Queer Black Playwrights to Know and Support: Volume II | Playbill

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Black Lives Matter Queer Black Playwrights to Know and Support: Volume II Learn about Black LGBTQIA+ experiences through theatre and support more queer Black playwrights in this second installment.

You asked, we answered! After publishing our first article spotlighting queer Black playwrights to know and support, we received a flurry of recommendations and nominations of more queer Black playwrights to highlight. Like our previous article, there are so many playwrights who are centering queer Black voices in their work, this should not be viewed as a comprehensive lis,t and is merely a starting point. But as we as a society and as an industry examine the ways in which voices have been systemically left out of the conversation, we were more than enthusiastic to publish Volume II so we can continue to uplift and amplify.

Nissy Aya

Nissy Aya

Nissy Aya is a writer, educator, and cultural worker “who believes in the transformative nature of storytelling, placing those most affected by oppressive systems in the center, and examining how we move forward through healing justice and afrofuturist frameworks.” Her creative work reflects those notions while exploring the lines between history and memory, detailing both the absence and presence of love, and giving all the life to Black Femmes. Aya was a 2019 Lambda Literary Fellow and a 2018 SPACE on Ryder Farm resident. She currently is a Brigade member with Brown Girl Recovery and core facilitator with artEquity.

Works include:
prunin, hoein n cuttin grapes
righteous kill: a requiem
n ya feet ashy

Want to take action with Aya? Donate to Black Joy Collective NYC (CashApp: $BlackJoyNYC), The Okra Project; For The Gworls, and all creative and organizing work by Nyla Sampson (CashApp: $NylaSampson).

Lee Edward Colston II

Lee Edward Colston II

Lee Edward Colston II is an actor, playwright, director, and author. As an actor, audiences have seen him in Intimate Apparel, The Color Purple, Seven Guitars, and Hadestown at New York Theater Workshop. In his interview on American Theater’s podcast The Subtext, Colston II discusses his path to becoming an actor and writer while working as a prison guard. “Once the inmates learned his dream to get into Juilliard and become an actor, they became his biggest advocates, regularly pushing him to keep applying and going after it. It was also during this time where Lee began to find his voice as a writer, penning hundreds of poems inspired by the incarcerated around him.” Listen to the full podcast episode here. His play Roost won the 2010 Life Media Award in the Philadelphia Urban Theater Festival and the 2013 Hidden River Arts Award for Best New Play. He was a 2017 Finalist for the Shonda Rhimes Unsung Voices Playwriting Commission and a 2017 recipient of the National Black Theatre I Am Soul playwriting fellowship. In 2018, Lee’s play The First Deep Breath was selected to be a part of the Victory Gardens IGNITION Festival of New Plays as well as being a semifinalist for the Page 73 playwriting fellowship and a finalist for Barrington Stage Company’s Burman New Play Award. In 2019, it received a full world premiere production The First Deep Breath “tells the story of Pastor Albert Jones and his family as they plan a special church service to honor their late daughter Diane on the sixth anniversary of her passing.” Follow Colston II on Instagram.

Works include:
The First Deep Breath
For Which It Stands
This Is My America

Want to take action with Colston II? Donate to the GoFundMe supporting Justice for Breonna Taylor.

Marcus Gardley

Marcus Gardley Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Marcus Gardley is a poet-playwright. In a 2014 interview with American Theater, Gardley says, “I am obsessed with these stories that evolve over time. Stories in the Bible, but also Greek myth, creation stories, and how we need them in order to understand our humanity.” In 2018, Gardley’s The House That Will Not Stand had its New York premiere at New York Theatre Workshop. The play, inspired by Federico García Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba, takes place in New Orleans on the eve of the Louisiana Purchase and follows the story of four free women of color. Gardley has won the Helen Merrill Award, a Kesselring honor, the Gerbode Emerging Playwright Award, a Eugene O'Neill Memorial Scholarship, and the ASCAP Cole Porter Prize, the Glickman Award, the PEN Laura Pels Award, and was the 2013 James Baldwin Fellow. Follow Gardley on Instagram.

