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Three Black Playwrights Shine in Center Theatre Group’s L.A. Writer’s Workshop
By Devyn Bakewell, Staff Writer
Published September 22, 2022

“Barbara George” playwright Penelope Lowder (Courtesy photo)

For the first time in the history of Center Theatre Group’s (CTG) L.A Writer’s Workshop, all 10 playwrights in the cohort presented their work at the Culver City-based theatre with CTG’s Writers’ Workshop Festival from September 9-11 and September 16-18 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Since its inception in 2005, CTG has supported a cohort of authors to assist them in authoring new plays within the L.A. Writer’s Workshop. This year, 10 women were selected to work together under the guidance of Center Theatre Group Associate Artistic Director Luis Alfaro to write 10 plays, which were presented for the first time in front of a live audience.

June Carryl, Penelope Lowder, and Julie Taiwo Quarles were three magnificent Black female playwrights who were selected as cohorts in the writer’s workshop. In an interview with the Los Angeles Sentinel, each playwright went into detail about the plays workshopped in the cohort, but also the monumental strides CTG is making in inclusivity towards BIPOC playwrights, and what this means to them.

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“I manifested this moment,” said Penelope Lowder, author of the play, “Barbara George.” “A year ago, I’d said I wanted my play to be at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, so when I was selected to be a part of this workshop, I was elated.”

“Girl Blue” playwright June Carryl (Courtesy photo)

“This feels like I’m accomplishing something on my bucket list,” said “Girl Blue” writer, June Carryl. “Luis inviting women of color to CTG, specifically, is honestly revolutionary and means more than I have the words for. I think that when a theatre says, ‘wWe want to hear your voice, we want to see what you do,’ there’s just no feeling like it. There’s encouragement that comes just from being seen and heard.”

“It’s a really an exciting moment,” Julie Taiwo Quarles, who wrote the play “YojTM,” shared. “I know Luis was very intentional with his goal of putting together a diverse group of playwrights that he felt represented Los Angeles, so it’s super exciting to be collaborating with all these women and definitely to have two other Black playwrights in the group, which isn’t super common.”

Black playwrights don’t have it easy in this industry, with the mission being twice as hard for Black female playwrights. Each women discussed, despite having a strong passion and love for their writing, how they’ve all suffered struggles due to their womanhood and race. However, they did share that people in theatre like Luis Alfaro are making this industry a more inclusive space.

Carryl shared, “That as a culture, generally, Black women—being both female and Black—we’re doubly excluded. No one wants to hear from us unless it’s sexy or reflecting a large part of culture in a positive way, but things are changing. The theater is recognizing and reckoning with its exclusivity. It’s trying to bring in new audiences, and so I think we’re in sort of a testing ground right now.”

“Yoj™” playwright Julie Taiwo Quarles (Courtesy photo)

Both Lowder and Quarles agreed that more spaces for Black female playwrights have opened up in the theatre industry.

“There’s a lot of prominence, even outside of Los Angeles, of Black female writers. We’re getting more opportunities, nowadays, and that’s really exciting. We’re at a moment where there’s more consideration of a story by someone like us than there would have been even a few years ago.”

Penelope Lowder discussed, “I think that our [Black women] voices are being recognized. We’re not a monolith. There are so many different perspectives of our experience that has not been in the theatre world, and I think people are beginning to really find it appealing. There’s still a lot to go, and a road ahead, but at least it’s starting…conversations are starting. Theatres are beginning to open up, and maybe I’m just an optimist, but I do believe that in the future we’ll see more Black female playwrights, and just Black playwrights in general, in more major houses.”

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By taking part in this cohort, each of the three playwrights are giving voice to a small part of the Black perspective. With plays about stories that include a variety of topics surrounding different aspects of Black culture, life, and entertainment, Carryl, Quarles, and Lowder work diligently to ensure that not only their voices, but the voice of their people, be heard.

In Lowder’s “Barbara George,” she is challenged to decode the human condition with a 90-minute nightmare following a Crenshaw realtor, Barbara “Gorgeous” George, who needs to figure out how she can stay visible to the community where she’s slowly being erased. Lowder’s new work reflected topics such as race and relationships during the Jim Crow period as well as highlighted the spooky supernatural elements that encompass them.

“Girl Blue,” written by Carryl, explored the mind of artist and activist Nina Simone over two iconic years—1968 and 1977. Exploring intersections of race, gender, and ethnicity, the story unfolds at the center of The Troubadour night club in Los Angeles and the Airport Ramada Inn hotel in New York City.

Quarles’ play, “YojTM,” is inspired by her Nigerian father and her American mother along with the interactions between the West and Africa. “YojTMfollows two couples debating the trademarking of African culture. Quarles’ new work follows the Reeds, a bookstore owner and Yoj, descendant and professor of Africana Studies and Blues, and the Wells, an adjunct professor of African and African American Literature, and a pastry chef and owner of “Afro Artisanal” pastry business.

Each playwright also took the time to commend CTG for their work in equity and inclusion within theatre spaces and the theatre industry. Penelope took the time to acknowledge that this started with Jeremy O. Harris’ “Slave Play.”

“CTG was one of the only theatre’s that has recognized the voices of Black playwrights in the past and continue to do so. Now, I think they know they have a pivotal role, now, and can play a major role in having Black voices not just during Black History Month, but all year round. I love that. I love that CTG is pushing for more Black experiences throughout the season. They’re taking the lead, and I’m glad they’re doing it.”

Associate Artistic Director Luis Alfaro also took a moment to reflect on the work CTG is doing in inclusivity in theatre, and making more way for Black people and other BIPOC.

“CTG’s Writer’s Workshop is not only an opportunity to develop one’s work, but also to get it out into the regional theatre community. My goal, this year, was to curate a cohort that spoke to a community effort in multiple ways. One was to focus on primarily women of color, a large population that has traditionally been overlooked in the American theatre. The other was to offer playwrights an honorarium for their time to join me every two weeks all year long in writing a play of THEIR choice,” said Alfaro.

“Subsequently, the writers have written stories that in almost all the plays feature a women protagonist and a story that is centered in Los Angeles, which is very exciting. We built these pieces in community and our dramaturgy was a shared process. This is very exciting in that we can share our best practices and creative a supportive environment for truth telling and culturally appropriate work. We make art to make change. This group has proven that to me.”

For more information about Center Theatre Group visit: https://www.centertheatregroup.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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