Marcus Scott is a New York City–based playwright, musical writer, opera librettist and journalist. He has contributed to Elle, Essence, Out, American Theatre, Uptown, Trace, Madame Noire and Playbill, among other publications.
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We’re in the chrysalis of a new age of theatrical storytelling, and Black queer voices have been at the center of this transformation. Stepping out of the margins of society to push against the status quo, Black LGBTQ+ artists have been actively engaged in fighting anti-blackness, racial disparities, disenfranchisement, homophobia and transphobia.
The success of Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play, Donja R. Love’s one in two and Jordan E. Cooper’s Ain’t No Mo’—not to mention Michael R. Jackson’s tour de force, the Pulitzer Prize–winning metamusical A Strange Loop—made that phenomenon especially visible last season. But these artists are far from alone. Because the intersection of queerness and Blackness is complex—with various gender expressions, sexual identifiers and communities taking shape in different spaces—Black LGBTQ+ artists are anything but a monolith. George C. Wolfe, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Robert O’Hara, Harrison David Rivers, Staceyann Chin, Colman Domingo, Tracey Scott Wilson, Tanya Barfield, Marcus Gardley and Daniel Alexander Jones are just some of the many Black queer writers who have already made marks.
With New York stages dark for the foreseeable future, we can’t know when we will be able to see live works by these artists again. It is likely, however, that they will continue to play major roles in the direction American theater will take in the post-quarantine era—along with many creators who are still flying mostly under the radar. Here are just a few of the Black queer artists you may not have encountered yet: vital new voices that are speaking to the Zeitgeist and turning up the volume.
A protégé of Paula Vogel’s, Christina Anderson has presented work at the Public Theatre, Yale Repertory Theatre, Penumbra Theatre Company, Playwrights Horizons and other theaters around the U.S. and Canada. She has degrees from the Yale School of Drama and Brown University, and is a resident playwright at New Dramatists and Epic Theatre Ensemble; she has received the inaugural Harper Lee Award for Playwriting and three Susan Smith Blackburn Prize nominations, among other honors.
Works include: How To Catch Creation (2019), Blacktop Sky (2013), Inked Baby (2009)
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Fusing a mélange of quiet storm ‘90s-era Babyface R&B, ‘60s-style funk-soul and urban contemporary gospel, composer Troy Anthony has had a meteoric rise in musical theater in the past three years, receiving commissions and residencies from the Shed, Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, Atlantic Theater Company and the Civilians. When Anthony is not crafting ditties of his own, he is an active performer who has participated in the Public Theater’s Public Works and Shakespeare In the Park.
Works include: The River Is Me (2017), The Dark Girl Chronicles (in progress)
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Award-winning poet Aziza Barnes moved into playwriting with one of the great sex comedies of the 2010s: BLKS, which premiered at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 2017 before it played at MCC Theatre in 2019 (where it earned a Lucille Lortel Award nomination). The NYU grad’s play about three twentysomethings probed the challenges and choices of Millennials with pathos and zest that hasn’t been seen since Kenneth Lonergan’s Gen X love/hate letter This Is Our Youth. Barnes is the author of the full-length collection of poems the blind pig and i be but i ain’t, which won a Pamet River Prize.
Works include: BLKS (2017)
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Addressing controversial issues such as HIV, state-sanctioned violence and structural anti-blackness, poet and performance artist Timothy DuWhite unnerves audiences with a hip-hop driven gonzo style. DuWhite’s raison d’être is to shock and enrage, and his provocative Neptune was, along with Donja R. Love’s one in two, one of the first plays by an openly black queer writer to address HIV openly and frankly. He has worked with the United Nations/UNICEF, the Apollo Theater, Dixon Place and La MaMa.
Works include: Neptune (2018)
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Jirèh Breon Holder
Raised in Memphis and educated at Morehouse College, Jirèh Breon Holder solidified his voice at the Yale School of Drama under the direction of Sarah Ruhl. He has received the Laurents/Hatcher Foundation Award and the Edgerton Foundation New Play Award, among other honors. His play Too Heavy for Your Pocket premiered at Roundabout Underground and has since been produced in cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, Des Moines and Houston; his next play, ...What The End Will Be, is slated to debut at the Roundabout Theatre Company.
Works include: Too Heavy for Your Pocket (2017), What The End Will Be (2020)
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Born in Louisiana, rising star C.A. Johnson writes with a southern hospitality and homespun charm that washes over audiences like a breath of fresh air. Making a debut at MCC Theater with her coming of age romcom All the Natalie Portmans, she drew praise for her empathic take on a black queer teenage womanchild with Hollywood dreams. A core writer at the Playwrights Center, she has had fellowships with the Dramatists Guild Fellow, Page 73, the Lark and the Sundance Theatre Lab.
Works include: All the Natalie Portmans (2020)
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Johnny G. Lloyd
A New York-based playwright and producer, Johnny G. Lloyd has seen his work produced and developed at the Tank, 59E59, the Corkscrew Festival, the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Short Play Festival and more. A member of the 2019-2020 Liberation Theatre Company’s Writing Residency, this Columbia University graduate is also a producing director of InVersion Theatre.
