Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Black Protagonist

Wirtten by The Associates Theater Ensemble
Directed by Peregrine Heard
Produced by the Associates Theater Ensemble

Nominated for Outstanding Original Full-Length Script which was written by the Associates Theater Ensemble including: Jamal Abdunnasir, Tim Craig, Peregrine Heard, Lauren LaRocca, Emily Stout, Beatrice Vena,  Ayana Wilson, Casey Worthington

Photo by Tyler H. First

About the Production

According to their mission statement, the Associates Theater Ensemble bring to the stage “unbounded fears and unrealized fantasies” and begins their process “from the disturbing and often viscerally familiar nooks and crannies of human behavior.” So it is not surprising that they tackled one of the most important and emotionally charged topics of our time, race. Their ensemble created play, Black Protagonist, asks “can a person build an identity— white or black — that outsmarts racism?”

Director and playwright Peregrine Heard and playwright Tim Craig shared what it is like to delve into this subject matter and to address it as an ensemble.


What attracted you to this subject matter?

Peregrine:  Black Protagonist sprung from conversations about the things that make our stomachs twist. We identified our personal entanglement with the social phenomena of race, racial privilege, and white guilt as the foundation of the play, and we experimented with building a play form that could at once refashion and belie those constructs on stage.

Tim: The Associates where interested in approaching social and cultural identity not only from the front door, but from a window over the kitchen sink, the basement door, and through the doggy door. We focused on crafting every moment.
Photo by Tyler H. First

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Peregrine:  We were lucky to have a residency with HB Studio, and at the workshop of our second draft of Black Protagonist the audience talkback gave birth to a whole-hearted discussion of many points; ideological, dramaturgical, political, and emotional in the play. That audience contributed immeasurably to our perspective on the play and our confidence in the conversation on race that we were aiming to join.

Tim: Coming to rehearsal every day. I literally entered every rehearsal with a mind set of, "ok allow yourself to be challenged." I would leave questioning my existence. Hence needing the above mantra.

What was the most challenging part of working on this production?

Peregrine: We posed the question in many different forms, but the challenge was fundamentally: How can a number of artists without black identities create theater that deals centrally and essentially with the notion of black identity and the role of racial identity in our lives? This question eventually appeared in the play, because that tension fueled significant character and story development.

Tim: Being in a room with a group of people who are investigating how we feel about social and racial issues is one thing. Being able to keep a vow of honesty and continually peeling away layers to uncover raw thoughts and emotions goes beyond any of my previous experiences.  The self-clarity was enlightening. It was real treat.

What was the most unexpected thing that happened during this production?

Peregrin: The Associates are a devising ensemble, so ideas and writing come from all directions during the making of the play. One such idea—a spoken word artist performing a monologue "for Rachel Dolezal"—arose right before we went into tech and landed in the play about two days before we had our first audience. Our peerless designers folded it in seamlessly, yet I think as devisers we always saw that poem as a kind of down-to-the-buzzer shot.

Tim: The script started with a linear idea with one purpose. But the linear idea exploded into a million different directions. A "Big Bang" if you will. Everything around that "Big Bang" was devised on its feet and became cohesive and organic dialogue.
Photo by Tyler H. First

What was is like creating this work as an ensemble?

Peregrin: The Associates share what is true: what is often taboo or at least unnervingly intimate about ourselves. It's scary-fun for us, and we do it to give the audience a chance to be seen, to feel familiar, and to confront the complicity of theater.

Tim: The Associated are rare. We strive to understand the truth of the moment and the truth of ourselves.

You can follow The Associates on Twitter @_TheAssociates


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