Written by Ana Martinez, Literary and Public Programs Intern
On Saturday September 26th, we had the wonderful opportunity to hear first-hand about Victory Gardens Theater’s production of Sucker Punch from Roy Williams (the playwright) and Dexter Bullard (the director). They provided insight about the process; from creation, to prior productions, to what they hope their work will accomplish.
Together, Roy and Dexter enlightened Saturday night’s audience with insider information on what their journeys have been like, not only as artists but as people in society.
Roy explains that this was a common saying he would hear while growing up in 1980’s London. He talked about how he was the child of two immigrant parents, who were both a part of the “Windrush Generation” that migrated after World War II.
“I was born in this country, but I was being treated like shit.”
When you hear of his background, there is no doubt why he thought it necessary to write Sucker Punch. The play (having the same backdrop as his adolescence), follows the story of a young, black boxer trying to climb his way to the top. In a time where violent riots sprouted constantly and Margaret Thatcher reigned for eleven years straight, it was difficult to be a black man.
“I recently saw Straight Outta Compton and I thought to myself, ‘I know what that’s about.’”
Roy recalls what it was like walking down the street and being stopped by police for no reason, and even having those encounters turn violent every once in a while. He remembers feeling a lot of anger and frustration, which was the fuel for the writing process of his play.
He compared himself to the characters in his own creation,
“Sometimes I was Leon, I just wanted to fit in. Sometimes I was Troy and [there was] a lot of anger [and] lashing out.”
Williams went on to talk about American Culture and compared it to London,
“There seems to be a lot of strong similarities. [They] Seem to be almost sort of parallel.”
He was comparing our tragedies and setting them next to each other. Trayvon Martin to us is Mark Duggan to them. The riots in Ferguson here were the 2011 England Riots over in London. He found these interchangeable devastations between countries and began to explore that.
Roy admitted fearing whether American audiences would understand this play and be able to look past the cultural differences. But when he thought about how tragically similar our worlds have become, he knew this story had the power to cut through any cultural clash.
“There were three big challenges that came with this play:
It’s culturally not American,
and the accents.”
Dexter laughed as he shared his own insecurities with the audience. But he went on to narrate his thought process on shaping this show,
“The audience is not stupid […] we’re gonna do it as is, and we’re gonna make them get it.”
He expanded, he had an attack plan on how to tackle this play,
“Details is my favorite weapon as an artist.”
For example, there is a scene in the play that takes place on the same night as the Broadwater Farm Riots. Dexter explained that he, along with the VGT dramaturgy team, looked up details about that date; everything down to what the weather was like that night, as that information then educated the costume designs, sound designs, etc., and painted an accurate depiction of that night to the audience.
An audience member asked Roy how he felt about a white man directing his play. Roy expressed his indifference towards the topic,
“That’s not an issue to me, but do you [the director] get it [police brutality, discrimination, etc.]?”
All Roy hopes for is to have artists who understand the gravity of this reality when his show is being worked on. If the story is being told with respect and with care; the director’s skin tone is an irrelevant piece to the puzzle.
As the night’s discussion was coming to an end, a patron asked Roy what his hopes were, regarding what his play could do to change things in our society. Roy’s reply will stick with me for a very long time:
“It [the play] plants a seed in their head and that’s all I can hope for. Can plays change the world? Of course they can’t. But they can change people.”
That is why we all are attracted to this art form, is it not? There is no sense in over-romanticizing our powers and saying we can stop hate overnight. But when you know you have impacted a person through your art, that is when your heart is fulfilled. And vice versa: when you share work that fills your heart, that is when you captivate the hearts of others.