Welcome back to Black Women of the American Theatre Blog! Another week and I am back with the hotness. This week, I am honored to be in communion with the glorious Lauren E. Turner. I met Lauren at the TCG conference in Portland back in 2017 and we learned that we both attended the same HBCU- North Carolina Central University as Theatre Majors! We missed each other by a few years but I definitely feel like it was always destined for us to cross paths. The universe really do be knowing.
Shout out to the NCCU Department of Theatre and the brilliant professors who helped shape who we both grew into as theatremakers: Dr. Linda Kerr Norflett, Dr. Johnny Alston and the living-legend Professor Karen Dacons-Brock!
Since then, I have followed Lauren's work through social media and was bursting with pride and awe when I saw last year that she had launched a new theatre company, NO DREAM DEFERRED in NOLA. Last year my bank account was like NAH- and didn't leave me any room for traveling unless it was for work, but I am getting my coins together in 2020 so I can get my Black tail down there to experience the amazing work they are doing. Support Black Theatre, y'all!
ALSO! If you have not had the opportunity to read Lauren's interview on HowlRound from last year "The American Theatre Was Killing Me" - please, put a bookmark here and go do that.
I am soooo excited to share this interview with you all. Like all of the women I interview Lauren is so authentic and genuine, but you'll see in this interview some of that Southern Swag that you ain't gone get no where else but da South!
Please enjoy, then find Lauren on social media and tell her how much you did!
How you identify yourself as an artist/ (or/and) administrator:
My friend, Monet Marshall, always asks me this: What is bringing you joy right now?
Exercising complete sovereignty over my body, mind and time by determining how and when I exert energy both physically and mentally, is giving me all the joy right now!!!! I.e Reclaiming my time. It liberates!
Self- determining my rest practices and disrupting societal tropes of being a “sick and tired” black womxn is the bee’s knee’s y’all! Laboring to the point of exhaustion and the notion that I must always be seen working hard to be viewed as valuable/not lazy/productive is some straight white supremacy lies, it’s tired and ashy and ain’t nobody got time for that. Nowadays, I absolutely relish in modeling a resting/relaxed state of being. I stay taking a nap. I am simply refusing to do the most with less. My imagination is where my magic, innovation, and solutions reside and I gain complete access to my imagination through rest, deep sleep, and relaxation.
Finding the time, space, and unmitigated gall, to rest is giving me so much joy right now.
Conjuring up dream-spaces for myself and other black womxn is giving me so much joy right now.
Where/From what are you drawing inspiration from these days?
Well, this year is the centennial anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance and I draw so much inspiration from my perception of what it must have felt like to be a Black artist, intellectual, in Harlem at that time. Ideas around Black artistry and Black artists, speaking of their Black existence in new and beautiful ways, but also, speaking specifically to Black people is exciting to me.
I love the plays, written by Black playwrights that are made with Black audiences in mind, completely absent of a white gaze. I wish there were more of them.
Always, always, I draw deep inspiration from Zora Neale Hurston. Her commitment to ethically and truthfully documenting the southern, black, lived- experience was so carefully balanced with her own personal artistic expression. She remained committed to her artistic vision, even when people of her time, didn’t understand or appreciate it. Her work is a gift, a gift to future sons and daughters that she didn’t even know, but as a life-long student of her writing, I feel as though she knew we would need her work to do our work. For similar reasons, I am inspired by Octavia Butler, I just know she was sending messages in a bottle to us in the future and I am inspired to do the same.
What are you passionate about? Can you share with us some of your dreams?
I am passionate about reveling in the technology and modality that is Black Womxn. Black womxn stay adapting and thriving. We perpetually navigate all types of oppression, disenfranchisement, mental illness, work- place aggression,violence, beauty standards and power dynamics, while sustaining deep love practices that we pass on to future generations of us. We do this work, while simultaneously creating space[s] for ourselves, our daughters, nieces, sisters, cousins etc. The most healing, beautiful and affirming spaces and opportunities that I have experienced in my life, have been purposely crafted for me by Black womxn. I love us.
