One of the aims of the Heal the Divide project is to share plays from writers working/living in places you might not normally see put on stage. Playwright Michelle Tyrene Johnson hails from one such place: Kansas City, Missouri.
This has me super excited!
I’m also super excited because, HOLY COW, you need to read this playwright’s resume! Michelle has a journalism and legal background and is a speaker at events around the nation. The woman has things to say, words to share, and stories to tell. I can’t wait to see what she writes for us during her three-month residency, and I bet you can’t either! In the meantime, you can read our interview with Michelle (and her bio) below!
What about our Heal the Divide project captured your interested/why did you decide to participate in this initiative?
As a playwright, I’m always excited to see any theatre initiative that honors bringing people together and disrupting people’s resistance to being uncomfortable about topics that matter.
What areas of concern in your community do you find yourself curious about or interested in considering for this project?
I’m concerned about how the people who often think they have the least to learn, because they lean left, are the ones failing to have their listening ears on when it comes to bigotry, especially racism.
There have been a lot of discussions lately about what artists can do to “make a difference” in light of our current political spectrum. What do you think we can (or should) do? Or are there pitfalls we need to avoid?
Artists need to be the people not afraid to start the difficult conversations in the plays we write and the theatre we create. We need to be relentless in pushing the envelopes, but we need to be willing to take the body blows when not everyone gets it. We need to listen to see what more there is to know or learn but stand strong in dealing with the people who just have different values.
What questions, as a playwright, are you most drawn to explore in your work?
Increasingly I find myself writing the stories that blend magical realism and history and piercing contemporary issues. As someone who loves the stories created by other people, as well as the challenges of telling my own, I like the element of surprise that takes me to familiar places.
More About Michelle: Playwright Michelle Tyrene Johnson is a former journalist and former attorney who is a diversity and inclusion consultant based in the Kansas City, Missouri area. As a playwright, Johnson has had plays in playwriting festivals locally and nationally, including in Houston, Texas, Medford, Connecticut and Louisville, Ky, as well as in several NYC festivals for her plays “Wiccans in the Hood,” “The Negro Whisperer,” “Trading Races: From Rodney King to Paula Deen” and “Echoes of Octavia.”
In 2014, the award-winning production “Trading Races” and “Wiccans in the Hood” were produced by Philadelphia’s BrainSpunk Theater, leading to BrainSpunk making Johnson their Playwright-in-Residence. Johnson’s “Echoes of Octavia,” which has been produced by KC Melting Pot Theater, will be in the 2017 season of NYC’s Rhymes Over Beats Theater Company. Her play “Rights of Passage” has been seen in Springfield, Mo., NYC’s UP Theater reading series and featured in the 2016 Kansas City Repertory Theater’s OriginKC New Works Festival. Most recently, Johnson’s play “Justice in the Embers,” co-produced with StoryWorks, KCPT, and The Living Room Theater, had successful productions in Kansas City and the Bay Area in 2016.
In 2017, Johnson was one of the featured playwrights in the Obie Award-Winning The Fire This Time Festival in NYC and had a reading of one of her full-length plays at The National Black Theatre: Institute for Action Arts in NYC in March. Johnson’s play “The Green Book Wine Club Train Trip” was selected as the winner of the OCTA (Olathe, KS.) New Works Playwrights Competition. In June, Johnson’s full-length play “Pass Over” had a staged reading as a winner in the Jewish Ensemble Theatre (Detroit, MI) Festival of New Works.