Tuesday, June 09, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 754: Nikkole Salter

Nikkole Salter

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Current Town: Bloomfield, NJ

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  Woolly Commission, screenplay adaptation of a novel, University of NC Chapel Hill Commission, Pace University Commission, NJPAC commission, The New Black Fest's UNTAMED commission. (Yikes)

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

A:  Hmmm. Don't know if there's one story that wraps it up... at least not one that I'm evolved enough to recognize. Off the top of my head, I will say that I grew up in Los Angeles going to performing arts schools - that was my extra curricular activity of choice (anything to keep me out of the sports my mother loved and thought would be my ticket to college...I showed her!). Marla Gibbs Crossroads Arts Academy, Faith Acting Studios (both defunct) and Amazing Grace Conservatory shaped me immensely, and were/are very involved in creating community based theatre with excellence. I grew up watching theatre professionals pursue commercial careers while devoting at least an equal amount of time to developing institutions and platforms for their community's stories. My first opportunity to write for the stage was issued to me by a woman named Deirdre Weston, co-founder of Faith. She was a theatre actress and writer from Philly's New Freedom Theatre. There were a bunch of us who had been training and performing under her tutelage since we were like eight and nine years old. Around 13, she said that it was time that we graduated from our sketch showcases and assigned plays to cohesive storytelling of our own creation about more adult subjects...that everything theatre could do was not all fun and games, and that our voices were as important as anyone's. She took us through a series of exercises exposing us to the realities of enslaved and oppressed women of African descent in America to open our imaginations. She assigned reading. We listened to Nina Simone's "Four Women," repeatedly and discussed our thoughts and research. Then she asked each of us to create a character and write a monologue that was inspired by the song and our research to perform. She said it was very important that we do a good job because, though our renderings would be fictional, the women and their stories are based on something very real. I was honored to be a part of that process. I was determined to do a good job. I was filled with purpose. And, looking back, that process taught me that stories weren't about me at all. My writing, my performance was the means by which stories delivered information, changed minds and opened (or closed) hearts. Yeah... I guess that was my beginning.

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

A:  I'd change the baseline income of a theatre professional! I'd make companies again so people can be salaried, and insured and part of a team so that the national focus moves from one of individual competition to collaboration. I'd make it so people could be professionally married. So that they could build families. I'm not into dating or one night stands.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  This is a big question. All the people who've commissioned me and anyone who has (or will) commit to encouraging, supporting and giving me a platform. LOL. I know I'm supposed to say the names...Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson. Shakespeare. Luis Alfaro. Charlayne Woodard. Vito Zingarelli. Lynn Nottage. Tony Kushner. Al Freeman. Alice Childress. Phylicia Rashad...but I think my some of my heroes are also my contemporaries. I've watched the launch of the Hip Hop Theatre Festival and the development of the cultural institution HiArts through an amazing woman and friend, Kamilah Forbes. I've watched the journey of Dominique Morrisseau, Katori Hall, Danai Gurira, LaNelle Moise, Tarell McCraney. The Kilroys. The New Black Fest and Keith Joseph Adkins' commitment to new voices. The honesty and creativity of Stu or Glenn Gordon. The rise of Chadwick Boseman. Lydia Diamond. Kirsten Greenidge. Sanjit DeSilva and his wife Deepa Purohit showing how to juggle raising a family and a thriving professional life. My girl Josie Whittlesey and her Drama Club, making theatre function in our society to improve the lives of young people. The tireless work of Karen Evans with the Black Women Playwrights Group. I watch the triumphs of the Sade Lythcott, Jonathan McCroy and the team at the National Black Theatre. The integrity and generosity of Marshall Jones, III and the way he and Amie Bajalieh hold the line of legacy at Crossroads Theatre Company. Ricardo Khan, his partnerships with the international community and his commitment to the stories of the African diaspora. Cheryl Katz who is willing see the difference between a quality play and a play that affirms her world view (and always produces the quality play), the dedication she has to the community in which her theatre exists... and the sparkling work she and her team do at Luna Stage. Bob Egan who leaves his cushy job to make room to do work that inspires him, freelance. Antoinette LaVecchia. Christine Toy Johnson. The inspiration of Mina Morita or Lauren English taking on leadership roles. The times that Susie Medak or Michael Maso set aside time to talk with me about things not related to performance, but our business and the responsibilities of our industry. Kathy Perkins who holds it down as a Black woman lighting designer, and who made it a part of her duty to make sure that other woman of color can be seen as viable options for employment on stage and behind the scenes. Sandra Adell who bothers to make sure the plays of Black women get published. Somebody say Lin-Manuel Miranda! I could go on and on and on. I know and see A LOT of people doin' the damn thing. Their stories inspire me daily.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theatre that is the perfect seamless blend of artistry (not the kind of theatricality and spectacle that shows itself for its own sake, but the kind that is employed because the story is enhanced by it), substance (In my view theatre functions to help us evolve as a society, as humanity... stories that challenges us with its honesty and perspective... stories that do a thorough job of dramatizing why real conflict exists around an issue without letting you see the strings of the artists...I like learning something) and entertainment (you've got to keep me engaged and interested and, if you can, on the edge of my seat... not ahead or behind... heart open). I like the kind of theatre that has me leaving talking about themes and how they are related to my life... not the kind of theatre that has me leaving wondering where I'm going to eat. I love theatre that can show me how I'm connected to something that I may not've thought I was connected to. I like work that is bold and fearless (not for shock value, though...that's cheap). I appreciate work that demonstrates how a dynamic has an impact on multiple tiers of society - macro, micro.

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

A:  Write. Don't wish for what you don't have, the grass often only appears greener. Find someone (or someONES) to give you a chance and champion your work. Learn from my mistakes. Own your voice. Did I say write?

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Next Season: CARNAVAL going to Theatre de Poche in Brussels. LINES IN THE DUST and REPAIRING A NATION going to ETA in Chicago. Recently joined the board of TCG (yay).

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Adam