A Rolling World Premiere commissioned by the Big Ten Theatre Consortium
Co-Presented with Boston Center for American Performance (BCAP)
Boston University Lane-Comley Studio 210
264 Huntington Avenue, Boston
After she’s dismissed from her job in the athletics department, Shelby Wilson becomes Resident Advisor to a group of freshmen—after all, it’ll look good on her resume. She soon discovers that a racially charged incident has set student against student, and it’s up to her to mediate the situation. In this world premiere production, playwright Kirsten Greenidge explores the complexities of racism from the perspective of eight culturally diverse college students.
“Kirsten Greenidge is a writer of compassion and deep understanding.”
The Boston Globe
About Big Ten Theatre Consortium New Play Initiative
In 2010, leaders of the Big Ten Theatre Consortium recognized an under-representation of women in theatre, both as playwrights and in the availability of substantial female roles, particularly those suitable for college-age actors. Uniquely positioned to address this need, the Big Ten Theatre chairs decided to commission, produce, and publicize three new works by female playwrights over a three-year period, with a secondary goal of creating strong age-appropriate roles for young women. Baltimore is the second play in the New Play Initiative commissioned by the Big Ten Consortium.
An excerpt from “Constructing a Conversation on Race” by Charles M. Blow
—The New York Times, August 20, 2014
“A true racial dialogue is not intra-racial but interracial. It is not onedirectional—minorities to majorities—but multidirectional. Data must be presented. Experiences must be explored. Histories and systems must be laid bare. Biases, fears, stereotype and mistrust must be examined. Personal—as well as societal and cultural—responsibility must be taken. And privileges and oppressions must be acknowledged. We must acknowledge how each of us is, in myriad ways, materially and spiritually affected by a society in which bias has been widely documented to exist and in which individuals also acknowledge that it exists.”
We invite you to join in the conversation by attending a post-show discussion of Baltimore led by the following company members and guests:
Saturday, Feb. 13, 8pm | Moderator: Adrienne Boris, Assistant Director and National New Play Network Producer-in-Residence, New Repertory Theatre; Guest: Dr. Walter E. Fluker, Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of Ethical Leadership, Boston University
Sunday Feb. 14, 2pm | Moderator: Adrienne Boris
Wednesday Feb. 17, 7:30pm | Moderator: Elaine Vaan Hogue, Director; Guest: Kenneth Elmore, Dean of Students, Boston University
Thursday, Feb. 18, 7:30pm | Moderators: Beverly Diaz, Dramaturg and Lucy Farmer, Assistant to the Director; Guest: Kirsten Greenidge, playwright
Friday, Feb. 19, 8pm | Moderator, Adrienne Boris; Guest: Dr. Jesse Tauriac, Director of the Donahue Institute for Ethics, Diversity, and Inclusion, and Assistant Professor of Psychology, Lasell College
Saturday, Feb. 20, 8pm | Moderator: Cliff Odle, cast member
Sunday, Feb. 21 2pm | Moderator: Ami Park; Guest: Kenneth Elmore
Wednesday, Feb. 24, 7:30pm | Moderator: Elaine Vaan Hogue; Guest: Melinda Lopez, Playwright-in-Residence at Huntington Theatre Company, Professor of Playwriting at Boston University, and Professor of Theatre and Performance at Wellesley College
Thursday, Feb. 25, 7:30pm | Moderator: Ami Park; Guest: Kirsten Greenidge
Friday, Feb. 26, 8pm | Moderator: Michael Ofori, MFA Theatre Education student, Boston University; Guest: Kenneth Elmore
Saturday Feb. 27, 8pm | Moderator: Jade’ Davis, cast member; Guest: Kenneth Elmore
Sunday Feb. 28, 2pm | Moderator: Jade’ Davis; Guest: Kirsten Greenidge
A conversation between Baltimore playwright Kirsten Greenidge and New Repertory Theatre’s National New Play Network Producer-in-Residence Adrienne Boris
Adrienne Boris: Boston audiences last saw your work at Company One, which produced the world premiere of SPLENDOR in 2014, and at the Huntington Theatre Company, which produced the New England premiere of THE LUCK OF THE IRISH in 2012. Like BALTIMORE, both plays dealt with issues of race and class on a national and on a more intimate, interpersonal scale. Can you tell us a little bit about what draws you to these kinds of stories as a playwright?