I am currently playing Berniece in The Piano Lesson at a local theatre here in New Orleans. The production is being directed by one of the dopest to ever do it, Dawn Monique Williams. So, out of my thoughts around the play, I have been dreaming about communal living for Black families in the south as a potential pathway towards reclaiming generational wealth/stabilization. Like a land trust, managed by several families. On which, things like childcare, education and general community care are provided. I don’t know, I’ve been dreaming about it tho…
I’ve been dreaming about creating a hub in New Orleans, for the development of new work,written by historically marginalized playwrights and specifically playwrights of color.
I have been dreaming about if/when these things happen, what I am going to wear, what is my hair going to look like? Lol, you know all the things, that really matter.
Are you practicing self-care? What are some of the ways? What are your goals around how you care for yourself?
Day by day, I am perfecting my self- care practice. The major way that I care for myself is by creating self-care rituals and reminding myself to slow down and to center joy in all that I do.
Using joy as my litmus, has eliminated so much negativity from my life. Taking a moment to ask myself: Does this bring me joy? [ Marie Kondo style] has been a life saver. Joy, of course, meaning something slightly different than “is this consistently fun?”. However, understanding that for me, the first step towards self care or self love was realizing that I deserve a joy-filled life [ fyi: all Black womxn do]
My morning ritual begins by writing down my first thoughts, having a full glass of water, morning prayer/meditation and working out [cardio].
When I am feeling particularly rushed, stressed or overwhelmed throughout the day, I do the absolute last thing my brain thinks it should do. I stop, brew a cup of tea, push the computer away, put the phone down and savor the entire cup.
I walk daily.
I schedule time to be present with my loved ones each day. This is a dedicated time to laugh with my children and talk with my partner.
I have a healthy sex life. [ This is really important]
This year, I am also limiting the amount of meetings that I take. I have very clear guidelines for myself around what warrants a face-to-face meeting versus a call or email. I spent entirely too much time and energy last year running around, meeting with people, so that they could “pick my brain”, leaving me mentally drained and without much time to spend with before-mentioned family.
I had to trick myself into taking the time to develop a self care practice, by labeling it as “radical self-care”, that’s the only way I could give myself permission to engage, by convincing myself that I was doing something extreme or over-the-top, when in reality, I was just giving myself permission to breathe, slow down,check in with my therapist, read a good book from time to time. It’s really sad, the way that we, aided by society, deprive ourselves of the things we need to be well in exchange for some false sense of productivity.Whew chile, capitalism.
What initially drew you to the theatre? Is there something/someone you remember being influenced or impacted by?
I was first introduced to theatre by my mother Addie Wright Thomason, an attorney by trade. She studied theatre while in undergrad at Duke University and was a member of Larry Hamlin’s original theatre troupe [ North Carolina Black Rep]. She founded a Saturday school called Unity School for Performing Arts. It was there that I was first trained by brilliant Black artists and it was there that I first experienced a sense of community outside of my family. I was drawn to the energy of working together towards the higher purpose of storytelling. Theatre utilizes my entire gifting and all of my uniquely developed skills, in a way that nothing else can. I am able to bring my whole self to this craft and in doing so it enhances my artmaking and the artmaking of those I choose to collaborate with, it's a collaborative team effort and that’s why I love it.
Do you listen to music when you work? What helps to keep you focused?
Absolutely! I take a few minutes before each work session to curate a whole entire vibe for myself. Music not only helps me to curb my anxiety induced procrastination, but music keeps me moving forward, joyfully. I have two Spotify playlists that push me through, they are both a mix of soul, r&b, pop, trap and gospel, HA! One is like a No Dream Deferred soundscape and the other is what I like to listen to when conjuring up situational transformation for myself. Here they go if you are interested:
Considering a history of marginalization, what does it mean to you to be a black woman in your position right now in the American Theatre? You just began a new theatre company, why was doing so important to you?
Being a Black woman theatre maker, who is also launching a new theatre company takes a whole lot of mental math and gymnastics. It's a whole new ballgame and currently there is no training for this work, it's all experiential learning at this point. Thankfully, I have several wonderful mentors both locally and nationally, who have done and are currently doing this work and can help guide me through.
I feel as though my existence in the field, serves as a beacon call to theatre makers of color, reminding them that there are other possibilities for the way in which their work can be experienced, besides through the lens of predominantly white institutions.
