House of a Negro. Funny...
Tracey Conyer Lee
Three Black men live alone in separate apartments of an East Harlem townhouse. In the midst of a global pandemic, they navigate how to live beyond their masks. An actor cut short at the height of his career, a successful financial advisor, and the building owner’s son–who lives in the basement—must depend upon one another in ways they find hard to embrace. And, of course, they can’t embrace. What happens when we realize we’ve chosen social distance long before the federal mandate?
A NYC based playwright/performer, Ms. Lee’s work has been optioned, performed or developed at the Kennedy Center, the 2018 Women’s Voices Festival, Ally Theatre Company, Redtwist and Congo Square Theatres in Chicago, JAG Productions, and in New York at the Fire This Time Festival, Urban Stages, Boomerang Theatre Company, Harlem9’s 48 Hours In…Harlem, American Theatre Group, Lincoln Center Library, FringeNYC and National Black Theatre. A 2021 finalist for the Bay Area Playwrights Festival and Circle Of Confusion Writers Discovery Fellowship, her musical, Triple Threats, with composer Nehemiah Luckett, was chosen for Florida Theatricals’ 2021 Discovery series. Previous honors include the National Black Theatre I AM SOUL fellowship, American Theatre Group’s PlayLab membership and finalist lists for the Princess Grace, Live & In Color and NY Innovative Theatre Awards. MFA: Writing For the Stage & Screen, New Hampshire Institute of Art. Ms. Lee is also a veteran stage actor.
A BIT ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
1. When did you start writing plays? If you had a moment where you realized you wanted to write, what was it?
As an actor of a certain gender, age and complexion, I have felt a dearth of fully realized roles in produced plays for the whole of my quarter century career. That hole fed my desire to add some filling. Although I had dabbled in varied forms of writing prior, I took my first real stab at understanding playwriting while recovering from major surgery in 2008. Those early writing workshops and classes reinvigorated my love for a craft I only knew from one perspective (onstage). It has been incredible to see (and benefit from) the diversity of roles finally available to actors who look like me, but we’ve got centuries of catching up to do so I plan on adding to the cannon until I no longer can.
2. How did you come to write your OOB play? Was there a particular inspiration behind its creation? How has it developed?
This play was first written as part of Harlem9’s 2020 48 HOUR IN…HARLEM festival. In that festival, playwrights are given a list of 6 pieces of Black art to study prior and at the onset of the 48 creative period, they choose from a hat the work they must use as inspiration, 3 actors and 1 director who will rehearse and perform the play as the finale of the 48 hours. My inspiration work, Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse Of A Negro, about the identity of a black woman and the masks she wears to hide her self loathing, felt fitting during an era where we were forced to wear literal masks in public and had time to self reflect and reprioritize in private. And from that kismet came House Of A Negro. Funny… I enjoyed that process so much (and the play that was born of it) that I decided not to stop working on it after 48 hours. I gave the play proper consideration and revision including working through it with my current writers group, American Theatre Group’s PlayLab.
3. What are 5 words that describe who you are as a playwright?
Identifiable, rigorous, funny (not comedic), timely, Black-centered.
4. What/who are some of the major influences on your writing?
Lynn Nottage for sure. Arthur Miller. Marcus Gardley. And my incredible tribe of muse actors upon whom I imagine characters initially.
5. What’s one fact someone would never guess about you?
I had a degenerative eye disorder that rendered me legally blind for almost a decade of my career. I had two transplant surgeries in 2013. Prior to those surgeries I kept it very hidden that I could not see, decipher text (unless 36 point bold font), look my fellow actors in the eye, or cold read ANYTHING. I had a few trusted collaborators whom I depended on to navigate life/career, but I didn’t want to lessen my chances to work in an industry that already marginalized me as a Black female artist no longer in her 20s and then 30s. I booked the work, signed the contract, then created a process for myself that allowed me to thrive despite my limitations. I closed shows with people not knowing I never knew what they looked like. LOL But because I was discreet, I did irritate or anger countless people who tired of telling me, among other things, “we’ve met before” when I’ve been introduced to them for the 3rd time. I went very public on social media after my transplants and finally let those I’d offended over the years know why they never LOOKED familiar to me.
6. What are some of your favorite plays?
Sweat, Intimate Apparel, The Piano Lesson, Proof, I Am My Own Wife, Where We Stand
7. Any new projects you’re working on or shameless plugs?
Another ten of mine, Poor Posturing, written for The Fire This Time festival will be published by Bloomsbury Press. Despite a year of Covid, I was able to workshop seven of my projects virtually with the innovative support of National Black Theatre, Boomerang Theatre Company, American Theatre Group and…Zoom (for projects I had to “fund” myself). I am also thrilled that the giant 22+ character musical that I’ve been developing is finally getting support from companies daring enough to take on such a big development project. It’s a huge ask, funding-wise, and I’m finally getting some YESSES!