2013 Salon: Q&A with “The Underside of Jackfruit and Papaya” Playwright Keith Josef Adkins

Happy Friday-before-the-Salon!  We kick off this Monday, June 17th at our opening night party and couldn’t be more stoked to pick 7 lucky directors out of a hat!  What?  You pick directors out of a hat?  Yes.  Yes we do.  All you have to do is show up, make sure you have some relatively flexible availability (5-6 hours of rehearsal and Sunday’s tech/performance) between Wednesday, June 19th and Sunday, June 23rd, and throw your name in a hat.  What happens if my name is drawn?  You get to direct one of 7 short plays inspired by Clifford Odets’s Waiting for Lefty, written by Keith Josef Adkins, Chad Beckim, Mike Lew, Halley Feiffer, Cándido Tirado, Mfoniso Udofia, and Alladin Ullah and featuring an incredible ensemble of actors.  Really?  Really.

Keith Josef Adkins (whose work is featured tonight in Blind Fear: An Evening of Short Audio Plays at The Greene Space, performed by The Bats) tells us how Waiting for Lefty is a play that really hits close to home for him and how the playwright/director relationship is like dating.

2013 Salon Playwright Keith Josef Adkins, whose short play "The Underside of Jackfruit and Papaya" will be performed on Sunday, June 23rd at 7:30pm.

2013 Salon Playwright Keith Josef Adkins, whose short play “The Underside of Jackfruit and Papaya” will be performed on Sunday, June 23rd at 7:30pm.

Working Theater: Tell us about your play in the Salon.  How did Waiting for Lefty inspire your play?

Keith Josef Adkins: My play, “The Underside of Jackfruit and Papaya,” is about two young men forced to take a stand about safety at their job.  You see, I was born and raised in southern Ohio. Whether middle class or working class, unions and labor concerns were central to Ohio culture. In fact, my dad was a Teamster and my stepfather was an outspoken leader with the BCTGM union.  I remember vividly those times when contracts were due to expire and the threat of strike permeated our home for days.  As a kid, the high stakes of it all was quite exciting. However, it was nerve-wracking for my parents.  I originally read Waiting for Lefty during undergrad and I remember being struck by the play’s passion around workers and their rights. So writing a play inspired by it was exciting and very close to home.

WT: What do you look for in a director?

KJA: I’m always looking for a director whose personality and work ethics blend with mine.  The director/playwright relationship is much like dating (usually for six to eight weeks) and it’s important that we enter the relationship with honesty, realistic expectations, the need for good times, and a mutual goal—serving the play in the best way possible.

WT: Tell us about your worst experience working with a director.

KJA: I had a world premiere of a play in Chicago last year that was… interesting.  I was teamed with a company member from the theater who was actually a very funny, easy-going director.  However, due to the theater’s budget, we never met in person until opening.  All of our creative bonding happened over the phone and email. The director also had a very strong and seemingly impenetrable aesthetic vision for the play.  Ideas that I thought were being imposed on the play as opposed to complementing or supplementing the story. At one point, the director was not answering my emails and phone calls. I was livid! I was told later the director was in the final throes of their dissertation in psychology or something. Understandable, but not excusable. We already made the commitment.  When I arrived in Chicago for the opening, the theater’s artistic staff was not happy with the director’s vision. Although I thought the production was colorful and full of fun and life, my story was lost among the director’s single-structured artistic vision. It was certainly not a result of a healthy collaboration/relationship.

WT: What do you love/hate about the director/playwright relationship?

KJA: I love coming together to co-create with a willingness to learn from eachother. I hate when one feels they know more than the other.

WT: What are some key elements of a successful director/playwright
collaboration?

KJA: Communication, communication, communication.  Key elements in ANY relationship.

WT: How can emerging directors meet and develop a relationship with a playwright?  What has been your experience?

KJA: I think it’s really important that emerging directors see theater and take note of plays and playwrights that resonate with them, emotionally, artistically and/or politically.  A lot of times emerging directors are simply eager to work and they haven’t developed (or find interest) in a point of view or artistic mission for themselves.  I really appreciate when directors seek me out because they actually like what I’m doing. Something has resonated with them.  The first date is everything.

WT: What’s next for you?

KJA: My full-length play The Last Saint on Sugar Hill, about gentrification in Harlem, will be produced in NYC in Fall 2013. I’m currently setting up crucial first dates with potential directors.

Keith Josef Adkins’s “The Underside of Jackfruit and Papaya” will be performed on Sunday, June 23rd at 7:30pm at the June Havoc Theatre at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex (312 W. 36th St., 1st Floor) along with short plays by Chad Beckim, Halley Feiffer, Mike Lew, Cándido Tirado, Mfoniso Udofia, and Alladin Ullah.  Tickets are free with a suggested donation either online or at the door, but reservations are strongly encouraged due to all prior Salon performance nights being sold-out!   Click here to RSVP to the show.

For a chance to direct “The Underside of Jackfruit and Papaya” or one of the other plays, make sure to attend our Opening Night Kick-Off Party on Monday, June 17th at 7pm!  Visit us on Facebook or go to our website for more information and RSVP to the party here.  Feel free to e-mail wtdirectors@gmail.com with any questions.

Keith Josef Adkins is a playwright, screenwriter and artistic director. His plays include SUGAR and NEEDLES (2013 workshop at Epic Theatre – NYC), SWEET HOME (2012 production MPAACT Theater Company – Chicago), THE FINAL DAYS OF NEGRO-VILLE (2012 Playwrights Foundation Rough Reading Series – San Francisco, 2011 Represent Festival at A.C.T.  –  Seattle), THE LAST SAINT ON SUGAR HILL (2011 production MPAACT), PITBULLS, SAFE HOUSE, FAREWELL MISS COTTON, THE PATRON SAINT OF PLANTS, among others.  Keith’s play Sweet Home just earned six nominations (including Best Script) from the African American Theater Alliance in Chicago, his play The Last Saint on Sugar Hill recently earned a 2012 Jeff nomination for Best New Work in Chicago as well as selected into the Lark Play Center’s 2012-2013 Monthly Meeting of the Minds playwright group.  As a screenwriter, Keith wrote for the CW hit series Girlfriends. He also wrote and directed an all-black sci-fi web series called The Abandon that launched in December.  He is co-founder and artistic director of The New Black Fest, a festival of new and provocative playwriting, music and discussion from the African Diaspora.

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