Africa Is Not A Country
At the Lucille Lortel Off-Broadway Awards last night, the red carpet was abuzz with nominees and Broadway stars that exemplified talent, elegance, and as a boon to theatre lately, diversity. Nominees included Ito Aghayare and Myra Lucretia Taylor, both for Danai Gurira’s play at Playwrights Horizons last month, Familiar, about a Zimbabwean family in Minnesota. When asked about whether Familiar signaled greater things to come, Taylor said:
“I hope so. Danai, she’s an actor. She wrote plays because she said she didn’t see herself, and that’s African women, women of African descent, the diaspora. The most rewarding thing is that we do this play and it’s specifically Zimbabwe, but I can’t tell you how many people- Latvian, Italian, go up to me and are like ‘You’re my aunt!’ It’s why we come to theatre. It’s where human beings say, this is where we are. So I hope it is the beginning of something great. And look, I’ve never been to the Lortel. And Danai wrote this play, and here I am!”
Nominated for Lead Actor in a Musical, Michael Luwoye of Invisible Thread, a glorious tribute to what it’s actually like to try to help people in a foreign country (Uganda), especially those who don’t want to be helped, seemed excited as well about the emerging vision of different African countries:
“I hope that it also illuminates the fact that there’s not just one story to tell about Africa. As much as the people witnessing these stories are complex and diverse, those people exist in Africa and in other countries around the world.”
Renee Elise Goldsberry of smash Broadway hit Hamilton was there as a presenter, very excited to be at the Lortel awards (after winning one last year):
“I feel like this is kind of the litmus test for acting in New York, being off Broadway and working on developing new plays, with a lot of different actors and writers, so I’m really honored to be here. Grateful to be here without any stress.”
Her costar Daveed Diggs, another testament to the talented black actors working and thriving in theatre today, noted the following:
“There are so many good shows this year…did I miss Phylicia Rashad’s show?”
Unfortunately, he had, as Head of Passes, a contemporary parable at the Public Theater and another phenomenal show showcasing brilliant African-American actors like Rashad, had just closed that very day. But he was aware of it. These stories are stories of African-Americans that haven’t yet been told, and like Luwoye said, there are many stories to tell of these countries, and of the people who come from them. Dael Orlandersmith’s solo show Forever received acclaim as well. Yet another story was honored at the awards, as the Off-Broadway director of Gurira’s Eclipsed, Liesl Tommy, expressed her shock at winning the Lortel award for Best Director. Her genuine surprise only fueled the praise coming from the audience, well-deserved praise at that.
Africa is not a country. It is a diverse continent, full of many stories. Now those stories are starting to show up in our theatre. Art reflects life, or it’s finally starting to.