As we already know, Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett will soon star as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the mysterious Camae respectively, in the Broadway production of the new play, The Mountaintop, by Katori Hall, directed by Tony Award-nominee Kenny Leon(FencesA Raisin in the Sun).

The Mountaintop will begin performances on September 222011, at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre (242 West 45th Street), with an official opening on Thursday, October 132011.

Above is your first-look at the couple in character, although we can’t see much (I know there was a photoshoot with both of them recently, with both in character, so I’m guessing the above image is from that), and in the video below, the pair talk about returning to the stage to tackle this play.

Written on July 29th, 2011 , Media

Katori Hall: Playwright

Memphis-born playwright Katori Hall is best known for her Olivier Award-winning play The Mountaintop, in which she explored Martin Luther King’s last night before his assassination. She talks to us about writing for theatres on both sides of the Atlantic, handling criticism and getting distracted by Beyoncé…

Each play comes out of me absolutely different.

I do not write every day. In fact, I hate writing – I’ll do everything to prevent myself [from it]. I do things that I hate even more than sitting still for five hours, like wash dishes, exercise, eat carrots, go to www.beyonceworld.net (well, I actually like to do that). Writing is hard – it takes a lot out of me. You have to go deep into your well and unless I’m going deep, I don’t want to do it. But when I get there, I can write for 12 hours straight.

I try to “write” in my head before I sit down in front of the pad of paper or the computer. It’s not that I want everything figured out – I want to discover the world along the way, otherwise I’d be bored – it’s just I want the idea to be incubated. Then I sit down and do a ”vomit” draft, where I fly through from beginning to end. I always have to finish what I started.

When I first started writing I always wondered, “Are my words enough for the revolution?” I didn’t know what revolution I wanted to be part of, but I asked myself this nonetheless. I’m not very religious but I think of the theatre as a church: it’s my salvation in the way that I can move people to tears or to laughter. That’s the first step towards social change: when we see one another in our darkness and our light.

Taking the play [The Mountaintop] to London was the smartest thing I did. The cultural and historical distance that British audiences have from [Martin Luther] King as a subject made them receive the play; they weren’t judging me or what I was doing – they were witnessing the story. I’ll never forget the opportunity James [Dacre, theatre director] and Theatre503 provided for me. The US develops new plays; the British produce them. I’ve only had two plays produced but I’ve had over 25 readings of my 10 plays. That’s the state of American theatre right now. Ain’t it sad?

I don’t feel there’s a lack of plays that dramatise African American experiences, but I feel there’s a lack of plays that are produced. Camille Darby. Dominique Morisseau. Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins. Radha Blank. Christina Anderson. Joshua Allen. I want to see their stories on stage – writing on the extremes of the African American experience, in different styles with diverse voices.

Although most of my plays are set in Memphis, I don’t really write about what I know; I write about what I want to learn more about. Every play is an opportunity for me to learn about myself, about my world.

Learn how to rely on yourself for notes. When starting out, we think the director or some random actor’s notes are going to solve your play – that’s too much power to give somebody. You have to figure out your craft for yourself and learn how to tell people to shut up and that you don’t need their feedback.

Be the tough mother you need to be, then when it’s grown, kick it out the nest and watch it fly.

 

In Focus: The Mountaintop – how to weave fact with fiction…

I actually didn’t think it was challenging because I knew that what I was writing was ficitionalised. I will never know how [Martin Luther King] sounded like behind closed doors, what kinds of jokes he told, whether or not he talked to himself. I had to use my imagination. I didn’t feel beholden to historical facts. I thought about how any human being – whether they were man, woman, living in the past, living in the future – would react to feeling like death was always knocking on your door. There were eyewitness accounts of Dr King jumping every time the lightning struck when he gave his “Mountaintop” speech; that made it into the script as a suggestion of human behaviour. That’s when research and facts are helpful.

 

Katori’s latest play, Children of Killers, was performed this month as part of NT Connections, a season of new work to inspire young theatre performers. Find out about NT Connections 2012 here.