Works include:
the road weeps, the well runs dry
The House That Will Not Stand
And Jesus moonwalks the Mississippi
This World in a Woman's Hands
Love is a Dream House in Lorin
dance of the holy ghost
Every Tongue Confess
The Gospel of Loving Kindness
black odyssey

Keelay Gipson

Keelay Gipson Whitney Browne Photography

Keelay Gipson is a multi-disciplinary artist including work as an actor, filmmaker, director, professor, and award-winning playwright. He is the recipient of New York Stage and Film’s Founders’ Award, the Van Lier Fellowship at New Dramatists, as well as writing fellowships with Lambda Literary, The Amoralists, Page 73, Dramatist Guild Foundation, Playwrights’ Realm, and The National Endowment for the Arts. Gipson, along with Co-Artistic Director Rebeca Rad and Executive Director Josh Adam Ramos, founded The Oneness Project, a multi-faceted community organizing project centered around Artistic Responses to social injustice globally and locally. With the addition of actor, musician, and songwriter Britton Smith, the four created The Lost Collective and mounted two productions of Gipson’s play The Lost, using spoken word poetry and music to “tell a story about youths at the margins of society and their struggle to create a space for themselves.” From there, The Lost Collective members became Public Artists in Residence for the City of New York’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Administration of Children’s Services. They worked with five LGBTQ foster care facilities in Brooklyn and Queens, focusing on artistic expression and creative engagement. Of the experience, Gipson said in a 2016 interview with Observer, “I would love for them just to know that the arts are the way to express yourself, and that it’s not something that’s not accessible because of your background being your sexuality, your creed, your gender, it’s for everybody.” Gipson currently is working with Stacey Rose on a document entitled Theatre Makers of Color Requirements, which will hold “theatres accountable in how they relate to, work with, and present Black artistry.” The Theatre Makers of Color Requirements can be seen here. Follow Gipson on Instagram.

Works include:
imagine sisyphus happy
CRH, or the placenta play
The Lost, Or How to Just B, What I Tell You in the Dark
Mary/Stuart, a dramatic queering of friedrich schiller's classic play

Want to take action with Gipson? Donate to The Ali Forney Center.

Darrel Alejandro Holnes

Darrel Alejandro Holnes Thomas Kuhn

Darrel Alejandro Holnes is a playwright, poet, and professor. He teaches playwriting at NYU and CUNY, with a specialty in research-based playwriting. Holnes also worked as a researcher who collected oral histories from the survivors of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita for the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center. His play Bayano had a workshop production scheduled at National Black Theatre in March. Inspired by Homer’s Odyssey, the play “explores the history, spirituality, and liberation of Bayano, an African who struggles to escape slavery in 16th century Panama…[and] return to his family in Yorubaland.” Follow Holnes on Instagram.

Works include:
Shell Shocked
The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of the NFL
A Bird of Pray
Mama's Boy/Mimado
Franklin Ave

Want to take action with Holnes? Donate to Redeemed Project, venmo: @Redeemed-inc

Daniel Alexander Jones

Daniel Alexander Jones Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Daniel Alexander Jones is a multidisciplinary artist whose original work includes plays, performance pieces, recorded music, concerts, music theatre events, essays, and long-form improvisations. He is recognized as a key voice in the development of Theatrical Jazz and has made a significant contribution to Black Experimental Theatre and Performance, his work centered in Black American and Queer Performance traditions, while also exploring Afromystical ideas. Jomama Jones is Jones’ altar ego; part guardian angel, Orisha, and ancestor. Jones says his performances of Jomama, “She’s not a character or a persona because I didn’t create her, I received her… think of me— Daniel— as the vessel of the visitation with Jomama.” Watch Jones’ full description video here. Jones says of his work, “The work is to remind, recenter, reignite, through artistic ritual practice, a lived experience-in-time of vulnerable presence, integral intelligence, radical imagination, and boundless creativity.” Follow Jones on Twitter and Instagram.

Works include:
Black Light
An Integrator’s Manual

Want to take action with Jones? Donate to the Penumbra Theatre.

Zhailon Levingston

Zhailon Levingston

Zhailon Levingston is a director, writer, producer, and performing artist. He is the Creative Director for Broadway Advocacy Coalition. In 2016, Levingston founded Words on White, an arts and activism campaign that helped organizations talk about social justice. He is also an associate producer for Fire This Time Festival, a “platform for talented early-career playwrights of African and African American descent to explore challenging new directions for 21st century theater.” As a director, he’s helmed works including The Years That Went Wrong by David Zheng at The Lark and MCC, Chariot part 2 at SoHo Rep for The Movement Theatre Company, Douglas Lyons’ “Chicken and Biscuits” at Queens Theatre, and Runaways at The Public with Sam Pinkleton. He is also the U.S. associate director for Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. His play, The Hole: A New American Play, had its world premiere at New Ohio Theatre during the 2018 Ice Factory Summer Festival of New Work. Loosely based on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the play “explores the relationship and personal struggles of two inmates in solitary confinement,” as described by Levingston in a 2018 interview with RaceBaitR. Follow Levingston on Twitter and Instagram.