Regionally speaking, in the words of Andre 3000 at the 1995 Source Awards show “ the South got something to say!”. As a Black Woman founder of a theatre company in the south, I feel compelled to connect southern, Black, narratives and aesthetics to the larger conversation of what it means to be American.
Creating something new was important to me and my producing partner India Mack. We share a deep love for future generations of theatre-makers and artists of color, here in New Orleans and throughout the region. We give this labor, and build this organization, joyfully, with the faith to know that it will serve as the ultimate love letter from us to the next seven generations of Black and Brown storytellers and to the city of New Orleans.
Time for us, is of the essence. Climate change is a persistent concern for New Orleanians and although the culture remains and will always be strong, connection to the same physical land mass may shift. No Dream Deferred serves as a cultural asset, that can remind New Orleanians of our values, our historic ability to adapt, and what we hold dear, despite a changing climate.
Kaja Dunn and I always talk about this: If you are a parent/ primary caretaker, can you expand on how you navigate/balance your responsibilities as a parent/caretaker and your life in theatre? (“I don’t know” is a valid answer) -Is there any advice you might give another parent/caretaker working on balancing it all?
My partner [ Jason] and I, parents our 3 [ Austyn 8, Elijah, 4, Nia, 4] children together. Which is a blessing and a process that we are always evaluating and changing based on our needs. This means that, I am not the primary caregiver, we share that responsibility. However, as a parent,
one part of my 3 year personal development plan is to center my family life within my career plans.
No Dream Deferred board president once wisely said to me, “they grow up so fast and nothing in the world will be able to take away the pain of missing any of it.” I took what she said to heart and worked very hard to allot most of my time right now to being with my children, teaching them [ I homeschool my oldest during the day] and playing with them and instilling our family values on a daily basis. I reserve early weekday mornings and weekday evenings to my theatre work and I recharge on the weekends.
Having a partner whose work/life schedule supports my theatre work has been paramount.
I have recently begun to conduct my contract negotiations with my role as a parent at the forefront. I openly discuss policy around bringing my children to rehearsals, budget for childcare if needed and scheduling that allows for me to do things like have dinner with my children, put them to bed and/or dash in the case of an emergency. I would selfishly advise other theatre parents/caregivers to do the same because asking for what we need can create a new industry norm.
What sort of work excites you? When you buy tickets to witness art, what sorts of things are you seeing?
Work that has an element of danger, magic, absurdity, dark humour; I go in for all of that. I seek truths in plays, that perhaps I had not previously considered. I like that because I then begin to question other unexamined assumptions that I own. That to me is the power of theatre, leaving the theatre after seeing a play, being forced to reconsider everything, is the artistic high I have been chasing since first being introduced to the medium.
When you imagine the American theatre 5-10 years from now, what are you dreaming about?
A shifted theatre ecosystem that is loudly anti-racist, values innovation, and innovative thinking around not only how stories are told but the multi-uses of culturally relevant story-telling.
Can you share a notable moment in your career? Something you’re proud of? Are you excited about anything up now, or upcoming?
No Dream Deferred launched our first season, last year with a production of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s IN THE RED AND BROWN WATER, the show was well attended and during the talk back of one show in particular we were blessed by the presence of many of the New Orleans Black theatre elders, members of groups such as Free Southern Theatre and The Dashiki Project. One of my [s]hero elders stood up to speak. She looked me directly in the eye and said that she didn't know how much longer she would be around, but if this was the last play she saw, she would go out knowing that black theatre in New Orleans was in good hands. I immediately burst into tears, it was my proudest theatre moment.
I am excited about the rest of our first season. Next up we are producing BOOTY CANDY by Robert O’Hara in May. Whoever is reading this should plan a trip to New Orleans to see the show! Visit www.nodreamdeferrednola.com for tickets [ shameless, shameless honey! lol]
What are some quotes you live by? Is there any reading you’d recommend to your fellow colleagues/ upcoming artists?
Here are a few of my favorite quotes that I live by:
“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
Fannie Lou Hamer
“ There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
Zora Neale Hurston
“ If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
Recommended Podcast: Rest As Reparations- Afro Punk Solution Sessions