- Director Deena Selenow and Playwright Antoinette Nwandu in Conversation
In this artists' conversation, director Deena Selenow and playwright Antoinette Nwandu discuss the return to live theatre in the wake of COVID-19, their approach to work and rest as women of color theatre practitioners, and the reopening of Broadway in fall 2021 with Nwandu's award-winning play Pass Over.
During the pandemic, I had my students do a little interview project and connected them with some [theatre practitioner] folks. And something that I love that they started all of their interviews with was the question: How are you doing? And so I wanted to pose that to you. How are you doing?
To be completely honest with you, I'm carrying some grief in multiple areas of my life. Creatively, I feel like I'm at the place where—I don't know [End Page E-37] if there's a word for this—but I'm making the soil rich again. So I'm doing a lot of intake. I'm watching a lot of television. I'm reading a lot of books, and I'm noodling on ideas and I know where I need to go. In the theatre world, I've been seeing a lot of shows. I'm grateful to be a Tony voter again so I can see everything on Broadway, and then I'm just going back out there—mask on—and seeing a ton of off-Broadway stuff. I think I'm in that place where it's like, okay, after the forest fire, the soil's actually really rich. I'm trying to make the soil rich again.
Yes. And when you're talking about "the noodling," I'm trying to rediscover that too. I was talking to a writer the other day (and this is for "entertainment," which is a different grind [than theatre]), but she was asking about some deliverables, like when are they really going to want this and that? And she goes, "I know you know, but, I just need to say it aloud. I need to take a walk. Part of my process is I need to take a walk and think about this. And I know you're advocating for me. And I just want to express that [with] the whole 'but we need it tomorrow' [attitude], they're never going to be happy because I need to take a walk." She said that, and I thought, I need to make more time to read. I need more time to read and I need more time to write. I journaled for the first time in a long time and my hand got sore!
I've totally been there.
And I was shook because I used to be a big journaler. And I was literally sore.
Right. Like your body is literally saying, I haven't done this in a while. I've totally been there, yeah. And finding the voice to push back on those deadlines, as in, "Do you really need it tomorrow or are you just accustomed to demanding it tomorrow?"
Because you're not going to read it tomorrow!
You're not going to read it tomorrow! So do you really need it tomorrow?
It's so funny because I was driving the other day and I was replaying a conversation in my head and I remember driving and saying out loud, "Twenty-four hours is enough in the day." Because I remember someone saying, "Oh my gosh, we need more hours in the day." And actually twenty-four hours is enough time. There are enough hours in the day.
Rachel Spencer Hewitt, who helms the Parent Artist Advocacy League, and I were chatting during the pandemic. And she was saying that sometimes her phone rings and she just thinks to herself, "Let it burn." Because she's like, "I'm with my kids. For an hour. So let it burn." So, I have a little "let it burn" mantra.