by Steve Peterson
How did you originally get involved in theatre?
In high school, a girl I was dating got the lead in the school musical. I didn’t want her to be rehearsing all night with other guys, so I tried out for the show. Much to my surprise, I was given one of the lead male roles. I’ve always suspected that it was because I could sing on key. Anyway, that was 1960, and that’s where my life in the theatre began.
When did you start writing plays?
In 1988, I wrote my first play, Zamo. It was a children’s show for adults. It ran at the Mayfair Theatre in Santa Monica for three months.
Where did the idea for VOICES come from?
One day in January 1991, I was driving in my car, listening to Public Radio, and they began playing excerpts from The Slave Narratives. Recorded in 1931, The Slave Narratives are recordings of African-American men and women, who at the time were in their 80’s and 90’s, speaking about their lives as slaves. As soon as I heard their voices, an idea for a play came to me.
Where was VOICES originally staged and performed?
VOICES was first performed in 1992 at Moorpark College where I was a professor of Theatre Arts. A year later, it was produced in Los Angeles.
Have racism and the conflicts involving racism changed in America, since the play’s first performance? And, if so, how?
Yes and no. In the late 1980s and 90s the idea of inter-racial romance was becoming more common, but old prejudices still existed. Today, inter-racial marriages and relationships are, for the most part, accepted by society, and much more public. I have been in an inter-racial marriage for over 30 years and I can tell you that times have changed, for the better. But, while society may be more accepting of the idea of inter-racial relationships, it can still be a difficult thing for many individual families.
How did the play become part of Griot Theatre’s inaugural season?
I met and cast Sabah el-Amin in my play, Sojourner, the Story of Sojourner Truth, in 2005. That play received 7 NAACP award nominations and won for Best Ensemble Production in Los Angeles, in 2006. So in 2010 when I was asked to direct Peppur Chambers’ House Rules I was happy to find that I was working again with Sabah, this time as a producer. My relationship with Sabah has been very successful. When she told me that she and her husband, Malik, were going to start Griot Theatre, I was immediately supportive of the idea, and as I had been speaking with Sabah about producing Voices sometime in the future, they asked if it could be included in their inaugural season.
What would you want the take away to be for an audience member?
I write and direct plays to move audiences to action. By that I mean, I want audiences to leave the theatre and talk about what they just saw. Good or bad, love it or hate it, I want them to be engaged. Voices is not just a history lesson. It’s a play about love and race, and for me, the most important issue in our country—r-a-c-e. Combine race and love, and everyone has an opinion.
What future projects are you currently working on?
I have a film script, “The Blacksmith’s Son”, a mystery set in contemporary Montana, in development. I also have three plays I am working on, The King of Hollywood; the Clark Gable Story, Waiting for Huey, a comedy about men growing old but never growing up, and Second Chance, a romantic comedy about second marriages.