BWW Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson's Been Ready For SHOWTIME - BLUES
In these pandemic times, The Fountain Theatre has been Zooming their SATURDAY MATINEE series, the latest on June 27 being France-Luce Benson's SHOWTIME BLUES. The cast of this reading includes Cecil Blutcher, Suzette Azariah Gunn and Matt Kirkwood. I had the socially distant opportunity to pose a few questions to this prolific playwright.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, France-Luce!
What are you doing to keep safe, sane and creative in these stay-at-home times?
Besides producing and hosting SATURDAY MATINEE for The Fountain, which has kept me busy and focused, lots of biking and long nature walks; and I managed to complete a new TV pilot and have had a few readings of works in progress. I've also been much more deliberate about connecting with friends and loved ones. I do a weekly Friday night happy hour with a group of friends (that always goes into after hours); and I've participated in virtual healing circles with the "Hidden Water" community. I was introduced to Hidden Water several years ago in NY, it was a life line then and a great source of support these past few months. In these last few weeks, I've been revisiting a lot of James Baldwin for inspiration and guidance; and I've been watching Pose for generous doses of light and love.
SHOWTIME BLUES first premiered in 2017 at Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York. Did any audience responses then take you by surprise?
I was in residency at Djerassi for the run of the show, but was deeply moved by the number of folks who reached out to me after seeing it; and particularly moved by how much it resonated with black men.
Do you expect audience responses on June 27 to be different in any way, now three years later?
Good question. I try not to anticipate audience responses, I try to focus on the work. But I imagine the characters' journeys might trigger some raw emotions. However, it's amazing how little has changed in the three years for Black Americans. Perhaps white audiences might hear and see these characters more vividly, and have greater compassion.
What would your three-line pitch of SHOWTIME BLUES be?
A potentially dangerous encounter, and major train delays force Ameira and Demetrius to confront their internalized prejudice attitudes, and the harsh realities of life as a moving target.
No matter how bright their lights shine, Ameira and Demetrius struggle to be seen. But a potentially dangerous encounter forces them to open their eyes and confront their internalized prejudice attitudes. And while their train is stalled, they grapple with the harsh realities of life as a moving target.
Any particular incident sparked your creation of SHOWTIME BLUES?
No. It wasn't one specific incident, it was series of incidents in which Black men and women's lives were taken by police. Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice... and on and on...
Have you worked with any of the cast or creatives of SHOWTIME BLUES before? All of them. Cecil Blutcher originated the role of Demetrius at Ensemble Studio Theatre in NY. Suzette Azariah Gunn was cast in my play FALL, also produced at EST, and Matt Kirkwood participated in the reading of DETAINED last month.
You are currently the Community Engagement Coordinator for The Fountain Theatre. How did it all come about in your accepting this position?
I was in Salvador de Bahia in Brazil, in residency at the Sacatar Foundation. Stephen Sachs emailed me out of the blue, a few days later we had a phone interview and he offered me the job. It was perfect timing.
What are the goals you've set for yourself, and for The Fountain?
Primarily, I want to develop their Arts Ed programming. I want to reach a wider range of students in Los Angeles, and to build bridges in the community through the work we do. I'd also like to nurture The Fountain's relationships with organizations who embody our artistic mission. Before the pandemic, we partnered with Hollywood Food Coalition, Covenant House, and Los Angeles LGBTQ Center during the run of HUMAN INTEREST STORY. I actually maintained contact with the LGBTQ Center during quarantine; and volunteered for their Hello Club, making wellness calls to senior citizens. I'd like these relationships to be long lasting. I'd also like their audience base to reflect L.A.'s multi-cultural landscape. I'd like to see more brown and black folks in the audience, on stage, and behind the scenes.
How old were you when you came to America from Haiti?
I actually wasn't born in Haiti - both of my parents were born and raised in Haiti. I was born in Zaire (aka Democratic Republic of Congo) in Africa. We came to America when I was about 2 years old.
Have you gone back to Haiti to visit family or friends there?
It's been awhile. I haven't been back to Haiti since the earthquake. We were planning a trip this year, but will have to postpone.
Haitians are central to a lot of your plays (i.e.; BOAT PEOPLE, THE DEVIL'S SALT, ASCENSION, FREEDOM SEA). Any specific aspects of Haitian culture you try to reveal to your audiences in your projects?
In all my plays, I aim to reveal our humanity. Part of my artistic mission is to challenge the many negative (and largely inaccurate) stereotypes about the Haitian people, and to celebrate our amazing history.
What facet of Haitian culture do you find most people are unaware of?
Just about everything. But I suppose what pains me most is how most people know nothing about The Haitian Revolution. It is one of the greatest and most successful uprisings in world history. It was a magnificent achievement that gave birth to Haiti - and changed the course of history for France, England, Spain, and America.
You earned your BA in Theatre from Florida International University and MFA in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. Any anti-racial experiences stick in your mind?
Ha, ha! So many. (I'd rather not get into that here.)
Would you consider staff and fellow students woke in your university years? Honestly? No.
What is your hope for the heighten human situation today?
Thank you again, France-Luce! I look forward to Zooming your SHOWTIME BLUES.