Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Arts.Advocacy+Wellness: "James Webb and his new play THE CONTRACT"

James Webb and his new play
(Premiering this Week!)

Happy A.A+W Wednesday FUTURE FANS. In lieu of all that has transpired in the media with Bishop Eddie Long and the intersections of religion and sexuality, today's feature is very timely. I am humbly thankful for the opportunity of featuring an interview of James Webb and his new play The Contract. Enjoy!

Where are you from and where do you currently reside?

I was born and raised in a small town in Mississippi called Moss Point, which is about 30 miles from Biloxi. If you're driving down I-10 and you blink your eyes, you might miss it. Currently, I live in
New York City, the best place in the world, but I do try to go home to see the family at least twice a year.

What started you on your path in the arts?

Well, I've always had a passion for things artistic. In Moss Point, we were limited in that regard. But I took advantage of the things I could. I joined the choir at church and I played in the band at school. I think these things harnessed my appreciation for art. My first real exposure to theatre was when I went away to college in Tallahassee, Florida. I auditioned for a play at the community theatre and luckily got the part. During the rehearsals of that play, I knew that the theatre was where I belonged. So I decided to major in theatre at Florida A&M University.

You are currently a Ph.D Student at New York University. Can you share your concentration at NYU and your experience, thus far

Yep, I'm a doctoral candidate in the Educational Theatre program at NYU. Currently, I'm writing my dissertation. It focus primarily on the Black Church and how theatre can be used to bring about more open dialogue within the institution.

Most of training in school involved acting. So in many ways, I went back to get my Ph.D. so that I could strengthen my playwriting skills and learn how to produce my own plays. Plays that meant something to me. So having access to mentors and resources at NYU really helped me to accomplish that goal because right now that's exactly what I'm doing.

Playwriting, is a lot of work. Please share your process of writing and creating.

I write everyday. I wake up in the morning. Grab a glass of water. Drain the lizard. And I get to writing. That's the nuts and bolts of it. About two years ago, I realized that it's important to just "show up." If I show up at my writing table, the words will come. Of course, I also use my extensive training in theatre history, literature and criticism to help me dramaturgically. But showing up is the most important key. If I'm having writer's block, it probably means that there's some blockage somewhere else in my life. It could be a broken relationship or I need to tidy up the apartment. It's all intertwined.

Any tips for writers and aspiring writers?

Start journaling. By day, I'm a college professor at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, and that's what I tell my students who aspire to write. They need to journal. Every day. First thing in the morning. And when you're ready to write a play or any piece of literature, make sure it costs you something. I feel that if I'm asking people to come pay money to see my plays or read my book, then it should also cost me something. In other words, I should reveal something in this piece that endangers my ego and possibly hurts me to expose. Only then will my writing earn the attention of the audience.

Your play, The Contract, premieres October 5 - 19 at The Kraine Theater in NYC on the Lower East Side.

Well, we're really only doing about 11 performances for this run, because we consider this a workshop run of the piece. At the end of each performance, we will be soliciting feedback from the audience about the play. We want to know from them what seems to be working and what's not.

I wrote The Contract because I was compelled to write it. Ultimately, I believe that God is the sole Creator. And God works through us. So this play is really God's work, not mine. My job was to simply say "Yes" and to show up to the writing table. And so that's what I did.

Wow, that's a pretty long run, and you are the sole producer...KUDOS!!! We will talk more about self-producing next, but first, why such a strong desire to write and produce The Contract? Briefly tell us about the story The Contract.

In a nutshell, the play is about a southern preacher and his wife. Daryl and Deborah. Because of Daryl's sexual feelings for men, he has cheated on his wife three times. But rather than divorce him and expose him to the church, Deborah chooses a different route. She takes control of the situation and hires him a lover that he can have sexual relations with one weekend per month. In her mind, by doing this, she is able to limit the cheating, save her marriage, and continue their work in the church. Of course, this plan doesn't work.

So the audience gets a behind-the-scenes look at a contemporary pastor and his wife. We get to see them as man and woman rather than the demi-gods that we sometimes make them out to be.

Why should we care? What are your hopes for the work?

