; Intelligence, The Inferior Sex; Love Brothers Serenade; Mad Breed; and Noms de Guerre . Ms. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. She is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including a 2019-2020 Institute for African and African American Research Faculty Fellowship, 2018 UNC Arts and Humanities Grant, 2018 UNC Institute for Arts and Humanities Faculty Fellowship, and 2018-2020 University Research Council Grant. She is a proud member of the Dramatist Guild of America and is the Regional Representative for North Carolina.
Meeka Holloway-Burrell (Director) (she/her/hers) is a freelance director and producer. She is the Founding Artistic Director of Black Ops Theatre Company, lead curator for the Bull City Black Theatre Festival in Durham, NC, and a founding company member of Bulldog Ensemble Theatre. A 2018 Indy Arts Award winner, JaMeeka is a 2019-20 grant recipient from both the Manbites Dog Theater Fund and from the Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artists program. She also served as a 2019 theatre panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts and for the North Carolina Arts Council. An alumnus of The Lark Play Development Center Apprenticeship program, JaMeeka has been an Assistant Director with The Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Playmakers Repertory, and more recently, an Associate Director with Duke Performances at Duke University. Her directing work has appeared at the Justice Theatre Project, Shakespeare in Detroit, Classic Stage, The Department of Theatre at Dartmouth College, and Duke University’s Department of Theatre Studies, and Northern Stage. www.jhbdirectedit.com
JULES ODENDAHL-JAMES (Dramaturg) is an artist/scholar who has been making theater in the Triangle for two decades. This season in addition to working as a dramaturg on the world premiere of Edges of Time (PRC2) by Jaqueline Lawton, she will direct As You LIke It for Duke University (Nov. 7-17) and Peerless by Jiehae Park for Bulldog Ensemble Theater (late May 2020). Recent credits include In a Word by Lauren Yee (Director, Bulldog Ensemble Theater), Men on Boats by Jaclyn Backhaus (Director, Justice Theatre Project) and Behold! A Negress by Jacqueline Lawton (Dramaturg). She was an Associate Artistic Director at Manbites Dog from 2014-2018; is a founding member of the Bulldog Theatre Ensemble; an Associate Member of SDC, and a member of the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA).
TAKHONA GRACE HLATSHWAKO (Research Assistant/Stage Directions) is a theatre enthusiast, a writer, and an avid reader of fiction. She has lived in three countries, and travelled to dozens more. Takhona has taken to the art of short story writing to capture the sketches of her imagination that have been inspired by her travels. Her short story, The Hem of My Skirt, won the Mini Max Short Story Competition. Takhona is a Morehead-Cain Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is studying Health Policy and Management, with a minor in Creative Writing. She is also currently undertaking a research apprenticeship with Professor Jacqueline E. Lawton, assisting in preparing dramaturgy packets for her plays.
So Goes We Ensemble
ERIN BELL (Stage Manager) is a Durham-based thespian and entrepreneur. She founded Bull City Photography in 2017, specializing in event and performance photography. She also works as a stage manager, lighting designer, web designer throughout Triangle community. She has done lighting design for Master Builder (Little Green Pig), Again but This Time with Feeling (real live people), Lady Misrule (Tiny Engine), and Auto da Fe (Monkey Paw). She has also taught lighting design for the Women's Theatre Festival. In collaboration with JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell, Erin will be co-producing the Let Her Tell It series: Four Plays by Black Women about Black Womanhood (2019-2020).
THADDAEUS EDWARDS (Kervens) is a Durham-based performer who has performed across the Triangle for nearly a decade and a half, as well as touring productions along the East Coast. He is a founding member of Bulldog Ensemble Theater, having directed its inaugural production of Curve of Departure. He is a Performance Educator with Theater Delta, and believes in its mission of using performance to affect real change. He has performed with Manbites Dog Theater, StreetSigns, and many more. Recent performance credits include: In A Word (Bulldog Ensemble Theatre), Life Sucks (Manbites Dog Theater), The Durham 150 Closing Ceremony, and the Master Builder audio drama produced by the Artist Soapbox podcast.
RASOOL JAHAN (Dominique) is a professional actress/director currently living in Raleigh. She holds a B.A. in Theatre from an HBC and is thrilled to, once again, speak the words Ms. Jacqueline Lawton has penned! Rasool is committed to Social Justice theatre and is grateful to serve as a conduit between audience and storyteller. She is currently working on her One Woman show and can be seen as Dr. Kara Andrews on Season #3 of the TV series, The Resident. Recent local credits include: Esther in Intimate Apparel, Jory in Disgraced, MiMi Real in The Parchman Hour at PlayMakers Repertory Company. Regional credits include: Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (WriteAct Rep) and Vivian Bearing, Ph.D in Wit (Justice Theatre Project). Recent tv/film credits include Cold Mountain (Anthony Minghella), The Bay (Barry Levinson), Freedom Song (Phil Alden Robinson), I Know What You Did Last Summer (Joe Gillespie), and House of Cards (Season 5/Netflix).
