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You're a co-founder of Crossroads Theatre Co. in New Jersey, which you've said is the "coming together of people from many backgrounds to try to create a whole new world." What type of world have you wanted to create with Crossroads?
Well, first, because through my parents I represent a number of world cultures, I grew up knowing myself as a citizen of the world, not just a child of my small block in Philly or Camden, New Jersey. This matters and always has because, as I've watched our American society develop, relationships between cultures tend to be more defined by the past than the hopes and promises of the future. Since the African-American experience is so rooted historically in a history of enslavement, mental and physical, my hope for the new world is to remove those definitions that are so based on being victim or victimizer, and instead discover new, more healthy foundations upon which we can relate to one another across culture lines. It's an easier thing to do when a person has a global perspective of himself or herself. When all you know of yourself is your block, your neighborhood, your people, you're missing out on the realization of your true power and the power of our society. So Crossroads, like the name implies, is about many roads merging in order to learn a new way, form a new way, and then move on, changed.
You've collaborated before with Ellis, on Fly (about the Tuskegee Airmen), which Crossroads Theatre staged in 2009 and was favorably reviewed by The New York Times (October 9, 2009). Is that the type of work originating at the Lincoln Center Institute, at Lincoln Center, where you're artist in residence? And could you talk about your work's educational goals?
I try to make my work always educational on some level because I believe so passionately in the need to learn more about ourselves and each other, not just from social media, films or TV but from the sharing of live experiences of community that only theater can do. But educating is not the driving force. The driving force is to tell a story and try to create great theater. Trey and I have been fortunate with Fly because LCI told us to do what we do and let them be the ones to be concerned with how to educate using the piece. So that's what we did. Fly just did phenomenally well at the Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., and will be in Cincinnati in September and at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in October [October 16–November 10; see repstl.org/season].
How does your work as a writer inform your work as a director, and vice versa?
I'm still trying to figure that one out. I'm a conceptualizer. And not too far from the mind of a director, I am influenced by metaphor, seeking the magic in symbolism and the power of words. Trey is great with language. And together, we somehow merge into a flow that has worked and been extremely enjoyable. Ultimately, it's about telling a story, creating magic onstage, and impacting an audience so that they are somehow a little different going out than they were coming in. To me, it takes both the writer and director in me to do that. And dividing those two heads, for me, would be like separating music from the lyric when the song you're singing has more to say than either one can give.