BWW Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson’s Been Ready For SHOWTIME – BLUES

BWW Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson's Been Ready For SHOWTIME - BLUES

In these pandemic times, The Fountain Theatre has been Zooming their SATURDAY MATINEE series, the latest on June 27 being France-Luce Benson‘s SHOWTIME BLUES. The cast of this reading includes Cecil Blutcher, Suzette Azariah Gunn and Matt Kirkwood. I had the socially distant opportunity to pose a few questions to this prolific playwright.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, France-Luce!

What are you doing to keep safe, sane and creative in these stay-at-home times?
Besides producing and hosting SATURDAY MATINEE for The Fountain, which has kept me busy and focused, lots of biking and long nature walks; and I managed to complete a new TV pilot and have had a few readings of works in progress. I’ve also been much more deliberate about connecting with friends and loved ones. I do a weekly Friday night happy hour with a group of friends (that always goes into after hours); and I’ve participated in virtual healing circles with the “Hidden Water” community. I was introduced to Hidden Water several years ago in NY, it was a life line then and a great source of support these past few months. In these last few weeks, I’ve been revisiting a lot of James Baldwin for inspiration and guidance; and I’ve been watching Pose for generous doses of light and love.

SHOWTIME BLUES first premiered in 2017 at Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York. Did any audience responses then take you by surprise?

I was in residency at Djerassi for the run of the show, but was deeply moved by the number of folks who reached out to me after seeing it; and particularly moved by how much it resonated with black men.

Do you expect audience responses on June 27 to be different in any way, now three years later?

Good question. I try not to anticipate audience responses, I try to focus on the work. But I imagine the characters’ journeys might trigger some raw emotions. However, it’s amazing how little has changed in the three years for Black Americans. Perhaps white audiences might hear and see these characters more vividly, and have greater compassion.

What would your three-line pitch of SHOWTIME BLUESbe?
A potentially dangerous encounter, and major train delays force Ameira and Demetrius to confront their internalized prejudice attitudes, and the harsh realities of life as a moving target.
No matter how bright their lights shine, Ameira and Demetrius struggle to be seen. But a potentially dangerous encounter forces them to open their eyes and confront their internalized prejudice attitudes. And while their train is stalled, they grapple with the harsh realities of life as a moving target.

Any particular incident sparked your creation of SHOWTIME BLUES?

BWW Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson's Been Ready For SHOWTIME - BLUES

No. It wasn’t one specific incident, it was series of incidents in which Black men and women’s lives were taken by police. Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice… and on and on…
Have you worked with any of the cast or creatives of SHOWTIME BLUES before? All of them. Cecil Blutcher originated the role of Demetrius at Ensemble Studio Theatre in NY. Suzette Azariah Gunn was cast in my play FALL, also produced at EST, and Matt Kirkwood participated in the reading of DETAINED last month.

You are currently the Community Engagement Coordinator for The Fountain Theatre. How did it all come about in your accepting this position?

I was in Salvador de Bahia in Brazil, in residency at the Sacatar Foundation. Stephen Sachs emailed me out of the blue, a few days later we had a phone interview and he offered me the job. It was perfect timing.

What are the goals you’ve set for yourself, and for The Fountain?

Primarily, I want to develop their Arts Ed programming. I want to reach a wider range of students in Los Angeles, and to build bridges in the community through the work we do. I’d also like to nurture The Fountain’s relationships with organizations who embody our artistic mission. Before the pandemic, we partnered with Hollywood Food Coalition, Covenant House, and Los Angeles LGBTQ Center during the run of HUMAN INTEREST STORY. I actually maintained contact with the LGBTQ Center during quarantine; and volunteered for their Hello Club, making wellness calls to senior citizens. I’d like these relationships to be long lasting. I’d also like their audience base to reflect L.A.’s multi-cultural landscape. I’d like to see more brown and black folks in the audience, on stage, and behind the scenes.

How old were you when you came to America from Haiti?

