Geffen Playhouse: Portraits of Three Remarkable Playwrights

Geffen Playhouse: Portraits of Three Remarkable Playwrights
The Tarell Alvin McCraney Story

“At a very young age I prayed Psalm 23, the believer’s prayer. At a very young age I knew the path that I am called to. I sincerely said to God, ‘You lead and I’ll go. Not for my benefit. But for the glory of God.’” These are the trajectory defining words of one Tarell Alvin McCraney, newly appointed and first African American artistic director of Geffen Playhouse. 

To the extent McCraney has remained committed to glorifying God, God has remained committed to amplifying McCraney’s presence. And while it may appear from the outside that McCraney’s smarts and ingenuity are solely responsible for his beautiful rise, he’ll be the first to confess that what comes more natural to him than writing, producing, or acting is following God’s lead. 

Whether arriving at Yale School of Drama one year later than he was originally scheduled to, resulting in him becoming the assistant to famed playwright August Wilson during Wilson’s last year at Yale; or turning down everyone else who expressed an interest in doing something with Moonlight except director Barry Perkins, McCraney knows all too well the importance of patience. “I say yes to what I feel called to and no to things I don’t feel called to.”

At 43, this Academy Award winning writer and Miami native is being called to infuse more innovation, more joy, and more melanin into the culture of Geffen Playhouse. He’s being called to invite more Black creatives through the doors to showcase how theater is made and how theater involves everyone. A student of Shakespeare and mentee of English director Peter Brook, McCraney offers a Shakespearean insight: “Shakespeare was making theater with his homies and his friends. By not doing the same we miss out on letting others understand the process.” 

Another staple in McCraney’s process is community. Not only is it his desire to captive audiences with one-of-a-kind quality performances from the Geffen stage, but he has also already begun immersing himself in community across Southern California with the intention to spur engagement and center synergistic audacity. “I am made better by being a part of what community is already doing with young people. So, we want to support Wendy Raquel Robinson’s school and Debbie Allen’s school.” 

As far as synergistic audacity is concerned, McCraney’s mission is unequivocally and/both, not either/or. He wants you to come to Geffen Playhouse and he wants to come to you. He wants inclusivity and authenticity. He wants actors to be directors and directors to be actors. Equally important, McCraney wants you to enjoy the 2023-2024 season’s rich offerings and share what you’d like to see Geffen do next.  

Follow Tarell Alvin McCraney’s incredible journey on IG: @octarell_again. Visit geffenplayhouse.org to purchase your tickets to unforgettable theater.

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The Kristen Adele Calhoun Story

Led by a Spirit Team of ancestors who care for, support, and are actively working on her behalf, film, TV, and theater writer Kristen Adele Calhoun is just days away from the February 10, 2024, world premiere of her stage play Black Cypress Bayou at Geffen Playhouse under the direction of Tiffany Nichole Greene.

When the 2020 pandemic hit, Calhoun hunkered down in Ghana rather than return to the US. This decision left her alone until questions that she could not ignore invited themselves into her quiet. In time, the questions revealed their agenda: a Texas-based story with women and a secret attached. 

What is not a secret is the House of Cards actress’s affinity for stories that center Black folks’ resilience. She’s been telling our stories for years often with an undertone of how we navigate fugitivity. “I think a lot about how Black folk have had to use leaving as freedom. I think about people in the great migration living in the horror of Jim Crow, and how we learned to create freedom spaces whether we left or stayed.” 

As someone who lives between Ghana and the US, Ghana is but one of the freedom spaces Calhoun escapes to. The other is writing, and with a 6-week run of Black Cypress Bayou, Calhoun gives us all a timely escape into our ancestral roots. 

Follow Calhoun’s beautiful journey on IG @kristenadelecalhoun and learn more about her portfolio of work at kristenadelecalhoun.com.

The James Ijames Story

Curious is the word he lives. Curious is the word he loves. And on the first day of Black History Month 2024, Villanova University professor James Ijames welcomed me into the award winning world that he and curiosity built. 

From the first time Ijames read Hamlet as a Morehouse man, he felt something was there. Over the years, curiosity, and his belief that “The power of fiction is that it strengthens the imagination…” led him to explore the thought of a Black Hamlet. A fat Hamlet. A queer Hamlet. Before he knew it, Fat Ham was born. Although a dynamic playwright in his own right, what Ijames could not script with Fat Ham’s 2022 Broadway debut was five Tony Award nominations, a Pulitzer Prize win, and Color Purple’s Coleman Domingo fortuitously blessing the bodacious production as a producer. 

Variety declares that with Fat Ham, Ijames “imagines what Shakespeare did not — how people might overcome circumstances, expectations and their own demons to forge new paths through life.” On March 27, 2024, Fat Ham makes its West Coast debut at Geffen Playhouse. Ijames invites all of Los Angeles to a joy-filled demon conquering therapy session-ish adventure with the production’s illustrious cast.

Follow Ijames’s ever adventurous on IG @jwijames and learn more about his portfolio of work at jamesijames.com.

My conversations with these three incredible playwrights are a sweet reminder of what’s possible when we offer our gifts, believe that our stories matter, and trust God to order our steps. Having lived in the world of theater together for some time, McCraney, Ijames and Calhoun can only marvel at how the universe divinely conspired to place three brilliant Black creatives at a historically White institution at a time when America seems to be defaulting on its diversity, equity, and inclusion promise.

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