From the Chicago Public Radio's website:
Chicago playwright Shepsu Aakhu says he didn’t make up any of the atrocities depicted in his new play. Ten Square imagines what life might be like for African Americans in a society where reparations were actually made for slavery. Aakhu says contemporary and historical political systems helped fuel his dystopic vision – the post-war division of Germany, the cold-war isolation of Cuba and the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine. He and lead actress Carla Stillwell spoke with Richard Steele.
Click here to listen to the interview
The Black Theatre Alliance announced its nominations for the 2008/09 season today. MPAACT received 14 nominations including Best Play, Best Direction (2), Best Writer (2) and Best Ensemble(3). We would like to thank everyone involved in making our 2008/2009 season a success. We also congratulate company member Nambi E. Kelley for her writer nomination.
For full list of MPAACT nominations click "more"
So here I am once again on stage with MPAACT. And as usual I’m in a show, Radical Hearsay, that is not traditional. What does she mean by that you ask? MPAACT very rarely if ever produces a nice safe work where an actor can play one roll. Create one character. A sweet little show where the characters have a simple storyline and their last line in the show is something like, “Things always work out for the best.” or “Thank God for you Mama”.
No, no, no, not MPAACT…this little theatre company has to test an actor. Now 13 years ago when I first came to MPAACT these shows were an actors (or am I an actress?) paradise for me. I could jump around and have bodies fall on me and run up and down stairs and play characters that talked about emotionally draining subjects and feel great about the $40,000 I spent on my college theatre education. I was using every actor and actual muscle I had in every show and was loving it.
So here I am, 13 years later playing 7 different characters. And although I still enjoy using my actor muscles, my actual muscles are really not happy with me. Radical Hearsay is a radical departure from what my knees and back want from me. My knees want me to find a nice role where I play one nice fat mama and spend a large portion of the show sitting on some comfortable furniture. My knees are not happy with MPAACT. So, if you come out and you enjoy the show and you love what the theatre company does, that’s great. But just know this…Carla’s knees are not feeling it and if you can’t see the pain on her face then that is truly a testament to her $40,000 theatre education.
MPAACT Artistic Associate Carla Stillwell had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Lydia R. Diamond, writer of MPAACT’s current production Stage Black. Here are her thoughts or writing for the stage, getting produced and growing in her craft.
What was the first thing you ever wrote?
A romance novel at twelve. It was about myself and Joaquin Andujar who was a Puerto Rican pitcherfor the St. Louis Cardinals and we would live in a big house. It was a little sexy for a twelve year old. I guess it was a precursor to plays because I used to act it out with my Barbie dolls.
What was your first production?
You guys did my first not self produced production. It was The Inside. That’s why this production is special for me because I still credit MPAACT for giving me my first professional production.
You write both original works and adaptations, how is the writing of an adaptation different from an original pieces?
Adaptation is much more difficult. I think my only true adaptation was Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. I think the process of adapting is hard because you’re trying to fit in to a hundred pages or fewer a work that existed in another dimension with considerably more words. And then there is the additional emotional burden of honoring the work that you are adapting.
Who helped or hindered you in your early career?
I don’t think it’s fair to say anyone hindered me as fabulously as things have gone. A lot of different people helped me in a lot of different ways. MPAACT helped me because I was not used to being produced so I’m sure I stepped on toes all the time because I was used to producing myself, but that’s a learning curve…learning how to be produced. Because I had the MPAACT credit and had produced myself…because these things were on my resume…I was able to use that to begin my relationship with Chicago Dramatist and Dramatist was instrumental in the next steps in my development as a playwright. The culture of Chicago theatre helped me as well. And Mignon [McPherson Nance], who is directing Stage Black has always been one of my favorite directors and dramaturg and to that end she has always influenced my work and made me a better playwright.
Most people now know you as a playwright. I know you as an actress. How did the experience of acting shape you as a writer?
I teach a lot of actors to write plays now and I think it [having been an actor] makes you a better playwright. I think we have it in our bones what dramatic structures is. We respect actors. But for me, my experiences as an actor helped me understand that I am truly a playwright; that writing the plays made me feel empowered in a way that acting never did.
What themes/ideas/concepts keep recurring in your writing?
It’s always the same thing…It’s always the same things…It’s always relationships, race, class. Even in my adaptations. These are the things that perplex me…the issues we can’t seem to resolve nationally.
Are these the things that inspire you as a writer?
I find that it’s shifting for me since I’ve become a mother. I think that my concern for and protectiveness of my child changes my focus from examining the world to examining relationships. I find that my in [road] to the work is now more character driven.
Tell us about Stage Black?
What to say…Well I wrote this play a long time ago…about fifteen years ago. I wrote it before I was even married. The challenge of this process was to honor the young woman that wrote Stage Black then and to be ok with that. I know I wouldn’t like it if someone fifteen or twenty years older came in and rewrote my play. I mean you get better with every play you write. I did want to do some re-writes, but I still wanted to honor the young women that wrote Stage Black years ago. This was an important learning opportunity for me too.
There is always a wit to your work, and Stage Black is hilarious, can you speak to how you use wit and humor in your work?
Thank you, it is a huge complement that you find it witty. I know I think it’s funny in my head.
Do you fancy yourself a closet comedian?
No, no, no…not even a little bit. Only in my own head. I think my humor and wit come out of situations and character development. I’m not funny at all. I do very badly at cocktail parties.
What do you mean why MPAACT?
Why did you say hey, let me give this theatre company my play?
Oh, well I think that MPAACT is a company that has very strong sense that it is Afrikan Centered…MPAACT develops new work…these are all the things that are important to me. And MPAACT is the first company that saw something in me and I will always appreciate that.
What is the most useful advice you ever received about being a writer?
Well there are two things…My friend Lisa Dillman told me a long time ago that my success can be marked by the number of rejection letters. That stayed with me because I know that when I get a rejection letter I know that I’m a player. That I’m putting my work out there and that is the first step. And Derrick Walcott my teacher at BU said something very beautiful to me…he says that you should be careful how you walk through the applause.