Friday, June 06, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 665: Judy Tate

Judy Tate

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Current Town: New York City

Q:  Tell me about your upcoming show at the The Kitchen Theater.

A:  It's called Slashes of Light and it is the coming of age story of a young girl in the 1960's in an all-black private school on the South Side of Chicago and her relationship with her friend, a budding radical; her smoldering crush; and the new white history teacher who comes to town to teach them.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I have several projects going. Some are writing projects and others are education projects. I am the producing artistic director of The American Slavery Project, and the co-artistic director of a theatre company for kids at risk,  sponsored by Manhattan Theatre Club's education program called Stargate.  You can look at the video here:

Q:  Tell me about the American Slavery Project.

A:  The American Slavery Project is a "theatrical response" to revisionism in this country's discourse around slavery, the Civil War and Jim Crow. We support work about the era by African descended writers.  We were founded in 2011 in recognition of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and the dearth of work on NY Stages about the era from our own perspective and in our own voice. ASP has produced staged readings by several award-winning writers and created an original piece called "Unheard Voices" which brings life to the African descended men, women and children slaves, free people and indentured servants who lived their lives on the streets of New York during colonial times.

Our website is:

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  When I was 8 years old my parents bought me a "Showboat". It was a replica of the steam paddle boats that would go up and down the Mississippi doing plays. It had scenery you could change, characters on little pedestals and a book of scripts. It fascinated me and I played with it for hours-- directing my play characters, reading all the parts. Then, after looking at those scripts, I decided I was going to write my own and adapted a story to be performed. It was Rumplestilskin. I dressed my sister up in green leotards and tights and put pointy ears on her. Then I hired all the other characters from kids on our block. The king, the towns-people, et al. I played the princess, of course, and I gave myself a song.  "I can't spin this straw, straw, straw, straw into gold"! We toured backyards throughout the block!

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  It would be cheaper and more inclusive.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I don't have heroes. Especially not in theatre. I don't like the idea of icons and pedestals.  In my mind people who live ordinary lives in what we look back on as extraordinary times - like during enslavement in this country - those people might qualify as heroes. People who made it out of concentration camps, or walked their families out of war torn countries like Rwanda, got out of the south alive during Jim Crow - they're maybe heroes.  But not theatrical people. That being said, I have a lot of respect for many theatrical people for various reasons. Among them, Lee K. Richardson & Ricardo Khan along with Louise Gorham, who founded Crossroads theatre, Eugene Lee who founded the Black and Latino Playwrights Festival, Woodie King, who founded The New Federal Theatre, Stella Adler who taught acting and respect for the playwright, Keith Josef Adkins, playwright and founder of The New Black Fest and many, many writers of plays and fiction. Among them: Toni Morrison, José Rivera, Lorraine Hansberry, Ntozake Shangé, August Wilson. Harvey Fierstein, Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, Cassandra Medley, Cori Thomas, Alexander Thomas, Harrison Rivers, `all of the writers of the American Slavery Project's "Unheard Voices".

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Work that pinpoints and then illuminates a specific feeling, attitude, time or cultural phenomenon. Theatre that awakens understanding in me. Theatre in which I can get lost. I like theatre with complex characters. But I also like many different forms. I work in realism with a little magic thrown in, but I like other styles, as well.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Write a lot. Re-write a lot. Tuck a play away and visit it a long time later.  You'll see new things.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Slashes of Light runs from June 11 - 29 at The Kitchen Theatre in Ithaca, NY

The American Slavery Project can be viewed at:

Stargate Theatre Company performs Saturday August 16thVisit

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