Defying the crooked Room: An autoethnographic study on Playwriting that works toward a Black Womanist Aesthetic in Theatre

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When it comes to theatre, before the first actor or director is hired—before the first member of the design team is approached; and before a stage manager can be retained—all of those decisions originate from and depend upon the script. This makes the playwright an invaluable, if sometimes neglected, member of the production team. While the ultimate power of production rests with the playwright, who has the ability to deny rights to the show at any moment, it is especially ironic that the voice in the room that tends to be the most silenced is that of the playwright. In theatre, the playwright is the voice. As a Black woman who is both an actor and a playwright, my concern has always rested upon the inclusion of stories like mine, told by bodies that look like mine as well, for this body and this voice occupy a particular perspective that rarely finds succor on the American stage. In seeking to close this rather large hole that the theatrical community has left gaping and exposed, I have created my own aesthetic theory that will address and acknowledge both the body and, more importantly, the voice of the Black woman playwright, and also inspire and create opportunities for other African American women who find their talents should not be reduced to an either/or scenario. It will allow them to occupy as many lanes of theatrical creativity as they can muster, while imbuing them with the power to make, remake, reshape, and expand notions of what it means to be both Black and female. The Black Womanist Aesthetic, as I term it in this dissertation, draws from the hallmarks of Black feminism, womanism (in its original conceptual form), the philosophical underpinnings of W.E.B. DuBois and his approach to Black theatre, my own work as a playwright, as well as from the Black women playwrights who have inspired and influenced my work: Ntozake Shange and Dael Orlandersmith. I situate this aesthetic as part of the landscape of American theatre as a necessary element for the furtherance of the profession and as a space for the cultivation, support, and protection of African American female creatives; itself a requirement to the living artistic evolution of the craft. Autoethnography provides the methodology required to critique both the industry and the cultural community that I possess from the perspective of the insider, granting me a vantage point that is invaluable to the crafting and comprehension of the theory I describe in this study.

Embargo status: Restricted until 01/2027. To request the author grant access, click on the PDF link to the left.

Theatre, Playwriting, Black, African American, Woman, Womanist, Aesthetic