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 Dennis A. Allen II, author of “How I Feel”, 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?
Dennis A Allen II: My mother would take me to see broadway shows when I was younger and I distinctly remember going to see August Wilson's Piano Lesson and it having an emotional effect on me that no other show I had seen previously had. In hind sight I realize it was the first time I saw a play with an all black cast and that was focused specifically on the African American experience. I didn't make the decision consciously that theatre would be my career goal but that show definitely planted the seed. It wouldn't be until I was 27 years old and fired from a corporate job that I took the chance at pursuing theatre as a profession. I always loved the written word and performing but I bought into the lie that the entertainment business is not a reliable source of income and therefore not a logical life pursuit.
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?
DAAII: If waiting until the last minute can be considered a ritual, then that is mine. I tend to be a perfectionist procrastinator, so unless I feel the pressure of a deadline I find myself avoiding the act of sitting and writing. That being said, once I have an idea for a play I am constantly drafting scenes and dialogue in my mind so by the time I sit down I have a pretty clear vision of the world and characters. I don't have one set location but It does need to be outside of my home to avoid distractions.
JL: Why was it important for you to be a part of the New Black Fest’s Hands Up: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments
DAAII: I believe in the work that Keith does as a artist and through the New Black Fest. I think it is always work that is crucial to the black community and the theatre community overall so it was important to me because he made the call
JL: Tell me about your play. What do you hope the audience walks away thinking about after experiencing it?
DAAII: If I can briefly get the audience to experience physically and emotionally the frustration and exhaustion and pain that black men experience living in a land based in white supremacy then I think I was successful.
JL: What role does theater have in advocacy work?
DAAII: To influence decisions within political and social systems and institutions one must be able to change the heart and minds of individuals and in my experience theatre is the perfect vehicle to spark that sort of change.
JL: What next for you as a writer? Where can we follow your work?
DAAII: March 20th I have a new play being read at the Lark through the New Black Fest. March 22nd I have a ten minute play going up through Working Theater's Directors Salon. And in August Atlantic Theater company will present a reading of a new play that they commissioned me to write. dennisaallenii.com
About Dennis A Allen II
Dennis A. Allen II was born and raised in Hempstead, New York. His play The Mud is Thicker in Mississippi was a winner at the 35th annual Off Off Broadway Samuel French festival in 2010 directed by Dennis’ frequent collaborator Christopher Burris. He’s been the recipient of the Himan Brown Creative Writing Award two years running, and has developed and produced plays with Sanctuary NYC, Variations Theatre Group, The Bowery Poetry Club (Sticky), JACK, Liberation Theatre, National Black Theatre and the Classical Theatre of Harlem. He has kept up his cutting exploration of racial interaction and black identity in plays like Where the Sun Don’t Shine, a new work inspired by Raisin in the Sun at the Harlem9!s 2013 48 hours in
Harlem, MOTHER at the 2013 Fire This Time festival, collaborative writing projects with The American Slavery Project’s 2012 Unheard Voices, 2014 Schomburg Junior Scholars theatrical reading of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, and The New Black Fest's Hands up: Six Playwrights, Six Testaments. He is a recipient of Atlantic Theater Company's inaugural 2014-15 Launch Commission. Dennis received his MFA in playwriting from Brooklyn College in 2013.
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.
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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!