Interview: Bryan-Keyth Wilson of FOR COLORED BOYZ

on the verge of a nervous breakdown when freedom ain’t enuff

By: Sep. 07, 2022
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Interview: Bryan-Keyth Wilson of FOR COLORED BOYZ

After much recognition, including a festival finalist and selection for a prestigious showcase, For Colored Boyz on the verge of a nervous breakdown when freedom ain't enuff is making its World/ Regional Premiere. Written, directed, and choreographed by Bryan-Keyth Wilson, this choreopoem dives deep into the lived experience of five men of color and the challenges of a racist and oppressive society.

With production set to start in just over 24 hours, we are grateful that Bryan-Keyth Wilson is willing to tell us a bit about this production and his experiences here in Central Pennsylvania.

BWW: Can you tell us a little about previous projects? Do you focus on social issues, or is this a new direction for you?

Wilson: Like many in the industry, I grew up on the classics such as DREAMGIRLS, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, August Wilson's Pittsburg Cycle, etc. So, of course, these are the types I produced when I began my professional journey. But as a performer, I saw that there weren't many roles that I could audition for, so I started writing and producing original plays Off-Off Broadway at The Variety Cafe at Rockefeller Center. When Michael Brown was killed in 2014, I felt like an artist, and I couldn't sit idle and not create amid such a travesty. I was brought to a quote by Nina Simone that said, "An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times."

BWW: What inspired For Colored Boyz?

Wilson: In 2014 I was in a whirlwind with my career after losing my father, and my business closed. I was searching for my existence and place in the theatre business. Every time I turned on the television, a new name appeared in a consistent headline. I knew I had to do something; I didn't know what it would be.

BWW: How did it come to be produced at the Fulton?

Last year I was selected as a Finalist for the Inaugural Stories of Diversity Playwright Festival. After a week of working with Robert Hartwell and the late Darius Barnes, Jonathan Burke, Malcolm Armwood, and Antoine L. Smith, I knew we had a solid script. I was blessed to win the festival and receive a full production/ World Premiere.

BWW: Were there challenges in finding/ developing the cast/ preparing for the Fulton run?

There are always challenges with casting! It's usually a scheduling conflict, but this process was smooth. I prayed and asked God to direct my path in casting and put the people in roles who needed to be there. And voila, I have this stellar cast of beautifully talented Black/ Afro-Latinx men.

BWW: Why did you choose a Choreopoem as a platform?

Wilson: The choreopoem blends poetry, dance, music, and song. In 1975, Ntozake Shange used the phrase for the first time to describe her collection of poems for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow Is enuf. Shange's endeavor to break away from conventional western poetry and storytelling produced a brand-new style of literature that doesn't have any predetermined plot or characters and instead focuses on evoking an emotional reaction from the reader. African American Vernacular English and unconventional spelling are two features of this genre that set Shange's writing apart from conventional American literature.

I knew this piece had to encompass every element of my culture; of course, the drum is the root of this piece. Then the creative conversation focused on language, and I wanted this work to be BLACK AF, so I had to dispel all writing rules that I was taught or deemed to be "the white way."

BWW: What are your hopes for the show?

Wilson: We want people to see this show regionally, but we want this show to go to the next step, and that is Broadway!

BWW: How have you found our community and art scene here in Lancaster?

Wilson: I told Marc Robin that he has me spoiled! I feel like I am at my second home. From the eclectic Central Market to CHAMPS Barber College, Lancaster has not disappointed. Walking down the street, you see up-and-coming artists showing their work and the sounds of live drums. I love it, and I hope I can make another visit soon.

BWW: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Wilson: Working at The Fulton Theatre has been a blessing! As a guest artist, it has been a delight to work with Marc and his fabulous staff. I know the show can be a mouthful, and the title is intimidating. Come and see these five men pour their hearts out on the stage. We hope you laugh, cry and create conversations to [take] back to your personal lives. This is an ensemble cast that you will not forget.

"Bryan-Keyth Wilson (Playwright/Director/Choreographer) is a southern playwright who tells stories rooted in the African Diaspora. Wilson has produced theatre Off-Broadway and abroad. In response to the 2014 death of Michael Brown, Wilson started his creative journey as a poet. As more accounts of black men killed by police officers emerged over time, Wilson's poetry continued to be his creative response to his personal rage in the face of tragedy and senseless death. After forty poems, he set out to create a way to mold them into a cohesive theatrical experience. Five years later, he produced a workshop of the piece that he titled FOR COLORED BOYZ on the verge of a nervous breakdown/ when freedom aint enuff." -Fulton Theatre

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