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A Closer Look: Lenelle Moïse

Playwrights’ Corner
Lenelle Moise

Take "A Closer Look" at the writers of The New Black Fest at The Lark!  In this series, the writers involved in this year's festival interview each other about their influences, impulses, inspirations and identities.  Read on to hear what Lenelle Moïse told NSangou Njikam about her work!

NSangou Njikam: Music and poetry seem to be key elements in your artistry.  It's something that I think enriches the written word and can viscerally connect people to the work.  How does music and poetry help you in the development of your writing? 

Lenelle Moïse: When I start working on a new play, I find it helpful to create a music playlist for my main character. Knowing which songs they'd play at the end of a grueling day—or in a traffic jam, or to welcome a guest into their home—makes a character clearer to me. In Merit, we meet Mona, a graduate student and aspiring fiction writer. She listens to a lot of Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro because they are master storytellers. They write smart, sensual tear-you-open lyrics and that’s how Mona wants to write. She can be relentless, but when I imagine her alone in her bedroom, blasting Mitchell’s “Woman of Heart and Mind,” I'm reminded of a longing that fuels Mona's intensity. All in all, I look for the music in dialogue. I think a script can be a score.

NN: In addition to writing and performing, you also teach performance workshops, and one that stood out for me was your workshop on solo performance.  So many people I know have wanted to create a solo show, either as a vehicle for themselves or to express some idea they have.  Yet, very few actually get to the work of creating the piece.  Without tapping too much into the secret recipe you use in your workshop, what's one or two things that an artist needs to successfully complete their solo performance piece? 

LM: We do a lot of moving and sweating in my workshops because I want participants to think and create on their feet. It’s a full-body approach to writing. I encourage solo performers to befriend and dazzle their audiences, to use every tool they have in their treasure chest to enrapture, bargain and communicate. Creating a solo show is not for the faint of heart. You have to be spectacular but also disarming. You have to be a virtuosic shape-shifter! Even if the work is confrontational, I urge folks to lead with love.

NN: Switching to your show in the festival, I was intrigued by your use of the notion, "the personal is political" in building art.  How does this notion translate into your piece?

LM: Playwriting, for me, is an exercise in compassion. My characters don’t always share my political point of view or my identity markers. Even when they do, they may say or do things that I would never say or do. In Merit, we watch one creative woman of color struggle in a predominantly white academic setting. We see her triumph or fail in intimate situations—in the classroom, at a party, out on a date. Her political context makes her personal journey that much more treacherous and, hopefully, fascinating to watch.