I actually wasn’t born in Haiti – both of my parents were born and raised in Haiti. I was born in Zaire (aka Democratic Republic of Congo) in Africa. We came to America when I was about 2 years old.

Have you gone back to Haiti to visit family or friends there?

It’s been awhile. I haven’t been back to Haiti since the earthquake. We were planning a trip this year, but will have to postpone.

Haitians are central to a lot of your plays (i.e.; BOAT PEOPLE, THE DEVIL’S SALT, ASCENSION, FREEDOM SEA). Any specific aspects of Haitian culture you try to reveal to your audiences in your projects?

In all my plays, I aim to reveal our humanity. Part of my artistic mission is to challenge the many negative (and largely inaccurate) stereotypes about the Haitian people, and to celebrate our amazing history.

What facet of Haitian culture do you find most people are unaware of?

Just about everything. But I suppose what pains me most is how most people know nothing about The Haitian Revolution. It is one of the greatest and most successful uprisings in world history. It was a magnificent achievement that gave birth to Haiti – and changed the course of history for France, England, Spain, and America.

You earned your BA in Theatre from Florida International University and MFA in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. Any anti-racial experiences stick in your mind?

Ha, ha! So many. (I’d rather not get into that here.)

Would you consider staff and fellow students woke in your university years?

Honestly? No.

What is your hope for the heighten human situation today?

Radical change.

Article from Broadway World LA by Gil Kaan.

Congratulations to Vickie Ramirez, the Recipient of The National New Play Network 2020 Smith Prize for Political Theater !

 National New Play Network, the country’s alliance of professional theaters that collaborate in innovative ways to develop, produce, and extend the life of new plays, announces the winner of the 2020 Smith Prize for Political Theater: Vickie Ramirez.

“The Smith Prize for Political Theater is a program that has been urgent and necessary since its inception,” said NNPN Executive Director Nan Barnett. “The resonance and vision that Vickie’s project will contribute to the American theater is especially vital at this time. We are thrilled to welcome her and her work into the Network.”

Elisa Blandford, the Managing Producer of Native Voices at the Autry, the NNPN Member Theater that nominated Ramirez for the prize, said: “Vickie demands audience exploration of what it means not only to be American, but also to be human in a society that was ravaged by the atrocities of colonialization and the separation of Indigenous communities from mainstream culture. She poses challenging, political, and divisive questions – questions with no one clear answer, allowing for continued audience dialogue when the play ends.”

Ramirez is the 15th recipient of the Smith Prize for Political Theater, established in 2006 by Timothy Jay Smith and a group of socially conscious donors to encourage emerging playwrights to tackle the pressing issues of our times.

The full press release is available here.

FST Announces the Playwrights Project Featuring Tom Gibbons, Bruce Graham, Sarah Bierstock & Jason Odell Williams

The Playwrights Project is Florida Studio Theatre’s newest artistic initiative, employing 33 of the country’s top playwrights, sketch comedy writers, and musical theatre developers, including Tom Gibbons, Bruce Graham, Sarah Bierstock, and Jason Odell Williams, as full-time staff writers. Over the course of this eight-week project, each artist will write and deliver a first draft of an original play, sketch comedy piece, or cabaret. The material generated during this time will be considered for future production in FST’s Mainstage, Cabaret, Sketch Comedy, and Children’s Theatre programs.

In addition to working as staff writers, Playwrights Project artists will enhance FST’s online educational offerings by leading workshops, tutorials, and contributing to virtual classes. The artists will also participate in online forum discussions and special Q&A sessions with small invited audiences.

For more about the Playwrights Project, click here.

“The project was conceived within the first few days of the theater shutting down due to COVID-19,” said Richard Hopkins, FST’s producing artistic director. “FST, like the rest of our nation, was brought to a sudden standstill. Three days after closing the theater, I had a revelation about Shakespeare — he, like every good artist, instead of following the dark and writing about the plagues of his time, took the road less traveled and followed the light. He wrote, without judgment, about the wonder of humankind. Which made me think that now is the time for FST to inspire the creation of plays. To ask playwrights to write like Shakespeare and reveal humanity’s complexities without judgment.”

