Playwright Development Note

From Leila Buck:

In 2016, Tamilla Woodard and I started dreaming about how to create something that would invite audiences to engage with what it means to them to be and to become a citizen of this country.  Tamilla’s ideas, feedback, research, and words are woven through every page, and she has been an incredibly inspiring and committed collaborator and co-creator.  Jens Rasmussen has been with us since the beginning, and offered feedback, ideas, language, and research integral to the development of each character and more.   

The original stage version first came to life thanks to Sophia Salguero-McGee and the Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding at Queens College, where Monte Bezell, Ahmad Maksoud, Jens Rasmussen and Rasha Zamamiri brought that very first seed to life.  

Our next huge lift came from Handan Ozbilgin Bromley and Steven Hitt’s Rough Draft Festival at La Guardia Performing Arts Center, who gave us our first full workshop of the piece, with Varín Ayala, Osh Ghanimah, Jens Rasmussen, Imran Sheikh, and myself.

No words can express our gratitude for what Raymond Bobgan and his team at Cleveland Public Theatre have done for this play.  Raymond saw our workshop at LPAC and committed immediately to bringing it to Cleveland.  He and his CPT staff and community went above and beyond to give us time, space, and support to develop the seed that Raymond saw into the world premiere at CPT.  Their dedication to creating, developing, and producing work by, with, in and for so many communities is moving and inspiring, and embodies the best of what it means to be artists, and citizens.

Much of the original stage play was generated through improvisations with our actors.  Imran Sheikh’s research and improvisation skills were essential to creating the character of Usman and his journey.  Osh Ghanimah’s improvisations became essential parts of the character of Adil, and Ali Andre Ali has given generously of his time and talent to bring that character to life.  Andrew Aaron Valdez helped develop the character of Alejandro, and U.S. Army Veteran Jason Drevenak was a key consultant in that process.  India Nicole Burton helped create the character of Floor Director in Cleveland, and BREE in this online version.  Brenton Sullivan, Christopher Hisey, Joshua D. Brown and Lynna Metrisin were wonderful collaborators in creating the world of the play with us in Cleveland.  Sam Kusnetz’ sound, T. Paul Lowry’s projection design, Ryan Patterson’s scenic design, Wes Calkin’s lights, Kerry McCarthy’s costumes along with Colleen McCaughey’s stage management and Merit Glover’s support were critical parts of bringing the original world to life.

This online version is a deeply collaborative experiment-in-process, created in deep and ongoing collaboration with Tamilla Woodard, and with our designers and company.  This online tour would not have been possible without the tireless work of Tamilla Woodard, Jens Rasmussen, and our incredible tour producer Amanda Cooper.  No words can possibly express my gratitude for their indefatigable commitment to sharing this play with as many people as possible all over this country.  

And on that note - enormous thanks to you, our audience members, for being our final collaborators.  Your participation is essential to this play, and the reason we created it.