At the tender age of 33, Daniel Beaty is a playwright, actor and songwriter on the rise.
After schooling at Yale University and training with the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, this native of Dayton, Ohio, went on to win an Obie Award for his 2007 one-man play, Emergence-SEE! Beaty's 2008 drama, Resurrection, was also co-produced by The Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., Hartford Stage in Connecticut and the Philadelphia Theatre Company.
Resurrection is now making its Chicago debut at eta Creative Arts Foundation. The drama focuses on six African-American men between the ages of 10-60, and the societal and personal challenges they each face.
Dividing his time between Los Angeles and New York, Beaty took time to chat about Resurrection and why he feels it's necessary to include lots of humor and gay characters in his work.
Windy City Times: I've heard that you were inspired to write Resurrection based upon your own life experiences, but also by a policy report?
Daniel Beaty: I came across the National Urban League's report 2007 State of Black America: Portrait of the Black Male. [ Now-President ] Barack Obama wrote the forward and it was a series of statistics and scholarly essays about the state of Black men in America. I thought to myself, I want to write a story that thoroughly examines some of these issues, but also really tells a story of resurrection and overcoming these issues.
WCT: And those issues are…
DB: The state of the prison system, the education system, issues of health, faith in Black men, business ownership and others. In addition to that, one thing that was very important to me was that I endeavored to include in the landscape of Black American experience is a character who is gay and on the down low and the conflict between his religion and sexuality. That shows up in many communities, but definitely in the Black community.
WCT: How is that conflict worked into Resurrection?
DB: There is a [ sixtysomething ] father who is the bishop of a mega church and a very prominent figure in the community. And his [ fortysomething ] son is on the down low. He works in corporate America and works for a music label. Because of who his father is, and his own concept of what it means to be a Black man, he's dealing with a lot.
WCT: I've heard that the preacher character says some very homophobic things in the play.
DB: Yeah, I don't pull punches when I create characters. One of the lines in the play, which I've personally heard said over the pulpit, is "If you have been a drug addict, a prostitute, a murderer, or a homosexual, God can turn your life around." And so the response from the son is, "This is why it's so hard for me. Murderer equals homosexual." And then he goes on to talk about the hypocrisy of the fact that there are so many gay people in the church and even leaders in the church who are gay.
WCT: How is the play structured?
DB: It's combination of theatrical forms. There are characters scenes with each other. There are monologues directed to the audience and choreo-poem moments where they share lines of a larger poetic song.
WCT: Choreo-poem? That sounds a bit like Ntozake Shange's for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf…
DB: That is actually a comparison that has been made, and I was mindful of that piece. I actually have a direct response moment to for colored girls… in this play. One of most devastating things for me [ in Shange's play ] is that an abusive man drops his children out of the window. In this play, there is a moment when a character, who has really fought hard for redemption, actually takes his baby boy to the window. He eventually surrenders to God to ask for strength to be the best father he could be.
WCT: As a gay playwright, how important is it to include gay characters in your work?
DB: I write primarily from the African-American experience, because that's what I know. But in that experience it's also very important to me that this conversation of sexuality and being gay is included in a larger landscape of what it means to be Black in America. I don't necessarily create stories that are all about that experience, but I create stories that include the experience of being gay as part of larger conversation.
WCT: You also stress humor in your writing.
DB: The play obviously deals with these social-political themes, but one of my commitments as a writer is to include a lot of humor in the work. You can't just preach at people. People want to be entertained. So in addition to these characters and the deep issues they're working through, there is also a lot of humor.
WCT: You were in Chicago recently to attend rehearsals and do some publicity. What's your reaction to seeing Resurrection at eta?
DB: One of the things that I love about the show being at eta is that it's an institution that is in the community, serves the community and is supported by the community of the South Side. Prior productions were in some more of the traditional regional theaters in which the landscape of these institutions is largely white and over 50. So I'm excited about the possibility of a diverse audiencenot just race, but age and class being able to experience the work.
Resurrection continues at eta Creative Arts Foundation, 7558 S. South Chicago, through Nov. 15. Beaty is also scheduled to appear in a special one-night fundraising performance of Emergenc-SEE! on Nov. 16. Call 773-752-3955 or visit www.etacreativearts.org for more information.