We should care because there is oppression within the Black Church. And it is high time that we have a conversation within the church that doesn't condemn a person for their sexuality but rather seeks to understand the complexities between the intersections of sexuality and spirituality.

Look, I personally know of three Black ministers who are preaching in pulpits and are also closeted homosexuals. Their love and passion for God is sincere and immense. If they had a choice, they would choose to be straight in a heartbeat. They've had counseling, prayed, and fasted, trying to be straight. But they can't destroy their true nature. Sometimes, they spew out homophobic rhetoric in the pulpit as a means to purge themselves. It's not right. I definitely don't agree with it. But I do understand the complexities behind their actions. They want desperately to love God and do what they believe the Bible is telling them to do, but they also can't help loving men. On the surface, these preachers come off as hypocritcal, but the issues go far deeper than that. Which makes this a major problem within the church. Because the heads of many of these Black churches are suffering immensely with this very issue. And if the head suffers, then so does the body.

My desire with my play is to help audiences come to a greater understanding of the complexities of the issue. When we get a deeper understanding, then maybe we can start looking at ways to really revive the church.

The Contract is very timely...any thoughts on the recent allegations and situation of Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church?

I just have one hope. That we see this as an opportunity. I hope Bishop Long sees this as an opportunity as well as all those who are directly or indirectly involved to have a conversation about an issue that's long overdue.

What are your views on homosexuality and the black church?

Spirituality and sexuality are both intimately intertwined. And the church needs to deal with it. Or else more scandals and allegations will surface. Because I can tell you this, Black gay folks are not hiding in shame like years past. What's that old expression, "What's done in the dark will come to the light."

As a playwright how much of your work is true and fictional, how much of your real story is in the story?

It's a little of both. I certainly write about what I know and have experienced. But in my writing, I do allow my characters to go beyond the ordinary. They get to say and do things that most folks would never say or do.

Name either one book, person, performance piece, movie or thing that transformed how you saw the world and your place in it. Please describe what it was and how your transformation unfolded and carried you into this state of being affirming in your truth.

The book would be The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It's a must read. I require all my college students to read it. And a person would be August Gold. She's a spiritual teacher who taught me that the thing that we are most ashamed of in life is actually the very thing that will bring us our greatest glory. But we first have to embrace it and be grateful for it. Powerful stuff.

Let's talk about Self-Producing. How do you make it happen and have such a lengthy run of your current show?

Honestly, I don't know. I try not to look at the overall picture too much. And just focus on the baby steps because those are more manageable. I definitely strive to remain balanced--good exercise, healthy eating, lots of rest, and relaxation with friends. And most importantly, I try to remember that it's a labor of love. And that I'm suppose to be having fun in the process. So far, it's been pretty stress free. Knock on wood.

What is your plan in the next 5 years for Spider Webb Productions?

Because I'm a college professor, this is probably going to sound bad, but I don't believe in five year plans. What I do intend is to be doing the same kinds of things that I'm doing now, which is teaching, questioning, and creating.

Any chance you will be remounting The Contract in the near future? If so, I know a great actor named Cornelius Jones Jr. who love to portray the role of Paul.

(Laughs.) I certainly hope so. It's a message that I feel strongly about. I definitely want to share it with audiences in the South. So I plan on taking the piece there.

How long will you continue to do this work, even if you don't achieve celebrity notariety?

Wait a minute. You mean, I'm not a celebrity. Sh_t!

This is a Future Forward favorite: Name 1 guilty pleasure.

If I really like a dog (and it doesn't take much for me to really like one), then I let it lick me in the face. Yea, I'm guilty.

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us James. You are very wise man and I love what you offered on the five year plan question. That's a really wise concept and a cool way to look at life.

by James Webb
October 5th - October 19
The Kraine Theatre
85 East 4th ST
New York, NY

For Ticket information:
or call: 212-352-3101 or 866-811-4111

with Cornelius Jones Jr.
Tune in next Wednesday for more
Arts.Advocacy+Wellness with Cornelius Jones Jr.
Stay connected with me:
FaceBook: Cornelius Jones Jr.
Twitter: CorneliusJonesJ
FaceBook Fan Page: FlagBoy Official Fan Page of the Actor

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