This is a transcribed phone interview between Jen Saffron, Director of Communications for the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, and Reg Douglas, Artistic Producer for City Theatre Company.
You're the artistic producer for a prolific theater company - I'm sure you've seen a lot of plays. What led you to Pipeline?
I remember when I saw the play in the summer of 2017 with City’s Director of New Play Development Clare Drobot – we are both friends with the playwright and in love with Dominique’s work – I was completely blown away by it. I so appreciated the honesty of the relationships and circumstances and experiences that Dominique was sharing. Pipeline is a wonderfully courageous examination of race, education, love, legacy, and America. I am so proud to be able to share this story with a Pittsburgh audience.
Pipeline centers on a relationship between a Black son and his mother, the hopes and fears that she has as he grows up. I really identify with that story – growing up surrounded by love in my household and family, but still often feeling at a loss as to how to best fit into this culture and this country where love feels denied for Black men in particular. Given the cultural assumptions about black male identity being rooted in anger and rage – which is not true – how does one find joy and hope in a society that is set up to only frame black men in terms of pain and loss? That is a question I am always interested in using art to investigate, as well as what are the limits of love? Are there any? I feel like Pipeline is an interrogation of these questions.
The play is a love story. Dominique has written a love letter to Black men and Black mothers. I think at the core of the play is how strong the bonds of family are. In the midst or in spite of both our country’s complicated history and present relationship with race, the play shows how love can still survive and thrive.
We're in a place and time in our society when art is becoming even more of a vehicle for addressing tough topics - racism and violence during a time of rising actions of White Nationalists, for example. How can a play, and in this case a newer play, help?
I think that the power of good theater, and that’s what we want to make at City Theatre, is to reflect the world as both it is and as it could be. I hope that our production is honest in is specificity, but also that it imagines a world that surpasses our own. Our job in the theater is not to put book reports and news reports on stage, but to create art, to use magic and music and theatricality to help us to better understand the facts as well as find ways to overcome them.
Twenty Black women - leaders in the arts and our communities - have been asked to lead Post-Show Conversations - what do you hope these conversations will inspire?
I hope that the conversations show that this story is a Pittsburgh story. I hope that they inspire a dialogue between people who are normally not talking to each other. The ultimate goal of these conversations is to foster empathy and unity. I think that’s the goal for many artists – to use art to create deeper understanding – and it is certainly the goal of this production. The post-show conversations create a space where audiences can go on that journey towards deeper understanding together.
The post-show conversations have been overwhelmingly amazing. One of the most inspiring things of my career at City has been to witness long-time subscribers, first-time theatergoers, young people, old people, people of diverse nationalities and neighborhoods being courageous enough to share their experience of the play and what’s happening in our city and our country. It really feels like a community coming together to think, engage, live differently and I could not be prouder to be a part of fostering that dialogue and spirit.
This play centers around a young Black man and you've collaborated with 1Hood, young Black men and also women, on the sound for this play. I often find that collaborations, when done well, transform and inform each participant. How was working with 1Hood transformative for you, and what do you think were some takeaways for them?
I knew early on that I wanted to use 1Hood’s music in the show. They were one of the first organizations that I encountered when I moved to Pittsburgh and I have remained a big fan. It was a dream come true working with them on this production. Their artistry, feedback, thoughts, and ideas have been vital to every step of the production process for me and for the whole artistic team, including our amazing sound designer Zachary Beattie-Brown. The word transformative is spot-on. I think that the collaboration working with 1Hood has transformed how City Theatre thinks about being a community leader and community connector. I think all of our staff echoes the desire to continue to connect meaningfully with local artists and to provide space for them to tell their stories and share their work on our stages.
Some of the 1Hood artists were actually just here in the theater today. They’ve become deeply impassioned about theater-making and have interests that I hope we can find ways to support going forward.
And you know, I think very critically as an African-American artist and arts administrator of color in this city, and one of the only ones on the artistic side at our local theaters, about who is given opportunity to share; who is taking up space where and when and how; who is in power; who is making decisions. I helped provide a group of extraordinarily talented African-American artists with power by offering space and resources to make their art and share it with new audiences. That is a dream come true.
What do you think educators here in Pittsburgh might say about Pipeline?
That’s a good question. We worked with quite a few educators on the production. We have two student matinees, and Pittsburgh Public Schools is sponsoring one of them. The teachers at Westinghouse High School also invited us to visit as a research trip and came to the show this weekend. And we have also worked with the staff at Shuman Juvenile Detention Center. The education community in this city has been very supportive.
I think this play shows how hard many teachers are working to provide the best educational experience that they can. Something in the play that I have always been struck by is the respect that Dominique gives the teachers. She even dedicates the play to her mom who is a teacher. I have heard from educators in Pittsburgh and beyond about how much they enjoyed the play and I think that is because the piece allows them to see their lives reflected with honesty and dignity. Like the mother in the play, I think that many of the best teachers are leading with love, and I have the utmost respect for that.
Pipeline, by Dominique Morriseau, runs through Sunday with evening performances W-Sat and matinees Saturday and Sunday. Tickets, information about the play, and showtimes are right here.
1Hood Media will performThursday, November 15, 2018, 6pm at the Andy Warhol Museum at their Artivist Academy Showcase. Pay-what-you-can, information and reservations, here.
Photography by Kristi Jan Hoover, featuring the cast of Pipeline and members of 1Hood: Nambi E. Kelley (Nya), Krystal Rivera (Jasmine), Carter Redwood (Omari), Sheila McKenna (Laurie), Gabriel Lawrence (Dun), and Khalil Kain (Xavier). 1Hood portraits featuring Jacquae Mae and livefromthecity.