Kirsten Greenidge: I’m drawn to stories that are historical, which comes from my mission as a playwright, which has always been, since I was 11 or 12 years old, to write stories for people who don’t see themselves on stage very often, and to write roles for actors who don’t always have roles built for themselves onstage. So, I’m constantly looking for stories and roles that female actors of color, in particular, would want to play.
AB: The Big Ten Theatre Consortium is made up of the theatre department heads at ten major universities throughout the country. Their New Play Initiative is dedicated to commissioning, producing, and publicizing new plays by American female playwrights that feature strong, age-appropriate roles for women, particularly female artists of color. So it must have been exciting when The Big Ten Theatre Consortium New Play Initiative approached you.
KG: Yes! I remember getting a phone call or email from Alan MacVey — I know Alan because he runs the program at University of Iowa where I went to grad school. I also learned that Naomi Iizuka had begun the first commission, and Naomi was teacher and mentor of mine at Iowa.
In addition to all that, I knew it was a project I was interested in because the whole mission of the project is so close to my own mission as an artist: to create opportunities for female artists and female artists of color.
AB: What can you tell us about the genesis of this piece and what inspired you to write it?
KG: Alan MacVey told me a story that had happened to him when he was a Resident Advisor at Stanford, and I was captivated by it. It struck me as universal because it was a story about a young person who really wanted to do well and do good but, by his own admission, didn’t have the resources to do so. So that was really the jumping off point for the situation the young protagonist of BALTIMORE finds herself in.
I also think I was very interested in how information spread, through the internet especially. And how to have people talk about a very difficult topic without having to have solutions. Because at least, to me, if this play could offer a solution to America’s racial woes then, “Yay!” Of course we’d spread it around all over the place, and we wouldn’t have a problem anymore. But, I think it would be a false hour and a half in the theatre if the play were to pretend to be able to do that. So how do we make the piece worthwhile without offering solutions? How do we get as many voices heard as possible without it feeling disingenuous and didactic? Right now in the revision process, my job is to cut, and be a little bit more brave and diligent with myself about leaving questions unanswered. There’s no intermission for a reason, so that we just plow right through this language, this verbiage about these students’ feelings about race, and feelings about the incident that happens. And now my job is to make sure that I’m not holding up that experience for people.
AB: Boston University, Boston Center for American Performance, and New Repertory Theatre are participating in a Rolling World Premiere of BALTIMORE; we are joined by universities across the country and our production will be its third just this season. Can you describe the process of writing a play like this with multiple development processes in multiple, different communities? Did the workshop process that took place at the Boston University School of Theatre and The University of Maryland Department of Theatre and Dance influence the way you wrote the play and the content of the play in its current form?
KG: Definitely. At University of Maryland, we had a workshop in May, right after the riots in Baltimore. And that was extremely valuable and emotionally difficult. The students there were so generous, opening up to me, a complete stranger, telling me really personal things they had not told their advisors or their families, things that are really hard to talk about, that ultimately ended up in the play. I think we started [the first workshop] early in the afternoon and didn’t end until 10 o’clock at night. We read through the play and then we had a discussion where students shared their personal stories. I found that students were eager to understand each other’s stories through the play and were also eager to play roles that they didn’t usually get to play onstage — racially-charged, contemporary roles that reflected their experience and were age-appropriate. So, for example, the experience of an 18 year old Asian-American student playing a contemporary Asian-American student in BALTIMORE, versus playing a maid in a classical play, felt drastically different to her. I think both are valuable experiences, but these students had never gotten to experience the contemporary side.
In the summer, I began working more closely with [director] Elaine [Vaan Hogue] at Boston University, and we scheduled two workshops, which were really for us to be able to hear the play and for all of our students to be able to experience the play, whether or not they were going to be able to be in it. We just cast the reading from whoever was in the room and interested. It was really exciting because there were a lot of people at both of those readings, and I got a lot of great feedback from so many of our students.