Works include:
The Hole: A New American Play

Want to take action with Levingston? As Levingston continues to center queer Black voices in his work, you can support him through Venmo: @zhailon.

Eric Lockley

Eric Lockley Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Eric Lockley is an actor, writer, filmmaker, public speaker and producer. He is most passionate about creating work that explores the complexity of identity through the lens of the often under-represented. As a part of both Harlem9 and The Movement Theatre Company, Lockley oversees, creates and produces the artistic programming with his team of collaborators at each organization. In 2015 Lockley produced and wrote The Jump, an autobiographical short film he’s also a featured actor in that explores a young man's complicated relationship with the water. The Jump won Best Narrative Short Audience Award at Blackstar Film fest and has screened at a number of notable festivals including Urbanworld and Martha's Vineyard African American Film Fest. In 2019, audiences enjoyed Lockley’s performance in #DateMe: An OkCupid Experiment at the Westside Theatre. He has also written several solo shows, including Asking For More and Last Laugh. Currently, you can tune in to his Instagram Live show, Turning Points, where he interviews guests about how they faced a turning point in their life every Thursday. Follow Lockley on his website, Twitter and Instagram.

Works include:
Asking For More
Last Laugh
Blacken the Bubble
Room 4

Want to take action with Lockley? As he continues to center queer Black voices in his work, you can support him through Venmo: @Eric-Lockley or Patreon: patreon.com/ericlockley

Douglas Lyons

Douglas Lyons Dominick Totino Photography

Douglas Lyons is a playwright, composer, lyricist, and actor. Of his work, he says, “I strive to use diverse stories to inspire children through art and remind them of their fullest potential and worth.” Audiences have seen him perform on Broadway in The Book of Mormon and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. As a composer-lyricist, he is part of the writing duo Lyons & Pakchar, working on shows together including Five Points, Beau, and Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical. In March, Lyons’ Chicken and Biscuits, a play that follow an African-American family as they are forced to confront their skeletons head on, played at Queens Theatre. In June, he launched The Next Wave Initiative, a developmental branch of The Directors Company committed to amplifying future Black voices in the American theatre. Follow Lyons on Twitter and Instagram.

Works include:
Chicken and Biscuits
Five Points
Pete(Her) Pan
The Moon and The Sea
Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical

Want to take action with Lyons? Donate to The Okra Project.

Derek Lee McPhatter

Derek Lee McPhatter

Derek Lee McPhatter is a writer and producer committed to new work that engages diverse communities, emphasizing narratives at the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality, and technology. He is a 2020 resident playwright with Chicago Dramatists, which incubated Real Talk with Auntie B, a satire on American ambition in the age of social media. He is a member of the Dramatists’ Guild and has been a Tutterow Fellow at Chicago Dramatists and a 2016-2018 I AM SOUL Resident Playwright at The National Black Theatre. Between 2016-2019, McPhatter served as librettist, book-writer and/or lyricist for five new music-theatre works with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He is a founding playwright with The Fire This Time Festival and an inaugural playwright in the 48 Hours in Harlem Festival, two Obie-winning programs in NYC. Of his work, McPhatter says, “As a queer, black playwright, my work is most naturally an exploration a Black Experience. However, my black experience is not limited to racism, nor is it limited to 'black' contexts and situations. My black experience is personal, intersectional, forward-facing, contradictory, and in flux.” Read his full artistic statement here. Follow McPhatter on Twitter and Instagram.

Works include:
This App is Not the Business
Bring the Beat Back
Real Talk with Auntie B
Serious Adverse Events

Want to take action with McPhatter? Donate to YEPP Youth Empowerment Performance Project and The Fire This Time Festival .

Daaimah Mubashshir

Daaimah Mubashshir

Daaimah Mubashshir is a Core Writer at the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis. Her play Room Enough (For Us All) is centered on a contemporary African-American Muslim family coming to terms with how to treat queerness amidst long-standing ideals and faith. It was a part of the 2019 Pride Plays at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre. Stay tuned for a presentation of this play by The Playwrights Center. Her play The Immeasurable Want of Light is published by 3 Hole Press with illustrations by Nell Painter. She has been a member of the Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab, Clubbed Thumb Early Career Writers Group, and a MacDowell Colony Fellow. Follow Mubashshir on Instagram and at daaimahmubashshir.com

Works include:
Room Enough (For Us All)
The Immeasurable Want of Light
The Chronicles of Cardigan and Khente
Emily Black is a Total Gift
Rum for Sale
Night of Power

Want to take action with Mubashshir? Support FIERCE, an organization focused on building the leadership and power of LGBTQ+ youth of color.

