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SD Rep Launches New Black Voices 2021 Play Reading Series

 March 8, 2021 at 10:14 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 Next week, the San Diego rep launches its new black voices, 2021 play reading series. It consists of a selection of plays representing a diverse range of black voices with post show discussions after each play KPBS arts reporter Beth Huck Amando speaks with playwright. Vincent Terrelle Durham who's played polar bears, black boys and Prairie fringed orchids kicks off the series. Speaker 2: 00:27 Vincent you're part of the San Diego reps, black voices, 2021 play reading series. And your play has the interesting title of polar bears, black boys and Prairie fringed orchids. So give us a little insight into what this is about. Speaker 3: 00:42 I like to describe it as my God of carnage play. I wanted to write a play that got people into the, into a room and they had conversations and those conversations just spiral all over the place. Personalities come out, frictions happen, alliances happen. So that's really where the play generated from in my heart was God of carnage. I just loved that play. And plus it was a play that I thought was timely. It tackles gentrification, racial identity, black lives matter a whole bunch of topics. So you can see like, you know, if you get all these people in that room, talking about these things, you're going to have a lot of interesting things happening onstage. Speaker 2: 01:24 When you were contemplating, what characters you wanted in this, what was the process you went through in terms of determining what that mix of people was going to be? Speaker 3: 01:34 Um, I wish I had an answer for that truly, but like when I sit down and things are going well as a writer, these people just come into my head, but, um, really it kind of starts with the dialogue and when I get to people talking, then that starts to create the characters. So the play really started with, uh, Molly and Peter, a Caucasian couple who gentrify Harlem, or who move into Harlem. And you know, just from that, I wanted to see, okay, what characters can I introduce to make them react in a certain way? So once I had those two characters talking to each other, uh, flushing out their personalities, then I got to add other people. And that's where, you know, Shameeka came in and Tom and Jiuquan. So all of these people who would challenge each other's personalities Speaker 2: 02:23 And since I can't play a clip or scene from your play, I was wondering if you could just read a little something, okay. Speaker 3: 02:29 This is later in the play. And I don't think it's given away too much of the play, but it's Tequan I think this line expresses a lot about what I'm trying to say. It's not the only thing I'm trying to say, but I think it's, it's, it's something that I really cherish. So this is Jacqueline's line. All it should take to protect us is to see our humanity, even in our worst moments, the same humanity, they still saw in the eyes of a white boy who had just killed people after walking into their church and praying with them, you're telling me they can only see my humanity if I'm listed next to a bangle Teicher so that's a little tease and yeah. All right. Well, thank you. Thank you, Beth. I like that. Speaker 2: 03:15 And talk a little bit about the process and the evolution of the play because you know, people go to see a play and it's just there and it's done and you don't have the sense of how much work goes into it. And also the part that theater companies can play in helping you to evolve a work like this. Speaker 3: 03:35 Absolutely. Yeah, there's, there's so many people behind me right now that have helped this play because you know, the 10 minute play started at playground LA as an incubator for playwrights. And it's the first time we bring in a 10 minute piece, it's a stage greeting. So it's the first time you get to hear that. And I was lucky and grateful to receive a commission. And so then throughout the commission process, I was receiving support through the person applied to earth arts. I should be specific. They gave me the commission and, you know, during that whole process of me writing the play, they kept in touch with me. They set up a table, read, set up a second table read. So you can keep hearing all of these drafts. You know, I can't tell you which drafts I'm on at this point. And even for San Diego, I've been back at the piece and rewriting and tightening it up. So it is a process. Yeah, there's a whole bunch of people behind me. I should be, um, a little shout out to, uh, to Jim Clineman and LDL Billingsley, because it was their, uh, Juneteenth project that really brought this play to the attention of a lot of people and San Diego rep as well. It brought it to their attention and I'm grateful for that. Speaker 2: 04:49 And it's very different for a playwright versus somebody who's like writing a novel where you're writing something strictly for somebody to read off the page, but for a playwright, what is that like when you hear those words spoken for the first time and find out kind of like how they bounce off the walls and really sound when they're spoken. Right. Speaker 3: 05:09 I love that question because I've been taking a master classes and Aaron Sorkin was one of the master classes I've taken recently. And he says that, you know, a play is not meant to be read it's meant to be performed. And like when he said that, I was like, wow. Yes, that's so true. The first time you hear your words is like, it's either, uh, amazing or terrified. You know, it really, it really is because like, I can tell you, I'm not really this play, but I'll go back to the very first play I ever wrote. It really was a moment of me being vulnerable. You know, the very first stage reading I had, I didn't know if I could write a play. I had all these people waiting to see if I could write a play. And then what I had the actors jump into it and they started reading those. And when it was all over, I was like, Oh, okay. I do know what I'm doing. You know, I, I, haven't been in my room just scribbling on the laptop. I actually wrote a play. So it's, it's a lot of confirmation and sometimes it's a little pain Speaker 2: 06:13 And talk about the tone of your play because you are able to mix very serious issues, but you also have a sense of humor to this. This is very entertaining. And there are moments of comedy in kind of these moments of realization also. Speaker 3: 06:28 Sure. I think, um, when you ask people to come into a theater and sit 90 minutes, you have to respect their time and you have to respect their, their sensibility as well. So like, I didn't want people to come into a play and just be hit hard with things I wanted them to come in. I actually, I wanted them to come in and feel like they were a part of the cocktail party and have some laughs and relate with some jokes and, and see themselves, you know, and then hit them with the hard stuff, you know? So I, I tend to lead with comedy and then hit with that hard stuff. It makes it a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. They said, Speaker 2: 07:09 And what do you hope people are going to take away from your play? I mean, what is kind of, why did you write this? Like, what was the thing that really motivated you to write this? Speaker 3: 07:19 My, I think the biggest thing for me is conversation. I want people to, to leave. There's so many themes, so many, um, subjects in this play that I want people to leave the theater talking and, and having an open and honest dialogue say like, you know what, like when Peter said that, I, I say that and I, I don't know what it means. Let's talk about it. You know? Or like when this happens like that, I, I felt that way. You know, what does that mean? I, I think theater is like a beautiful place to start conversations and to start healing and to start just discussions Speaker 2: 08:00 Really well. I want to thank you very much for talking about your play. Speaker 3: 08:03 Thank you so much. Have a great day. Speaker 1: 08:06 That was Beth haka. Amando speaking with playwright, Vincent Tirrell Durham about polar bears, black boys and Prairie fringed orchids. It will be presented live online next Monday at 5:30 PM.

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Next Monday, the San Diego REP launches its new Black Voices 2021 Play Reading Series. It consists of a selection of plays representing a diverse range of Black voices with post-show discussions after each play. Playwright Vincent Terrell Durham's “Polar Bears, Black Boys, and Prairie Fringed Orchids” kicks off the series.
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