Performs by August Wilson have been nowhere to be discovered within the syllabuses of Frostburg State College’s theater courses when Keenan Scott II attended the Maryland faculty within the mid-2000s. Nor have been works by Lorraine Hansberry, Amiri Baraka, Adrienne Kennedy or Lynn Nottage.
However there was Ntozake Shange’s pioneering “For Coloured Women Who Have Thought of Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” from 1975.
Scott, who’s making his Broadway debut because the writer of the just lately opened “Ideas of a Coloured Man,” stated a category screening of the Shange work was his first — and basically his solely — publicity to theater by Black playwrights in school. And simply as Shange coined the time period “choreopoem” for her hybrid kind, Scott started to explain “Ideas,” his senior challenge, as “slam narrative.”
The phrase “coloured” brings with it a really completely different set of associations now than it did in 1975, when segregated ingesting fountains and restrooms have been solely a decade previously. And but that phrase is each within the title of Scott’s play and greater than 21 ft large on the billboard on the heart of Robert Brill’s set on the John Golden Theater.
Like Shange (whose “choreopoem” is heading to Broadway subsequent yr), Scott has created a mosaic of speeches, poems and songs for seven performers of colour. (And neither playwright recognized their characters by title; Scott as an alternative calls them such traits as Happiness, Love and Despair.) However when “Ideas of a Coloured Man” premiered in 2019 at Syracuse Stage in New York after which moved to Baltimore Middle Stage, it additionally featured two feminine dancers and an onstage D.J. All three are gone, as are swaths of the unique textual content. Solely the Tony Award nominee Forrest McClendon (“The Scottsboro Boys”) stays from that forged.
Scott and McClendon just lately sat down with the “Ideas” director, Steve H. Broadnax III, and Brian Moreland, a lead producer of the present, to debate how the play has developed, particularly within the final two years. Their interviews have been edited and condensed.
Is “Ideas of a Coloured Man” on some degree a response to “For Coloured Women”? Or is it its personal factor?
KEENAN SCOTT II I’m impressed by the works of Ntozake and lots of others, nevertheless it’s utterly its personal factor. I appreciated the phrase “coloured” as a result of it causes a visceral response. To at the present time, individuals ask, “Why say ‘coloured’? Why use ‘coloured’? We don’t use that no extra.” However that’s the level. There was a time after we have been labeled “coloured.” And thru the journey of the piece, you see why these males shouldn’t be labeled.
FORREST McCLENDON Ntozake was writing for coloured women to have one thing to do. And Keenan was writing for coloured males to actually have one thing to do. For us to be represented onstage.
STEVE H. BROADNAX III The style that Keenan coined, “slam narrative,” is free plot — that’s the distinction. You may take, say, “Def Poetry Jam” on Broadway, which is a bunch of poetry and poets you can put in any kind of combination. However right here, should you take one out, it begins to mess up the free plot. So he’s actually created one thing new. “For Coloured Women” doesn’t have a free plot to it, however this does.
If I’m understanding the title accurately, do these seven males additionally add as much as, basically, one human?
SCOTT Completely. These are, these might be, seven elements of the identical man. We are able to all be a few of these issues. We are able to all be all of this stuff.
How a lot has the piece modified since Syracuse and Baltimore?
SCOTT It’s actually only a re-investigation of those characters, to ensure all of them had their particular person journeys. Some monologues have been added. A brand new scene right here and there. We knew that some characters have been a bit of extra shallow than others, and we wished to ensure that all of them are equally strong.
Are you able to level to any particular examples?
SCOTT I began scripting this piece once I was 19, so initially these characters all hovered round 20 years previous, as a result of that’s the place I used to be in life. Fifteen years later, being a 34-year-old man who’s married with a toddler, my sense of the world has deepened. I’ve been with this piece so lengthy that I’ve actually grown up with these characters. And thru improvement, the characters began to develop as nicely. So now the characters vary from 18 to 65 years previous.
BROADNAX The connections between every of the characters have modified. We found, as an illustration, how Love and Lust linked with one another. You now have all of those “aha” moments to see how they’re all interconnected.
Do you suppose the piece would look or really feel completely different should you had opened on Broadway instantly from Baltimore, which was the plan earlier than the shutdown?
SCOTT As Steve says on a regular basis, every part occurs in divine order. I believe the present would have been simply as nice. However it will have been completely different.
BRIAN MORELAND After Baltimore, Keenan went via a personal workshop with himself, writing.
SCOTT We moved to Baltimore so fast after Syracuse. I used to be taking notes, and there have been sure issues that simply couldn’t be applied fast sufficient. In order that’s once I went into that personal workshop. After which Covid occurred, and we had on a regular basis on the earth.
Once I noticed it in Syracuse, there have been additionally two girls within the forged. What occurred to them?
BROADNAX We found that this was a narrative, and an area, for these Black males. The ladies are nonetheless very a lot part of their worlds. They’re there in media; they’re there in spirit; they’re there in language. However we thought this was an area for the boys.
MORELAND You exit of city so you may have a protected house to experiment. Along with the feminine dancers, there was additionally a D.J. who was initially a part of the manufacturing. All of those parts stored evolving and altering.
McCLENDON Music and motion and media are all tremendous necessary by way of this play, however the star of this play is the textual content. And something that in any method upstaged the textual content — together with the actors — needed to take its rightful place on the periphery. For me, in each Syracuse and Baltimore, the invention in regards to the girls got here from girls within the viewers. They felt it was a narrative actually about males.
SCOTT I’ve recognized from day one which the spectrum of the Black man isn’t, not often proven, particularly on Broadway. We don’t have that house. That’s what I wished to create 15 years in the past for myself and my friends who felt excluded from an artwork kind we have been learning.
You have been scheduled to open Oct. 31, after which opening night time instantly moved up by two weeks. Openings shift on a regular basis, however within the different course. What prompted the transfer?
MORELAND Their costume rehearsal. Their first preview. Their second preview. The audiences clamoring to see these males, hear these tales, hear Keenan’s phrases. That’s what prompted the change. As a result of it was prepared.
While you sat again down to put in writing, Keenan, did you are feeling just like the play wanted to be completely different as a result of the world felt completely different?
SCOTT That’s a difficult query for me. I began scripting this play when George W. Bush was president. In order that’s three administrations in the past. Quite a bit has modified, and lots hasn’t. Individuals usually ask me how the occasions round George Floyd affected me. For the Black group, George Floyd wasn’t new. Once I began scripting this piece, I used to be loosely impressed about what was happening in my group in Queens when Sean Bell was killed [in a police shooting]. Loads of the themes that I cowl within the play are as ever-present as they have been 15 years in the past. I really feel like I created a timeless piece that may stay, nevertheless it saddens me as nicely, as a result of I might have hoped that these points would have been solved by now.
Do you are feeling as if lots of people within the viewers on Broadway are solely now starting to know what you’ve recognized this complete time?
McCLENDON The factor that radically shifted is that the American theater shut down. Audiences had a possibility to step again and actually ask themselves about what they’d been consuming. We’re coping with longstanding, oppressive practices, however that is an trade that’s normally keen to look within the mirror. To take a look at itself and stare. In what methods are we complicit? I believe we’re in a brand new second. And I believe the play is a large a part of representing that.