We are kicking off April's Rough Readings Series with Keith Josef Adkins and his play, The Final Days of Negro-Ville!
His play will be read on April 16th at Stanford's CERAS Hall, as well as on April 17th at Thick House in San Francisco! Playwrights Foundation recently interviewed Keith about the process of writing his newest piece!
Let's start with the basics! How long have you been writing plays, and what inspires you to do so?
I've been writing plays since the late 90s. However, I have been shaping characters from my imagination and personal observations for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I think I actually channel the voices and experiences of my ancestors that are trapped in my DNA. (And I'm serious). In fact, before I became a teenager and easily embarrassed by vulnerability, my cousins would sit me in front of tape recorder and record my impersonations of character. I am inspired by many things. I am inspired by great literature, kick-butt music and courageous cinema and theater. I'm also inspired by my own spiritual and personal evolution. I am someone who admits to loving the truth, but also admits it's hard to face and tell. The more I face the truth of my life and how I live it and all the components that have help shape it, the more inspired I am to give testament to my journey as a human being. Oh, I am very very inspired by laughter.Down to the nitty-gritty, how did the story line for The Final Days of Negro-Ville come about?
I was born and raised in suburban Cincinnati. Both sides of my family have historical and/or present-day middle-class experiences. Recently, many of my relatives have been hit hard by the recent economic crisis in our country. Foreclosed homes, lost jobs, dismantled marriages. It's been a difficult thing to watch, however, I've been wanting to write something about it. A few years ago I saw an amazing production of Our Time with Michael Shannon at the Barrow Street Theater in NYC. I walked away from that production with a fricking awesome idea: blend a little of Our Town with my interest in black middle class suburbia. Less than a month later, Valerie Curtis-Newton of The Hansberry Project in Seattle called me and said they wanted to commission someone to write a play about the recession and the black middle class. It was kismet!What's the first thing you did when you finished writing The Final Days of Negro-Ville?
I don't think I'm finished writing The Final Days of Negro-Ville. As an artist, I'm honest enough to admit when things need work or attention or love. The Final Days needs a few final touches. (I hope to provide those final touches while during the Rough Reading.) I think once I get a production of this baby, I will definitely find a real cool lounge with some amazing vocalist, like Jill Scott or Lizz Wright, singing live and I'll have somebody buy me a glass of Pinot Noir.Rough Readings are a great opportunity. What excites you the most about having your play performed as a staged-reading for an audience?
I love staged-reading audiences. Actually, I love any opportunity to have a dialogue about what I find interesting or funny or important. I think the drastic attempts of black suburbia to hold on to their financial success can be funny and interesting. Audiences teach me amazing lessons. They teach me when to be smarter, when I'm being too smart, when to have more fun and when to move them to feeling something deep. And I get this from their reactions and body postures. During talk backs, great audiences will share their enthusiasms as well as their confusions. Their confusions inspire me to be clearer. I want to be understood.And, just for fun, if you were able to have your "fantasy cast" for The Final Days of Negro-Ville, who would that include?
A fantasy cast? Mmm... Are you talking a cast from theater or film? Mmm...How about I just name two of my favorite actors? Don Cheadle and Viola Davis. If we snag those two for a future production, I will be one happy dramatist.
To learn more about Keith's play or for ticket information, please visit http://www.playwrightsfoundation.org/index.php?p=53