It is no coincidence that Naima Yetunde Ince-Griffiths would focus on Women of Color: Powerful Playwrights for Cary’s Art Centers, Theatre Cafe during the month of Women’s History Month, which happens to follow Black History Month.
Being a woman playwright is no easy task. We have all heard the alarming statistics provided by “The Count” on the Dramatist Guild website. Women playwrights only get produced 22% of the time, and then, there’s the even more despairing percentage of women of color playwrights who get produced 3% of the time. So, to be a woman playwright, you definitely have to get up some gumption if you want to be heard.
To our credit, gumption is something women of color are born with. The word “no” is often given to us before the question is even asked, so if women of color want to have any influence, we have to move with a certain force. That kind of effective power is evident in the following playwrights:
Danai Gurira won a Tony Award for her play, Eclipsed, and it was the first play on Broadway to ever have an all-Black female cast. The Women’s Theatre Festival will be producing the southeastern premiere of this play this summer, so keep your eyes open for that performance, and don’t miss it!
Lorraine Hansberry paved the way by being the first Black female author to have a play performed on Broadway. A Raisin in the Sun opened on Broadway on March 11, 1959.
Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem, For Colored Girls, was adapted into a popular film and Broadway show. Justice Theatre Project will be showing a stage reading on April 21.
Suzan Lori Parks was the first woman of color to receive a Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Her play, Top Dog/Underdog won the prize in 2002.
Lynn Nottage was the first female playwright to receive two Pulitzer Prizes in Drama. The two plays that she wrote that won the Pulitzer were Ruined in 2009, and Sweat in 2017.
All of these incredible women playwrights were featured in this event by Naima Yetunde Ince-Griffiths, Adrienne Earle Pender, and Carol Torian who are Triangle women of color playwrights.
They each shared their own journey, process and current works.
Naima Yetunde Ince-Griffiths started as a playwright when a friend suggested she turn a poem into a play and a college professor advised her to write a play as well. Naima is working on the development of her second play, Cry, Pray and Put on Lipstick, which was inspired by a conversation with her mother, Jennifer Lovett. Naima has gone as far as to establish her own production company to insure that storytellers are able to reach a diverse audience. She’s also published for the 4th time, Ghost Load (Second Edition), which is now available for sale and autographed copies can be purchased through nyiproductions.com.
Adrienne Earle Pender first found her love of theatre as an actress. It wasn’t until 2001, when she had a free summer, that she began to write. Adrienne is working with Plowshares Theater Company, which is the first African-American Theater Company in Detroit. She is getting her stage play, N, fully funded and turned into a film adaptation that is currently being cast and will begin filming this summer.
Carol Torian realized that her writing was not just different but unique after she took a writing course in Business school and her professor praised her for her writing. Carol is currently working on a play called The Waning Hours, which is about an African-American woman in her 70’s who is developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Though each local playwright’s journey has been different, they all feel a sense of responsibility in creating stories that give truthful depictions of people of color. They have taken on this honor with purposeful gumption by ferociously writing down the “voices” in their head so that people of color can have their stories told. There is an echo of agreement that the main goal is to have these stories seen so that misconceptions can be broken down and uncovered.
To be in the presence of such powerful women and listen to them talk about their passions was a great experience. They respectfully paid homage by shining the light on the fellow women playwrights who opened the door and also the ones who are knocking the door off its hinges! This is something that creatives of color strive to do for each other. We take pride in our community and we do not take lightly that others have walked this path before us. And that, my friends, is POWER!