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In this week’s episode, we talk to award-winning playwright Dominique Morisseau. She is the author of a three-play cycle about Detroit. One of those plays, Paradise Blue, opens at the Signature Theater this week. In this wide-ranging conversation, we talk about violence against women, Black feminism, the destruction of the Black Power movement, the importance of earned rage, the power of that rage when directed outwards, and the pain when it gets twisted and directed against those closest to us. Dominique shares her influences with us, from Pearl Cleage to Tupac to her revolutionary family—and more. Music is an important source of inspiration for her, and we’ve included some of the music that appears in her plays. We also discuss her work as a social justice activist and her fight to expand both representation in and access to the theater.
In the opener, Jen, Danny and Eric discuss Trump’s “welfare reform 2.0” plan and what it tells us about how race, poverty and class are talked about in this country.
There’s so much we got into in this episode. If you want to follow any of the threads further, here are some resources:
Our opener was inspired by a longer piece Danny wrote about welfare reform 2.0 for Socialist Worker. (bit.ly/Welfare2-0)
This NY Times profile (bit.ly/DetroitMorisseau) explores the history and meaning of Detroit in Morisseau’s work.
We discuss Dominique’s play, Blood at the Root, which is a fictionalized account of the Jena 6—a group of 6 Black teenagers threatened with decades in prison for their alleged role in a school fight following a series of racist incidents. It’s a story that everyone should know about, and you can read more in this reporting Nicole Colson did from Jena. (bit.ly/Jena6)
Dominique talks about why Pearl Cleage is such an important influence for her. You can find her books, plays and appearances at her website. (bit.ly/Cleage)
As you can hear, we are very interested in the themes Dominique explores in her play Sunset Baby—the story of a freed Black political prisoner, his estranged daughter, her drug-dealing boyfriend and some missing love letters. This study guide (bit.ly/SunsetBabyRedPod) is a rich resource and contains a fascinating interview with Dominique, some of which we pick up on in this episode.
Dominique was inspired by the episode she describes in her essay, “Why I Almost Slapped a Fellow Theater Patron, and What That Says About Our Theaters” (bit.ly/SlapPatron) to rewrite the rules of theater etiquette (bit.ly/TheaterEtiquette) for Lincoln Center’s production of her play Pipeline.
Music and audio from this episode:
The Boy & Sister Alma, “Lizard Eyes” (Dead Sea Captains Remix); A Tribe Called Quest, “Scenario”; The Temptations, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”; Charles Mingus, “Haitian Fight Song”; Orbert Davis, “Paradise Blue Compilation”; Tupac, “Keep Ya Head Up”; Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, “Nowhere to Run”; J-Dilla, "City Of Boom"
We’ve created a full playlist for this episode at Spotify. (bit.ly/MorisseauPlaylist)
More about our guest:
DOMINIQUE MORISSEAU is the author of The Detroit Project (A 3-Play Cycle) which includes the following plays: Skeleton Crew (Atlantic Theater Company), Paradise Blue (Signature Theatre), and Detroit ’67 (Public Theater, Classical Theatre of Harlem and NBT). Additional plays include: Pipeline (Lincoln Center Theatre), Sunset Baby (LAByrinth Theatre); Blood at the Root (National Black Theatre) and Follow Me To Nellie’s (Premiere Stages). Dominique is an alumna of The Public Theater Emerging Writer’s Group, Women’s Project Lab, and Lark Playwrights Workshop and has developed work at Sundance Lab, Williamstown Theatre Festival and Eugene O’Neil Playwrights Conference. Her work has been commissioned by Steppenwolf Theater, Women’s Project, South Coast Rep, People’s Light and Theatre, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival/Penumbra Theatre. She most recently served as Co-Producer on the Showtime series “Shameless.” Following its record breaking run at Berkeley Repertory Theatre last summer, her new musical Ain’t Too Proud —The Life and Times of The Temptations, is set to open at The Kennedy Center (Washington DC), The Ahmanson (Los Angeles), and The Princess of Whales Theater (Toronto) this season. Awards include: Spirit of Detroit Award, PoNY Fellowship, Sky-Cooper Prize, TEER Trailblazer Award, Steinberg Playwright Award, Audelco Awards, NBFT August Wilson Playwriting Award, Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama, OBIE Award, Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellowship, and being named one of Variety’s Women of Impact for 2017-18.