In preparation for American Theater Company’s annual 10 x 10 Play Festival, I connected with the featured playwrights about their careers in the theatre, the relevant themes of the play(s), and the role of theatre as a tool for social change. Click here to learn more about the 10 x 10 Festival and please enjoy this wonderful interview with Akin Salawu.
Jacqueline Lawton: Why did you decide to get into theatre? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
Akin Salawu: At 4 years old my parents took me to see The Wiz and I was smitten. Out of the blue a few years ago, I got an email from my preschool teacher recalling me desperately fighting to get my classmates (who were all older than me) to perform The Wiz. I apparently failed all year and have not tackled The Wiz since.
JL: Next, tell me a little bit about your writing process. Do you have any writing rituals? Do you write in the same place or in different places?
AS: Usually it begins with me scribbling notes on the backs of receipts on the subway. Then I sit at my iMac and make sense of my pile of receipts. Each receipt yanks me back to the particular day that the idea gifted itself to me. Instrumental music is usually playing as well; unless it’s Nina Simone. You make an exception for her.
JL: Why was it important for you to be a part of American Theatre Company’s 10 x 10 Festival?
AS: As a Black American man, I’ve had more than my fair share of unearned harassment from police officers so this was not only a cathartic experience but an opportunity to really respond to the inhumane manner in which Black Male life is demonized. With all the seething anger in and around each of us, it was really liberating to step back and recalibrate. I also can’t wait to be in the space with a bunch of socially conscious artists gathered together for this festival.
JL: Tell me about your plays. What do you hope the audience walks away thinking about after experiencing it?
AS: “the mice will play” was the first one I wrote. The noise about Michael Brown’s dangerous living body seemed to silence the treatment of his dead body left in the street for hours. I hope the audience will question their own perceptions of big scary Thuggish Negros with breathe in our lungs. I had the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra’s rendition of James Horner’s End Credits theme to the film Glory playing which really freed me to let Juice fly.
"Locatelli's Caprice in D major” was inspired by my disdain for subway performers. My subway rides are for reading or writing. But this one young guy played the shit outta his violin and his mastery shifted my understanding of him. As well as the rest of his kind. This piece is about what it takes to achieve those shifts in understanding. Locatelli's Caprice in D major” was written in silence. I haven’t written in silence since the days of dead AA batteries in my cassette tape walkman.
JL: What role does theater have in advocacy work?
AS: Narratives teach us how to live better lives; how to be better to ourselves and to each other. I’ve worked in politics where you have 8 people doing something while 800 bitch and moan about the way it got done. . Thanks in part to cable news and social media we are becoming a culture that consumes itself with sideline chatter about events somewhere over there.
Theater is here. Theater is now. Theater is immediate. Living people bring theater to life right before your eyes. And when you experience it, you are a part of it. It becomes a part of you. Music infects us without our permission. Theater infects us with our permission. If the audience gives you their permission, you can lift them up. And that’s when you open them up. Battered down people batter others down. Lifted up people, lift others up. Opened people open others up. We in the theater must earn permission to open people up.
JL: What next for you as a writer? Where can we follow your work?
AS: The Public Theater had a playwright/ composer speed dating event where I met Australian composer, Greta Gertler Gold. We just began Ars Nova’’s UNCHARTED musical theater residency to continue developing our original musical, “The Real Whisper”.
About the Playwright
New Jersey born, Brooklyn-based playwright & filmmaker Akin Salawu founded and ran ergo student theater troupe as a Stanford University undergraduate. This earned him the Sherifa Omade Edoga Prize for mounting culturally diverse theater. Akin is also a two-time Tribeca All Access Winner with a Screenwriting MFA from Columbia University. Akin was a member of The Public Theater’s Inaugural Emerging Writers Group and wrote Chapter 5 in the book, “The Obama Movement” while working on the President’s 2008 campaign. Akin just began a musical theater residency in Ars Nova's UNCHARTED with Australian composer Greta Gertler Gold.
10 outstanding playwrights tackle race, police brutality, and community in Ferguson, New York City, and around the world. 10 inspired directors bring their work to life.
Join us on Monday, March 9th at 7:30pm for a uniquely challenging one-night-only engagement at the American Theater Company, as we are proud to present our annual short plays festival, 10x10.
Tickets are free but seats will fill up fast. To make a reservation, send us an email at ATC10x10@Gmail.com. Due to high demand, we are only able to reserve up to two seats per request.
At the door, we suggest a $10 donation to help us cover the cost of supporting the festival, though we welcome you to pay what you can.
This Year's Playwrights:
Jeff Augustin. Kristiana Rae Colón. Matthew-Lee Erlbach. Jacqueline E Lawton. Bonnie Metzgar. Dominique Morisseau. Lucas Neff. A Rey Pamatmat. Akin Salawu. Aurin Squire.
Kaiser Ahmed. Grace Cannon. Amanda Delheimer Dimond. Matt Dominguez. Azar Kazemi. Reed Motz. Hutch Pimentel. Tlaloc Rivas. Samuel Roberson. Conner Wilson.
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!