Tarell Alvin McCraney
Tarell Alvin McCraney
American playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney is being widely touted as "one to watch" thanks to his debut play, The Brothers Size, which is currently being seen on both sides of the Atlantic with productions at New York's Public Theater and London's Young Vic (which has also optioned McCraney's subsequent two plays in his Brother/Sister trilogy: In the Red and Brown Water and Marcus; and the Secret of Sweet.) First workshopped at Yale University, where McCraney studied playwriting, the play tells the story of two brothers: Ogun, who owns an auto-repair shop, and Oshooshi, who has just left prison and is already back on the wrong track.

McCraney recently spoke with Tom Atkins of www.whatsonstage.com about his influences, career highlights, and favorite shows.

TOM ATKINS: What made you want to become a playwright?
TARELL ALVIN MCCRANEY: I am from a family full of teachers, preachers and athletes. I wanted to write because there were not enough roles for African-Americans. I mean, there were some but not enough.

TA: If you hadn't become a playwright, what might you have done professionally?
TAM: Realistically, I would have been a dancer, but some days when the pay is little and the taxes high I think, damn I should have been a lawyer.

TA: What inspired you to write The Brothers Size?
TAM: I read a song/poem about Ogun. It said something like, "Oshoosi, Ogun's brother, wonders and Ogun made tools to find him."

TA: In writing a play set in Louisiana, why were you influenced by West African Yoruba mythology?
TAM: The West African mythology is alive and present in various retentions across the southern portion of America, in the north amongst African-Americans, and in the Caribbean. The retentions and celebration of the Orisha and these old traditions have merged into culture, music, food in the African-American cosmology. One of the most vivid but not singular examples of this is how the slaves of Cuba merged Catholicism with deity worship, worship of Yoruba Orisha, and formed Santeria. The tradition of keeping those stories alive and using them to tell stories about African-Americans in the most urban and quotidian way is nothing new; we call it sampling in Hip-Hop. So I was interested in keeping that tradition in the theater. Merging the old with the new. And listening to the discourse it created in the space.

TA: What do you consider some of your career highlights to date?
TAM: Once I got to perform a scene with Ruby Dee, the original Ruth in A Raisin in the Sun. That was incredible. I also was August Wilson's assistant while he worked on his last play, Radio Golf. And finally, working on a play called Wig Out at Sundance with a group of incredible actors. I had such a great time.

TA: Peter Brook is one of your favorite directors, but tell us about your personal connection with him?
TAM: I auditioned for an English version of a play called Le Costume that Mr. Brook and his associate Marie-Helene Etienne were putting together in Chicago. After a strange audition for me, they asked me to do the role. I was still in undergraduate college at the time and it was exciting. Since then, they have kept up with me, encouraged my work and sent it to places with their stamp of approval, and we continue to work together. The last time I did a workshop of a new play with them was in April of 2006.

TA: What's the last thing you saw on stage that you really enjoyed? And the first?
TAM: The last was Nacho Duato's Castrati performed by the Nacional Compania de Danza of Spain. It was an amazingly beautiful and heart-racing piece set in classical times using modern ballet and extremely athletic partnering. The dancing was fierce. The costumes were incredible. I was in awe. The first thing I ever saw was my grandfather preaching the story of Lazarus rising from the grave. It remains one of the best theatrical moments in my life.

TA: If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
TAM: I would love to be Desmond Richardson, artistic director of Complexions Dance, in order to be able to dance and move with that much power. Just for a day.

TA: What's the best advice you've ever received?
TAM: "It's not about you."

TA: What are your other future plans?
TAM: I plan to work hard and try new things and try to do old things in ways that only I can do them. Make the path by walking.