TIA JAMES (Josie) Tia James is an actor, teacher, director, currently a faculty member of UNC Professional Actor Training Program, vocal coach and company member of PlayMakers Repertory Company. Tia has been seen on Broadway in The Merchant of Venice (Broadhurst Theater), and regional theater productions of Richard III (Allentown Shakespeare); Loving and Loving (Stella Adler Studios); The Winter’s Tale and The Merchant of Venice (The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park), Much Ado About Nothing (Two River Theater) and Civilization (all you can eat) (Woolly Mammoth Theater). Her television credits include “Nurse Jackie” and “Treme.” Tia is the recipient of the 2003 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival; Irene Ryan Winner, the 2014 NYU Graduate Acting Diversity Mentorship Scholarship for Voice and Speech, and the 2019 Michael Chekhov/Zelda Fichandler Scholarship. Tia received her BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University, and her MFA from NYU Graduate Acting.
MONÉT NOELLE MARSHALL (Kazima) is an artist, director, playwright, curator & producer. A 2018 Indies Arts Award winner, she serves as the Founding Artistic Director of MOJOAA Performing Arts Company, producing new works by and new opportunities for Black playwrights. Recent projects include the “Buy It Call It” performance installations, a trilogy in response to the systemic oppression Black artists encounter in the art world, the toll of capitalism on their minds and bodies, and the process of reclaiming one’s holiness and self-worth. She is currently working on The Bring Me My Purse Project, a multidisciplinary, multi-phase project that exposes the economic reality of Black women. You can see her next in “No Child” at Cape Fear Regional Theatre. You can learn more about her upcoming work at MonetNoelleMarshall.com.
SARITA OCÓN (Sarita) is a professional actor, producing artist, and community activist. Theatrical credits include PLACAS: The Most Dangerous Tattoo (Puerto Rican Traveling Theater/Off-Broadway); Men on Boats (American Conservatory Theater); The River Bride (Arizona Theatre Company); Quixote Nuevo, Everybody, The War of the Roses, Twelfth Night (California Shakespeare Theater); The Crucible, Leaving Eden, The Life of Galileo (PlayMakers Repertory Company); A Streetcar Named Desire, To The Bone, Othello (Ubuntu Theater Project); PLACAS National Tour (South Coast Repertory, Los Angeles Theatre Center, SF International Arts Festival, others); Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (San Francisco Playhouse); Ghosts of the River (BRAVA Theater Center, Teatro Visión); and many others. Awards: Theatre Communications Group Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowship; Akonadi Foundation Beloved Community Fund Award; Center for Cultural Innovation Investing in Artists Award; California Arts Council Local Impact Award; RHE Charitable Foundation Artistic Fellowship; others. Education: BA, Stanford University. www.saritaocon.com
Again, this post is also long overdue! But the experience is fresh in my mind, so here we go!
On October 5th and 6th, I workshopped my play, Freedom Hill, which is an homage to Thorton Wilder’s Our Town. Set from 1870 to 1885, Freedom Hill is a metatheatrical play that follows the everyday lives of newly freed black citizens. I received an Arts and Humanities grant from UNC to support the research, writing, development, and presentation of a play focused on Environmental Justice. When I applied for the grant, I knew that I wanted focus on Princeville, North Carolina, the oldest historically black town in the United States of America. However, when I arrived in Princeville, the direction of the play changed dramatically. Click here to learn more about how this play came to be.
Shirley Serotsky was unable to join us in North Carolina, so we video conferenced her into rehearsal. Jules Odendahl-James was our new play development dramaturg. Like Shirley, Jules is a very dear friend and frequent collaborator. Both of these women are director/dramaturgs and they are absolutely brilliant. They have sharp minds, are skillful with actors in the rehearsal process, and they know just what to say to inspire revisions and help me make sense of my play.
For this workshop, the cast included Aliese Cobb, Thaddeus Edwards, Jennifer Evans, Rasool Jahan, Tia James, Thomasi McDonald, Monet Marshall, and Marcus Zollicoffer. Erin Bell was our stage manager and photographer. Stage directions were read by Bethany Lockhart and Takhona Hlatshwako, who is working with me this semester as a research assistant through UNC's Institute for the Arts and Humanities Honors Collaboration.
On the first day, we read and discussed the script. The most interesting part of the discussion was that half of the actors had read or seen Our Town, but the other half had not. So, the structure and metatheatrical conceit was new to them, and the ending was both devastating and a surprise. On the second day, we focused on the second movement. I had made a major revisions the night before and wanted to see how the cuts worked. Now, this isn’t something I usually do with only two days of rehearsal. I usually like to jump back in and hear the play. So, it to was nice to focus in on one movement and really allow the cast explore the world. On both days, we also discussed the power of gathering as black theatre artists to tell the stories of our community. That was very powerful to me. It helped me to know that my adaptation, which works to tell the story of early citizens of Princeville, holds up on its own. Freedom Hill has its own voice and sense of urgency.
Now, I’m not sure when I’ll have a chance to revisit this play in workshop, but it’s being read by a handful of theatres across the country. So, my fingers are crossed that it will find a home soon. I’ll be sure to keep you posted. In the meantime, I'm excited to share a few photos of our time together. Once again, these photos were taken by Erin Bell @bullcityphotography. Click here to learn more about her work.
Freedom Hill Ensemble
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!