VICTOR – I was scared.
JAMAHL – Yet it is my neck primed for the lynching.
VICTOR – I feel threatened.
JAMAHL- Yet it is my blood imbedded into the concrete.
VICTOR – I fear you can destroy me.
JAMAHL – Yet it is my body mutilated in a casket.
Playwright Amontaine Aurore’s new work, The Ever Expanding Moment, tells the story of Victor Lane, a police cop who has just died. He meets the young Black man, Jamahl, who he shot and killed while on police duty on the Other Side. Then the movie of their lives begins to play. The snippet above is a small sneak peek of The Ever Expanding Moment. The play is full of powerful exchanges between Victor and Jamahl.
We had the pleasure of talking with Amontaine to find out who she was influenced by, the challenges of gaining new audiences for playwrights and her favorite performances and plays. She touched on the obstacles new work faces when trying to reach new audiences.
For centuries, the theatre has been seen as being exclusive to a single demographic – white and wealthy. This year has challenged theater companies to look inward and to start welcoming different communities. Bringing new art and ideas to the stage, like The Ever Expanding Moment, can be challenging. Although the subject of her work, police brutality, is something the Black community knows too well, it is still foreign to the white population. Amontaine summarizes this brilliantly. “So then the work, no matter how fresh it may be, dwells in a small container where it can’t necessarily flourish or gain momentum,” she says.
Amontaine goes on to say, “I think many people have the idea that theater is an exclusive space for a select few. They may not feel welcome going to the theater. Some people don’t see themselves reflected on the stage, so they don’t believe this art form is for or about them. I personally would like to see more diverse stories.”
When Amontaine was asked about the playwrights and artists that have been the most influential to her she listed Kia Corthron, Lynn Nottage (Lynn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Sweat was to have opened ACT’s 2020 season) and Suzan-Lori Parks. She also listed her favorite novelists as James Baldwin and Tony Morrison. She specifically described the influence Toni Morrison had on her when she was 18 years old. Toni Morrison made her want to be a writer and it made her believe that she could be one. She described Morrison’s work as “all about centering Blackness” that provided Amontaine with the power to say what needs to be said.
Follow the link below to check out an excerpt from the play.
You can read the entire interview at the end of this post.
Expand this discussion and hear more about a stunning new work. Make sure to join us this Thursday, October 29 @ 7 p.m. to hear Amontaine discuss The Ever Expanding Moment with Ameenah Kaplan. They will be joined in this recorded conversation by guest actors Karen Malina White (Chicago Hope, The Cosby Show) and Lorenz Arnell reading a scene (a pivotal scene between mother and son) from the play. A live Q&A with Amontaine will follow the presentation. It’s free to attend. Reserve your spot today.
ACT and Trial and Error Productions present ACTLocal — a series of live conversations and fully-produced play readings shining a spotlight on local playwrights and the development of new, contemporary work.
Who are some of the playwrights and artists who have been most influential for you?
I love the work of playwrights Kia Corthron, Lynn Nottage and Suzan-Lori Parks. I am also influenced greatly by novelists and essayists. My favorite writer of all time is James Baldwin. He had a rare gift: to write so eloquently and beautifully, and at the same time deliver a punch to the gut with his truth telling is an absolute revelation. His style was luscious, but the indictment was raw and unflinching. I find this same quality in one of my other favorite writers, Toni Morrison. When I was about 18 years old, I read her novel, The Bluest Eye, and it made me want to be a writer, and oddly enough, it made me believe that I could be one. I had grown up in school systems that focused on white history and literature, and Toni Morrison’s work is all about centering Blackness. She did a lot to shift my perspective. Suddenly a whole tidal wave of possibilities emerged for me simply in what I had the power to say and how it could be said.
Besides writers, music has had a huge influence on me, as well. I grew up around a lot of different styles of music. I love classic soul, R&B and rock. My parents listened to jazz and classical, and my father sang opera. So, I have an appreciation for it all. Music evokes emotion in me. Deep or unusual lyrics can fire my imagination. Sometimes I’ll play a song over and over, and an idea for a character or a setting will begin to take root. The sound of the music itself and the mood it evokes, will set the tone of how the play sounds and feels. That is probably why whenever I write a play I am always reading it out loud to myself, listening for sound and flow, as if I’m writing a symphony with different movements.
What are some of the obstacles playwrights encounter in gaining wider audiences?
When a playwright or a play is unknown, it can be difficult for theaters that have large followings to take a chance on something very few people have heard about. So then the work, no matter how fresh it may be, dwells in a small container where it can’t necessarily flourish or gain momentum. Coupled with that, I think many people have the idea that theater is an exclusive space for a select few. They may not feel welcome going to the theater. Some people don’t see themselves reflected on the stage, so they don’t believe this art form is for or about them. I personally would like to see more diverse stories. I know this has been a discussion in the theater community for years, and there does seem to be movement in that direction. I love Shakespeare and I love the classics and I love many Tony award winning Broadway plays, and I believe that those works should be performed and preserved for generations to come. But exploration into uncharted territory is also important, as well as exciting. I think that when we hold a vision of the worth of the unfamiliar as vividly as we do the tried and true, then we will come closer to democratization of theater. Then we will discover new plays, new voices, and pull new audiences into the fold.
What are some of your favorite performances/plays you’ve seen?
Top three: (1) Roger Guenveur Smith, A Huey P Newton Story, (2) Anna Deveare Smith, Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, and (3) Marc Bamuthi Joseph*, red, black and GREEN: A blues. The first two are solo shows. I’m probably biased, but I think that when solo shows are good, they’re really good. Solo work is difficult. You have to have a certain kind of energy to hold a stage, hold an audience all by yourself. Roger Guenveur Smith and Anna Deavere Smith are two of the greatest solo performers ever. The third one is not a solo show, but Marc Bamuthi Joseph does a lot of solo work and knows how to command a stage. He made that play a happening. The set and installation design by Theaster Gates was also stunning.
*Marc Bamuthi Joseph performed his solo show on the ACT Mainstage in 2009, The Break/s – in partnership with the Hansberry Project.