Jeremy O’Brian

Jeremy O'Brian

Jeremy O’Brian is a playwright and educator, teaching writing and Black Atlantic Theatre at The New School Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts and New York University. Of his work, O’Brian said in a 2019 interview with African American Intellectual History Society, “I want a more loving world and my entry point is through the stories and experiences of Black queer boys and Black LGBTQ folk.” Recently, audiences saw O’Brian’s a curious thing; or superheroes k’ain’t fly as a part of the JAGfest 4.0 in February. He is the 2019 recipient of Liberation Theatre Playwriting Residency Fellowship, 2018 Athena Theatre’s Athena Writes Playwriting Fellowship, and the 2016 Lambda Literary Emerging LGBTQ Voice in Playwriting Fellowship. Follow O’Brian on Twitter and Instagram.

Works include:
egg; or anythin’ dipped in egg gone soften
a curious thing; or superheroes k’ain’t fly
under one roof

Want to take action with O’Brian? As he continues to center queer Black voices in his work, you can support him through CashApp: $jeremyobrian

Larry Powell

Larry Powell

Larry Powell is a writer, actor, director, and producer. As an actor he has originated and premiered roles, including: Lucas Hnath’s The Christians, Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride, Suzan Lori Parks’ Father Comes Home From The Wars, and Billy Porter’s While I Yet Live. He is a two-time Ovation Award nominee, three-time NAACP Theatre Award Nominee, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Award Nominee, two-time LA Drama Critics Circle Award Winner, as well as an Audelco and Audie award nominee. As a writer, audiences saw Powell’s Easy to Fall in Love as a part of the 2015 Fire This Time Festival. He is also a core playwright at the Lark Play Development Center. Powell is currently adapting his work The Gaze: No Homo, which was a 2020 O’Neill National Play Conference Finalist, into a new media series. The Gaze is originally a “cycle of plays that examines the process of building culturally specific and queer works of color in historically white spaces.” Powell says he’s adapting this work “as a way to add to the conversation about systemic, institutionalized racism in the American theatre.” You can also look into his website, a virtual performing arts resource center for BIPOC/LGBTQ+/marginalized artists. Follow Powell on Instagram.

Works include:
Lost Dog
Dreams of a Prophet
Black Brit
Titty Boy
Easy to Fall in Love

Want to take action with Powell? You can support his adaptation of The Gaze.

Aurin Squire

Aurin Squire

Aurin Squire is a playwright, reporter, and multimedia artist. He is a two-time recipient of the Lecomte du Nouy Prize from Lincoln Center, won the 2017 Helen Merrill Prize for Emerging Playwrights, and the Emerald Prize from Seattle Public Theatre. As an independent reporter he has written for The Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune, ESPN, and more. Squire is also a contributor for the Maxamoo podcast. He writes in a statement to Playbill, “I’ve written several plays that are pertinent to what's going on right now, including Obama-ology, Defacing Michael Jackson, Running on Fire, and Zoohouse.” You can find them on Squire’s New Play Exchange page. Follow Squire on Twitter and Instagram.

Works include:
Matthew Takes Mannahatta
To Whom It May Concern
Running on Fire
Don't Smoke in Bed
Defacing Michael Jackson

Want to take action with Squire? Donate to the #BlackLivesMatter fund and the ACLU.

Ianne Fields Stewart

Ianne Fields Stewart iannefieldsstewart.com

Ianne Fields Stewart is a Black, queer, and transfeminine storyteller working at the intersection of theatre and activism. Through the three platforms: performer, cultural competency consultant, and a teaching artist, director, choreographer, and playwright, Stewart is “dedicated to interrupting the exclusivity of luxury by making things like entertainment, nourishment, and self care accessible to the most marginalized in their community.” They are a co-host of the Topics Include Podcast and has appeared on the You Had Me at Black podcast, the #Safewordsociety podcast, and the Is it Transphobic Podcast. Stewart also was selected for Humanity in Action's 2017 John Lewis Fellowship. In 2019, they co-founded The Okra Project. In an interview with Black Women Radicals, Stewart said, "The Okra Project really has taken on a life of its own and become something in the community that people can lean on and rely on in the community when they need to. It has been really humbling and an honor to do this—creating and curating this space for Black trans people specifically." They are the script coordinator/writer for the inaugural Antonyo Awards. Follow Stewart on Instagram.