 

Written on July 28th, 2011 , Media

Here’s a small clip of Samuel Jackson explaining his hopes and expectations of the Katori Hall Broadway play he stars in, The Mountaintop—a production we’ve been psyched about for some time now.

The play re-imagines the events the night before the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. after the delivery of his renowned “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech.  The entire play is set in Room 306 of the now famous Lorraine Motel. Camae, a mysterious maid, played by Angela Bassett, forces King to face his past and consider his legacy.

The production will officially debut October 13, 2011.

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Written on July 19th, 2011 , Media

Would my play Children of Killers, based on the Rwandan genocide, be too challenging for the young actors of a National Theatre festival?

Ghosts of history … Can youth theatre tackle subjects such as the Rwandan genocide? Photograph: Karel Prinsloo/AP

I remember him clearly. His mouth was cracked wide open in a guffaw; a tall, attractive young man, in his early 20s, leaning against a brick wall at the airport in Kigali, Rwanda. With chestnut eyes and skin as blue-black as a midnight sky, he could have been Rwanda’s Next Top Model. But my eye was caught by the scar that sliced clear across his forehead like a crescent moon, and the stump of his left arm. He was a victim of the 1994 genocide; somehow he had survived. I tried not to stare, but here – or so it seemed to me – was the past, the present and the future of Rwanda.

Children of Killers by Katori Hall

National Theatre,

LondonCity Academy Bristol and Bristol Old Vic

 

It was the summer of 2009, and I had just returned from a genocide studies conference, where I visited memorials and talked with victims – some of whom had visible scars, some whose scars were buried deep beneath the surface. I remembered shaking the hand of a man who had killed; all I could do was stare at it – barely bigger than my own – and imagine. I will never forget the stacks of femurs and skulls stored in a tin shed on the hill near the village of Bisisero. Who could?

 

Later, when I sat down in the National Theatre cafe with Anthony Banks, who commissions the Connections festival of new plays written to be performed by young people, I was still wrestling with the weight of what I had seen. Having had little experience of youth theatre beforehand, I’d assumed that the brief required something light: a comedy, perhaps set in a boarding school. Definitely no swearing. But I knew that if I was going to write a piece, I would need to deal with what I had just witnessed.

 

So I was hesitant to bring up my idea for the story that became Children of Killers, the tale of three young men who are haunted by history’s ghosts on the eve of their fathers’ homecoming. Rwanda has been revisited many times in both fact and fiction, but few British plays have dwelt on its aftermath; I was worried that a play about the aftermath of genocide would be too challenging for young performers. But I asked anyway, and Anthony bristled in excitement.

 

As well as commissioning new work, the Connections programme helps writers develop it by conducting workshops with young people before the plays are sent out. So, the summer before the school year, the National sent Anthony over to conduct a workshop with American teenagers fromYouth Onstage!, a New York-based youth theatre and education centre. This support proved to be key in the play’s development. For a week we tussled with deep questions: “What was the difference between Hutu and Tutsi? What would it be like to grow up knowing that your father was a killer? How do you stop from being like him? How do we break the cycle?” These intense roundtable discussions allowed me an opportunity to clarify the text, and allowed us to investigate international politics, but also examine ourselves and our experiences. How different was the violence the characters witnessed from the violence many of them as teens had witnessed? The week-long text work culminated into a staged reading of the play for which drew a packed audience of parents, teachers and supporters.

 

The play soon found a home in the UK: rehearsed by eight different youth groups from Lancaster to London to Bristol. Unfortunately, being based in New York, I never got a chance to see them, but the Facebook production stills and email connected me despite the ocean between us. One of my favourite pictures was from one production of a group of young teenage white girls playing Rwandan children. The message was clear. Though Rwanda is far away, the issues that Rwandan youth deal with are important to all young people, whether they live in Bristol, New York or Kigali. To date, more than 30 productions have been staged – even, via a Portuguese production, in Lisbon. Whether the story is told in English, Portuguese or Kinyarwanda, I hope the message is the same: there is no difference between us and them.

 

Written on July 3rd, 2011 , Media
Katori Hall on Twitter