Read more about this from the Venice Gondolier here.

Playwrights’ Center Announces 2020-23 Core Writers including Mashuq Mushtaq Deen

Mashuq Mushtaq Deen

The Playwrights’ Center has announced seven playwrights who will be company’s 2020-23 Core Writers. Sharon Bridgforth, Mashuq Mushtaq Deen, Andrew Rosendorf, Riti Sachdeva, Charly Evon Simpson, Crystal Skillman, and Jonathan Spector will join the program aimed at supporting playwrights who demonstrate a sustained level of accomplishment, commitment, and artistic excellence.

“I am so excited to welcome back Andrew and Riti to the Center as well as welcome Deen, Charly, Crystal, Sharon, and Jonathan—all of whose work I have deeply admired for a long time,” said producing artistic director Jeremy B. Cohen in a statement. “They are all incredible writers, and I look forward to seeing each of them grow as artists over the next three years.”

During the three-year tenure, Core Writers receive play development workshops, the opportunity to be part of the PlayLabs festival or the Ruth Easton New Play Series, and the chance to connect with Playwrights’ Center’s network of producing theatres.

Deen is a resident playwright at New Dramatists and a 2019 Lambda Literary Award Winner. His full-length plays include Flood (upcoming; Kansas City Rep, 2021), The Empty Place (NYU commission), The Betterment Society (upcoming publication), The Shaking Earth (postponed production, National Queer Theater, 2021), and Draw the Circle (productions: PlayMakers, Mosaic, Rattlestick; published: DPS; winner Lambda Literary Award).

Read the full article from American Theatre here.

Congratulations Deneen Reynolds-Knott! Your play, BABES IN HO-LLAND has been selected for the 2020 Bay Area Playwrights Festival!

Playwrights Foundation, the West Coast’s premiere launchpad for exceptional plays and playwrights announces the lineup for the 2020 Bay Area Playwrights Festival (BAPF), featuring playwrights Tyler English-Beckwith, Stefani Kuo, Jordan Ramirez Puckett, Deneen Reynolds-Knott, and Noelle Viñas. The 2020 Bay Area Playwrights Festival runs July 17-26, 2020 in an online format worldwide . The Festival offers public readings in addition to panel discussions and surrounding online events on Facebook Live. Pay What You Can tickets will go on sale starting June 1st.

The 43rd Annual festival is Playwrights Foundation’s Executive Artistic Director Jessica Bird Beza’s first. “The move to an all online experience for both artists and audience is in a way a paradigm shift,” says Bird Beza, ” I am excited for the opportunities this moment presents to create a wider access and platform for these much needed stories of love, perseverance, and self discovery to be heard.” As the nature of theater and theatricality changes, Playwrights Foundation continues to be dedicated to emerging playwrights and the development of new work. Selected out of 735 submissions, this year’s lineup consists of an all female group of playwrights whose voices have a platform.

Deneen Reynolds-Knott is a member of Clubbed Thumb‘s 2019-2020 Early-Career Writers’ Group and received a finalist grant from their 2018 Open-Application Commission. She is a New Georges affiliated artist and has developed work with Liberation Theatre Company’s Writing Residency, Project Y’s Playwrights Group, Rising Circle’s INKtank Development Lab and Frank Silvera Workshop’s 3in3 Playwright Residency. Her full-length play, BATON, was selected for the 2018 Premiere Play Festival and received a workshop reading at Premiere Stages, the 2017 Playfest at the Orlando Shakespeare Company, and was a finalist for the 2017 PlayPenn and Bay Area Playwrights conferences. Deneen’s play, ANTEPARTUM, was presented at the 2020 Fire This Time Festival as part of their signature ten-minute play program. She received her MFA in film from Columbia University.

Read the full article from Broadway World San Francisco here.