It was lovely and encouraging to see the support that flowed into the Guthrie Theater on Monday, July 22nd. The event was entitled, “In Conversation with Lynn Nottage and Joseph Haj” and comprised a 45-minute interview of the 2-time Pulitzer prize-winning playwright hosted by the Guthrie’s Artistic Director. Nottage brought a vibrant vulnerability to an eager audience in the first half of the talk; in the last half hour of the program, attendees posed their own questions to Nottage about process, identity, and success. This one-time event precedes the opening of Nottage’s new work Floyd’s premiering on the McGuire Proscenium Stage on July 27th. In this intimate setting the audience was privileged to hear the compassionate, creative, and at times critical voice behind one of today’s most influential playwrights.
Lynn Nottage completed her graduate studies at the Yale School of Drama in 1989 and pivoted directly from her theatre education to the local and global humanitarian crisis. Nottage credits her four years post-grad work at Amnesty International for the global significance that permeates her work. Nottage ruminated on her move back to the world of playwriting after experiencing both the crack and AIDS epidemics: “I wanted to process my human rights work through art.” She specifically spoke of creating art “…that is designed to heal.”
In preparation for this event, I dove into two of Nottage’s most critically acclaimed works: Ruined and Sweat. If you haven’t sought them out, I suggest you get on the Hennepin Library waiting list and see for yourself. Nottage brings a devotion and rigor to her playwriting dramaturgy that pushes beyond the bounds of realism or naturalism. Nottage lives her subject matter, whether that be spending a few years in Africa or delving into primary documents such as ancient diaries documenting the life of Louis XIV. The Guthrie’s upcoming production, Floyd’s (a play in tandem, but not sequence to Sweat) is set in Reading, Pennsylvania. he research for these plays took Nottage and two assistants to that small, industrial town for three years gathering interviews and stories from local residents. Of the significance and importance of this process Nottage claimed in the evening’s interview, “theatre is one of the only places we get to process the ‘American Narrative.’”
Lynn Nottage has broken down borders within the theatre industry. This interview allowed an overwhelmingly white audience to see a strong, black female over 50 take the stage and confess to her misgivings and fears about the American theatre culture. It was wonderfully uncomfortable. As a white female myself I felt both challenged and hopeful but above all wanted to magnify the voices of the young black artists that sat around me. At one point in Haj’s interview Nottage brought up the magnificent façade of playwright portraits outside of the Guthrie Theatre. She noted how instantly alienating the images were to her as she approached the theatre – a theatre where one of her plays was being premiered!
Towards the end of the evening the subject of diversity in storytelling came up in an audience question. It got me thinking about our duty as an artistic community in a fortunately artistically receptive city. We are being given the opportunity to continue magnifying the voices that have echoed over our heads throughout our education or to magnify the voices of those we haven’t seen represented enough on stage. Lynn Nottage has a voice that deserves to be magnified; she has something to say. I hope you join me in seeing the world premiere of Floyd’s running July 27–August 31 at the Guthrie Theater. https://www.guthrietheater.org/shows-and-tickets/
This image of Lynn Nottage originally appeared in Time's 100 Most Influential People, 2019: https://time.com/collection/100-most-influential-people-2019/5569480/lynn-nottage/ Image by Jesse Dittmar--Redux.