In preparation for Hands Up: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments, which is being presented by ArtsCenter Stage and Common Ground Theatre with the support of MOJOAA Perfoming Arts Company and in conjunction with the Ladies of the Triangle Theatre (LoTT), I had a chance to speak with playwright Eric Holmes, author of “Walking Next to Michael Brown”, about his writing process, inspiration for the play, and the power of theatre to serve as a tool for social change. Please enjoy this wonderful interview!
Jacqueline Lawton: Why did you decide to get into theatre? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
Eric Holmes: “Six Degrees of Separation” by John Guare was the first play I saw, at 14, that introduced me to a world of storytelling that popular entertainment had sheltered me from. It made me uncomfortable. I felt like I was in the presence of something beautiful and unknowable and very dangerous. I hunt for that danger every time I see a new play.
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?
EH: I have to write from my apartment because I scream and kick things.
JL: Why was it important for you to be a part of the New Black Fest’s Hands Up: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments?
EH: Because it’s so rare that advocacy work is combined with a clear artistic focus. “Hands Up” defies the false-choice many theaters force audiences to make. All the playwrights I’m honored to share the stage with possess smart, nuanced, politically engaged minds – they are also gifted craftsmen who love the art of theatre.
JL: Tell me about your play. What do you hope the audience walks away thinking about after experiencing it?
EH: “Walking Next To Michael Brown: Confessions Of A Light-Skinned Half-Breed” asks questions about my complicated relationship with racial profiling. As someone who “passes,” how do I contribute to the conversation if I’ve never been arrested for the color of my skin. And how do I balance my privilege while honoring the psychic-wounds of my inheritance?
JL: What role does theater have in advocacy work?
EH: I think every play is making some kind of social critique whether the playwright thinks it does or not. Even if the play doesn’t present or take a side on this or that political issue, ambivalence or omission is still an argument – perhaps the most persuasive kind. I could argue that the decision to make art in the first place is a social gesture. In “Hands Up,” all of us were inspired to make art in response to a series of racial injustices in the past year but I think audiences might be surprised by how unique each of our responses are – and how each of us, as individuals, are rattled by conflicting views and intensions. Our outrage and humor, our victimhood and complicity, and our moments of clarity and profound confusion, all play a role in advocacy.
About Eric Holmes
Eric Holmes is currently a second year MFA Playwriting candidate at University of Iowa’s Playwrights Workshop. Former residencies and fellowships include Space At Ryder Farm (The Stick Up) and LaGuardia Performing Arts Playwriting Lab (Falls For Jodie.) His work has been seen and developed at New York Theatre Workshop (Nimpsey Pink), Lark Play Development Center, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Source, Sonnet Repertory, Stony Brook Southampton Playwriting Conference, Space 55 in Phoenix, and University of Washington where he was a guest artist. His monologue, W.F.C., is published by The Good Ear Review. Holmes co-founded Team Play, a theatre-for-young adults education program at Primary Stages Theatre Company and served on the LARK Play Development Center’s LitWing.
HANDS UP: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments
Written by Dennis Allen, Idris Goodwin, Glenn Gordon, Eric Holmes, Nathan James, and Nathan Yungerberg
Directed by Monet Noelle Marshall
Dramaturgy by Jules Odendahl-James and Jacqueline E. Lawton
Featuring Malcolm Evans, Kenny Lampkin, Jordan Marshall, Justin Peoples, CJ Suitt and Marcus Zollicoffer
Stage Manager: JaMeeka Holloway
Produced by ArtsCenter Stage
Plan Your Visit
What: HANDS UP: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments
When: February 5-7 at 8:00 pm
Where: Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd, Durham
RSVP: (919) 384-7817
Online Tickets: https://www.artful.ly/store/events/4916
*HANDS UP: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments is produced in association with the New Black Fest.
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!