Works include: The Problem With Magic, Is (2020), Or, An Astronaut Play (2019), Patience (2018)
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Patricia Ione Lloyd
In her luminous 2018 breakthrough Eve’s Song at the Public Theater, Patricia Ione Lloyd offered a meditation on the violence against black women in America that is often overlooked onstage. With a style saturated in both humor and melancholy and a poetic lyricism that evokes Ntozake Shange’s, the former Tow Playwright in Residence has earned fellowships at New Georges, the Dramatist Guild, Playwrights Realm, New York Theater Workshop and Sundance.
Works include: Eve’s Song (2018)
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The half-Black, half-Japanese educator and playwright Maia Matsushita has sounded a silent alarm in downtown theater with an array of slow-burn, naturalistic coming-of-age dramas. She was a member of The Fire This Time’s 2017-18 New Works Lab and part of its inaugural Writers Group, and her work has been seen at Classical Theatre of Harlem’s Playwright Playground and the National Black Theatre’s Keeping Soul Alive Reading Series.
Works include: House of Sticks (2019), White Mountains (2018)
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When Daaimah Mubashshir’s kitchen-sink dramedy Room Enough (For Us All) debuted at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre in 2019, the prolific writer began a dialogue around the contemporary African-American Muslim experience and black queer expression that made her a significant storyteller to watch. She is a core writer at the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis as well as a member of Soho Rep’s Writer/Director Lab, Clubbed Thumb’s Early Career Writers Group, and a MacDowell Colony Fellow. Her short-play collection The Immeasurable Want of Light was published in 2018.
Works include: Room Enough (For Us All) (2019)
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Hailing from Dallas, Texas, Jonathan Norton is a delightfully zany playwright who subverts notions of post-blackness by underlining America’s obscure historical atrocities with bloody red slashes. The stories he tells carry a profound horror, often viewed through the eyes of black children and young adults. Norton’s work has been produced or developed by companies including the Actors Theatre of Louisville (at the 44th Humana Festival), PlayPenn and InterAct Theatre Company. He is the Playwright in Residence at Dallas Theater Center.
Works include: Mississippi Goddamn (2015), My Tidy List of Terrors (2013), penny candy (2019)
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Cooking up piping hot gumbos of speculative fiction, transhumanism and radical womanist expression, AriDy Nox is a rising star with a larger-than-life vision. The Spelman alum earned an MFA from NYU TIsch’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program and has been a staple of various theaters such as Town Stages. A member of the inaugural 2019 cohort of the Musical Theatre Factory Makers residency, they recently joined the Public Theater’s 2020-2022 Emerging Writers Group cohort.
Works include: Metropolis (in progress), Project Tiresias (2018)
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Akin Salawu’s nonlinear, hyperkinetic work combines heart-pounding suspense chills with Tarantino-esque thrills while excavating Black trauma and Pan-African history in America. With over two decades of experience as a writer, director and editor, the prize-winning playwright is a two-time Tribeca All Access Winner and a member of both the Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group and Ars Nova’s Uncharted Musical Theater residency. A graduate of Stanford, he is a founder of the Tank’s LIT Council, a theater development center for male-identifying persons of color.
Works include: bless your filthy lil’ heart (2019), The Real Whisperer (2017), I Stand Corrected (2008)
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A playwright, screenwriter and actor, Sheldon Shaw studied writing at the Labyrinth Theater Company and was part of Playwrights Intensive at the Kennedy Center. Shaw has since developed into a sort of renaissance man, operating as playwright, screenwriter and actor. His plays have been developed by Emerging Artist Theaters New Works Festival, Classical Theater of Harlem and the Rooted Theater Company. Shaw's Glen was the winner of the Black Screenplays Matter competition and a finalist in the New York Screenplay Contest.
Works include: Jailbait (2018), Clair (2017), Baby Starbucks (2015)
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Nia O. Witherspoon
Multidisciplinary artist Nia Ostrow Witherspoon’s metaphysical explorations of black liberation and desire have made her an in-demand presence in theater circles. The recipient of multiple honors—include New York Theatre Workshop’s 2050 Fellowship, a Wurlitzer Foundation residency and the Lambda Literary’s Emerging Playwriting Fellowship—she is currently developing The Dark Girl Chronicles, a play cycle that, in her words, “explores the criminalization of black cis and trans women via African diaspora sacred stories.”
Works include: Messiah (2019), Chronicle X (in progress), Priestess of Twerk (in progress)
A Brooklyn-based musical theatre writer and dramaturg, Brandon Webster has been a familiar figure in the NYC theater scene, both onstage and behind the scenes. With an aesthetic that fuses Afrofuturist and Afrosurrealist storytelling, with a focus on Black liberation past and present, the composer’s work fuses psychedelic soul flourishes with alt-R&B nuances to create a sonic smorgasbord of seething rage and remorse. He is an alumnus of the 2013 class of BMI Musical Theater Workshop and a 2017 MCC Theater Artistic Fellow.
Works include: Metropolis (in progress), Headlines (2017), Boogie Nights (2015)
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