By Suzan-Lori Parks
Over the course of the season, our assistant directors and student dramaturgs will be compiling dramaturgical resources relating to each production as it develops. Below are some links to websites which relate to the history of the play, the biography of the playwright, and sites that contextualize and, we hope, shed light on the directorial approach to the dramatic material.
We hope you find these resources of interest.
Suzan-Lori Parks (b. May 9, 1963)
"My writing all comes from listening. The more I listen, the more I can write." - Suzan-Lori Parks
Suzan-Lori Parks (b. May 10, 1963) is an African-American playwright and screenwriter. Born in Fort Knox, Kentucky she went to school in six different states, and spent part of her childhood in West Germany. Parks graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1985 with a BA in English, later crediting the important impact that her education had in her writing career.
In 2000, she received the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for the Theater Award, and the MacArthur Foundation Grant in 2001. Her critically-acclaimed play Topdog/Underdog won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2002 and had a successful run both off and on Broadway. She currently resides in New York City, where she teaches play writing at Tisch School of the Arts.
"My plays aren't stylistically the same. Just being an African-American woman playwright on Broadway is experimental." - Suzan-Lori Parks
Venus opened in 1996, and it was directed by Richard Foreman and produced by the Joseph Papp Public Theatre/New York Shakespeare Festival, and the Yale Repertory Theatre. The production won two OBIE Awards.
Suzan-Lori Parks uses Saartjie Baartman's career as a way to explore the concepts of colonization and objectification, combining both historical and fictitious elements. Baartman was part of what they called "Hottentot" or Khoisan peoples. She was taken to England and exhibited as a freak or as "a curiosity” in the early 1800s, under the stage name of “The Venus Hottentot”.
Parks herself defines the piece as “a very moving play that, ultimately, is about love”. The style of the piece is very theatrical, and it draws inspiration from the aesthetics of vaudeville and Greek tragedy, including musical numbers and a chorus of actors that play a large variety of roles within the story.
Here is an audio recording of Parks giving an acceptance speech at the Academy of Achievement. A great example of her dynamic style as a public speaker.
Next is a great interview with the author, part of the acclaimed television series “Women in Theatre”, where she discusses some of her work and development as a playwright.
The American Academy of Achievement has an extensive article/profile of Parks, in which she discusses the inspiration behind her pieces among a variety of subjects.
Wikipedia provides a complete list of Suzan-Lori Parks's works for stage and screen.