An Interview with NYPR Playwright Jorrell Watkins

Can you describe a theater moment that particularly inspired you?
During my last year in Undergrad I saw a production of Ntozake Shange’s For colored girls. I had already acted and directed for theater by that time, but seeing (and eventually reading) Shange’s work truly motivated me to pursue theater. Within her choreopoem music, poetry, dance, and song were combined for a theatrical experience that was not only liberating but healing even for me as a spectator. After watching that production I felt that space had been made for me in theatre where it had not been before.

Who are some current playwrights we should know about?
Gethsemane Herron-Coward. She is a poet turned playwright (I would argue she is still a poet). She is finishing her MFA at Columbia University. Her play, HEIFER went through some development at VONA. Since then, her work has been produced by The Fire This Time Festival, The Playwriting Collective, and Columbia University’s MFA Theater program.

Candrice Jones. She is based out of Arkansas and spends as much of her time writing as she does teaching. Her play, FLEX is going to be developed this summer at The Ground Floor at Berkeley Rep.

Andrew “Fig” Figueroa he is a hybrid hip-hop artist and theater maker working in Los Angeles. His Hip-Hop theatre play, Mixed Race Mixtape combines poetry, dance, song and a full instrumental band into a dynamic theater experience that would make you feel like you just went to see your favorite band and play perform simultaneously.

Favorite movies? t.v. shows? books? video games?
Of course I was going to answer this. Movies…Shawshank Redemption, Imitation of Life, Enter the Dragon. TV? Insecure, One Punch Man. Books? Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, and Graceland by Chris Abani. Video Games? Final Fantasy Series, Star Wars, Elder Scrolls…

What was the first play you ever wrote? What inspired you to write it?
I wrote this play in High School call The Spider’s Circle It was supposed to be about a group of teens that after a week of being in each other’s company they decide not to commit group suicide. At the time, there was an article that my teacher showed me about teen suicides on the rise, in particular in groups called circles. I thought by writing the play I could highlight the issue and offer an alternative. I wasn’t ready to write that play then, maybe I will revisit it in the future.

What inspired you to write the play for NYPR?
Several things led me to writing Our Garden. One is the ongoing housing/eviction crisis that is going on Richmond (and nationwide). There was an article that came out in the New York Times that reported in 2016 1 in 9 renter households in Richmond were issued eviction judgments, while 1 in 5 renter households in Richmond were threatened with eviction. Reading that reaffirmed my beliefs about the unfair housing and tenant policies many working class folk face. Two, this piece is a tribute to the community of black women that raised me. From my personal experience, black women have faced most of the brunt of this housing crisis. I wanted to create a space for them to speak on this and to find healing possibly liberation from it all.