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A Closer Look: The New Black Fest at The Lark 2017

Playwrights’ Corner
Heashots of Ngozi Anyanwu and James Anthony Tyler

As we gear up to kick off this year's festival, we're bringing you an inside look at the process. Playwrights Ngozi Anyanwu (Nike or We don't need another hero) and James Anthony Tyler (Artney Jackson) got together to discuss their work and goals for week. Check out their conversation below!

NGOZI ANYANWU: When working on a new play, how do you know at what time to share your work?

JAMES ANTHONY TYLER: I'm so bad at knowing when is the right time to share work. I'm sure there have been many times I've shared work too early,  but there have also been times I haven't been confident about plays I've worked on for years being presented to an audience. The past few years I've been trying to be fearless about sharing my work. With that being said, this presentation of Artney Jackson will be an early draft of the play. 

NGOZI: By having a character who is mentally ill, such as one with schizophrenia, do you feel a responsibility of how to represent the mentally ill?

JAMES: I feel a tremendous responsibility. So much so that I have had writing days where I haven't been productive with doing the actual writing because I'm reading or watching videos about schizophrenia. When I started this play one of my goals was to not show the character A.J. having a psychotic episode. The other day I was talking to a playwright friend, that I really trust, about the play, and she reminded me people go to the theater to see drama. This friend was advocating for the audience to see a psychotic episode because it's exactly what the protagonist of the play fears. I'm still trying to figure out what is best for the play and what is the best way to represent A.J., the character with schizophrenia, so again YES, I feel a huge responsibility. 

NGOZI: Is this your first reading of this piece and what are your goals for it?

JAMES: This will be my first reading of the full piece. I brought half of the play to class at Julliard back in November. My goal for the piece is to make sure all of the characters feel like dimensional/fully realized/specific characters and that the overall story is clear and engaging.

JAMES: Other than the Origin story of the Goddess Nike and your wanting to retell the Olympus myth, what are other influences or reasons that came to mind when you went to wrote Nike or We don't need another hero? Also, is Tina Turner in any way some kind of influence for writing this play?

NGOZI: There actually is no origin story, which is what peaked my interest. I was thinking of wanting to write about a deity that we don't get to hear about and looked up Nike, who apparently is the goddess of victory but that's pretty much all the information you get about her. There was also this really dope painting I once saw that had a winged goddess in front of Zeus, and I was like 'who dat?' And Nike came up. So I just thought it was really interesting that in all the stories about the Olympians, how they came to be, there was only like a sentence or two on NIKE. So I decided to make my own up. Regarding Miss Turner, Tina may or may not make an appearance.

JAMES: How did you decide on the setting and tone of the play? 

NGOZI: Myths, I think to me, have a lot of room, and this one I think is begging for graphic novel, comic tone, which I don't really know how to do, so here goes.

JAMES: What do you think you'll be listening for on the day the play is presented to the audience in The New Black Fest?

NGOZI: This draft is kind of fast and furious. I'm trying to get away with a lot. It has a lot of holes that I need to fill in. But we're just gonna go with it and present this early draft in the making, cause why not? I'll be looking for where the music is missing and where the dialogue is lacking but also how much an audience can understand without having to know everything.