Works include:
A Complicated Woman
A Dying Breed

Want to take action with Stewart? Donate to Stewart's organization The Okra Project.

York Walker

York Walker

York Walker is an actor and playwright and a member of Lena Waithe’s Hillman Grad Mentorship Program. On June 5, he was named the inaugural recipient of Vineyard Theatre’s Colman Domingo Award. The award will be given annually to a multi-faceted Black male or male-identifying theatre artist to provide support and resources to create new work. In 2019, Walker’s White Shoes was produced at 2019 Fire This Time Festival and The Séance was produced as a part of Harlem9’s ninth annual 48 Hours in Harlem. In a 2019 interview with StageAgent, Walker says, “For me writing is an opportunity to tell stories without having to wait for permission to tell them. My mission is to explore the African American and/or LGBTQ experience in its fullness in my work.” Follow Walker on Twitter and Instagram.

Works include:
The Séance
You’re Gonna Be Famous
White Shoes
Summer of ‘63
Of Dreams to Come True

Want to take action with Walker? Donate to The Okra Project.

Josh Wilder

Josh Wilder

Josh Wilder is a playwright, and the first national recipient of the Jerome Many Voices Fellowship at The Playwrights’ Center. He also won the Holland New Voices Award, The Lorraine Hansberry Award, The Rosa Parks Award, and The ASCAP Cole Porter Prize. In 2019, his play She a Gem made its world premiere at The Kennedy Center. The play follows three friends who form a double-dutch team to compete in their neighborhood pageant in Philadelphia. In a 2019 interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Wilder shares that he was inspired by watching the young girls double Dutch when he was growing up in Philadelphia, “I said to myself, ‘I have to write a play about and for young women, especially young women of color.' That’s when I thought back to my younger days on the block.” If you're interested in working more with Wilder, he offers script consultation, mentorship, and a Playwrights workshop that begins August 31. You can learn more and sign up here. Follow Wilder on Twitter.

Works include:
She a Gem
Salt Pepper Ketchup
The Highwaymen
Wrong River
The Hands That Could

Want to take action with Wilder? Donate to San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company, Fire This Time Festival, and Quicksilver Theater Company.

Nia Witherspoon

Nia Witherspoon

Nia O. Witherspoon is a black queer writer/director, vocalist/composer, and cultural worker described as “especially fascinating” by Backstage Magazine. Witherspoon’s work creates contemporary ritual-space immersed in the meta-physics of blackness, desire, and diaspora. A resident at Brooklyn Arts Exchange and HERE Art Center, Witherspoon is a recent awardee of Creative Capital and Jerome Fellowship. She won New York Theatre Workshop’s 2050 Playwriting/Directing Fellowship, BRIC’s Premiere Residency, a NYFA “Made in NY” Women’s Film, TV, and Theatre Fund grant, Astraea Foundation’s Global Arts Fund Grant, Lambda Literary’s Emerging Playwriting Fellowship, and a Mellon Dissertation Fellowship, among others. Her works, MESSIAH, The Dark Girl Chronicles, YOUMINE, and SHE have been developed or featured at BRIC, HERE, NYTW, National Black Theatre, BAAD, Dixon Place, The Fire This Time Festival, Judson Church, and Movement Research. Witherspoon holds a PhD from Stanford University, and is currently the Multimedia Writer-in-Residence at Fordham University. Follow Witherspoon on Instagram.

Works include:
The Dark Girl Chronicles
Priestess of Twerk

Want to take action with Witherspoon? Donate to the Jean Moye "Dark" Fund for Black women/femmes + TGNC artists, the Nina Pop Mental Health Recovery Fund, and the Tony McDade Mental Health Recovery Fund.

Nathan Yungerberg

Nathan Yungerberg

Nathan Yungerberg is a storyteller and playwright. He was one of seven black playwrights commissioned by The New Black Fest for HANDS UP: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments. He was a semifinalist for the 2016 O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, winner of the Ken Davenport 10-Minute Play Festival, finalist for the 11th Annual InspiraTO Festival, and a seminfinalist for the Blue Ink Playwriting Award. In an interview with Jacqueline E. Lawton, Yungerberg says, “In emotionally charged times like this, with never ending conversations that often end in gridlock, theater is helpful because sometimes people just need to sit, listen and absorb another person’s perspective.” Follow Yungerberg on Instagram.

Works include:
Hands Up
Esai’s Table
The Son of Dawn
Pousada Azul
Orchids and Polka Dots
Golden Gate
Brush Strokes
Seven Pools of Lebanon

Want to take action with Yungerberg? Donate to Fire This Time Festival.

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