The Schomburg Center’s In the Life Archive’s Ordinary People series presents Djola Branner.
Can you talk about how you came to the stage, first as a dancer, then as an actor and playwright?
My first experience as a performer was actually doing open mike poetry readings, before they were called SLAMS, back in the day back in San Francisco. My hands would shake and my knees would knock, but I would steady myself as best I could and lunge as the microphone to utter a few words despite myself. It was terrifying and liberating all at the same time. Next came… the dance, which opened me to a whole new level of energy and community. I actually studied, taught and performed Haitian dance for 25 years (so yes, I AM older than I look) and that experience informs my approach to creating and staging original drama to this day.
As a lot of folks know, my theatrical trial by fire came with the formation of Pomo Afro Homos. It provided the perfect venue for my love of poetry, dance and personal narrative. And in the wake of my life as a Pomo, I realized I had become a theatre artist.
How did sash & trim come together?
sash & trim started as a writing exercise. My favorite graduate playwriting teacher, Laura Maria Censabella, said: “Imagine your parent’s first date, and write about it”. Once I had completed the exercise, I realized the characters had a LOT more to say. I had written and performed a piece about my mother (in 1994), a one-person show entitled Sweet Sadie,and initially my intention for writing sash & trim was to script a companion piece about my father. He was a frustrated singer/songwriter who never made his living as an artist, and I knew that his original music, or what I could remember of it, would play significantly in constructing his story.
What can audiences expect to see next week when you visit the Schomburg Center next Tuesday with your book, sash & trim?
Audiences can expect to see a family grappling with the legacy of one complicated African-American man. “Hank” is complicated. One the one hand he’s a romantic singer/songwriter, and on the other he’s a philandering husband and father. The story is told through memory, music and a good dose of laughter.
I’m particularly excited because four of the five actors – Khi Armand, David Donnella, and I are reprising our roles from the original workshop production, and Laurie Carlos (who directed the play) is reading the role of “Sadie”. Judyie Al-Bilali is reading the role of “Anne”, which she read at the book release party in Amherst, MA last September. I’m ecstatic to be amongst this cast. So audiences are also likely to see me grinning from ear to ear.
On Tuesday, June 17, at 6:30, playwright, actor, and co-founder of the Pomo Afro Homos (Postmodern African-American Homosexuals), Djola Branner will be performing excerpts from his first collection of dramatic work, sash & trim and other plays published by RedBone Press earlier this year. The reading will be followed by a small reception. Books will be available for purchase.
Djola Branner combines movement, sound and light to enliven voices historically absent from the stage. Co-founder of the seminal group Pomo Afro Homos, he toured nationally and internationally with their shows Fierce Love: Stories from Black Gay Life and Dark Fruit. His interdisciplinary work has been supported by Creative Capital, the Jerome, McKnight, and Bush Foundations, and published in such anthologies as In the Life, The Road Before Us, Colored Contradictions, Staging Gay Lives, and Voices Rising. He has createdsuch performances as Sweet Sadie, Mighty Real: A Tribute to Sylvester and sash & trim, and performed in regional theaters across the country. Djola is currently Dean of the School for Interdisciplinary Arts, and Associate Professor of Theater at Hampshire College.
Please RSVP for the event here