Elaine put it really well. At some point in the last few weeks, she said that part of what she was noticing and what intrigued her about the play is that it verges on the “un-PC.” It has moments in it that make us say, “Oh dear. Should we really talk about race like that?” Some of those moments owe themselves to the University of Maryland workshop.
AB: You wrote BALTIMORE at a pivotal time in contemporary American politics, amidst multiple police shootings of innocent black men and women, the Black Lives Matter movement, the race riots in Baltimore and the rise of Black Spring, the Rachel Dolezal controversy, and much more. Did current events in America shape your rewrites and help shape the story you wanted to tell?
Yes. In fact, one of the things that was so difficult about the workshop process at University of Maryland was that it was so soon after the riots — we were on the outskirts of Baltimore, but only one student in the workshop was from Baltimore proper, and had been home in the last week. The students expressed what they felt was a reluctance to talk about race in class. One student mentioned trying to bring it up in a history class and being told it was not appropriate. Again and again these students were told, “Don’t bring it up in class, we don’t want to talk about it.”
The experience was also eye-opening because I am of a different generation than most of the students I teach. This was the first time I was speaking about race in this play with a generation of students who did not grow up in the moment right after the Civil Rights movement. Generally, they felt that some of the tools that had been used for Civil Rights in the 1950s and 1960s weren’t applicable today. Or, the job hadn’t been done so, “What now?” And I thought those were some really valid points.
So, I went back and I did some more rewrites. I think the Garner case verdict happened at that point, Sandra Bland happened over that summer, every few weeks things began to happen or were heightened.
AB: BALTIMORE will be produced at university theatres throughout the country. What kinds of discussions do you hope the play will spark in Boston, particularly at Boston University and on the city’s many college campuses?
KG: I hope it will spark productive conversations about race. I’ve noticed two prevailing responses to racial issues in America: There’s of course the anger, the vitriol about race, and then there are sentimental stories about negative things that have happened because of race discrimination that are almost untouchable. They can inspire action, but in the moment, as they are being told, the listener can really only feel anger or sadness about them. I truly believe that in the midst of all the anger (and there should be anger) and sadness, there is also room for actual conversation. I also think there is room for other emotions, more stories, more cultures, more languages when contemplating America and its issues with race and color.
I also hope BALTIMORE will spark a multi-generational conversation, a multi-racial conversation, a gender-based conversation, and really a conversation in the purest sense of the word; when it comes to race, we tend to talk at each other rather than to each other, and social media has made this much worse.
AB: What do you think of Boston’s response to the issue of race and gender parity in the theatre? What are we doing right and what is still to be done?
KG: Of course I would like to see more roles for women and people of color. However, in particular, I think we need to look at the choices that all theatres make of what they want to put on their stages, not just the large and mid-sized theatre. When those lists [gender parity watch-lists such as The Kilroys] come out — and I’m stealing this idea from [fellow Boston playwright] Pat Gabridge — we tend to go after the biggies, and hold them by the neck and say “Look what you did!” but smaller theatres and community theatres also have a lot of responsibility. They are doing a lot of quality work too, but when they produce a season of only male playwrights or employ only male directors or program plays that only have majority roles for male actors, that sends a message. I think it’s getting better. I think people are paying more attention to it, but it can always get better than it is. I think it will also take a cultural shift in our appreciation for female directors and female playwrights and female theatre artists, and female leaders in general.
I’ve noticed a trend too for a while, when gender parity first became a national issue, producers would claim to not know where the female artists and artists of color were. Then, these lists, like The Kilroys, came out, and they don’t have that excuse anymore. Of course, there has been some backlash with the lists; for example, I don’t know if they make artists feel badly about themselves if they aren’t on the lists, and then people only pay attention to people who are on the list as opposed to doing their own research. But, the good takeaway is that there is a lot of work out there, and not being able to find these artists should no longer be an excuse. At this point, it is not an accident when people don’t pay attention to the work or the people who are out there.