STRAIGHT WHITE MEN Acclaimed New York Playwright, Young Jean Lee, Devising New Work with Help from Brown’s Theatre Department
As if a play entitled STRAIGHT WHITE MEN (A New Play in Progress) needs any further explanation, GET has taken on the task of figuring out what award-winning playwright Young Jean Lee has been concocting over at Brown University. As part of her six-week residency at Brown in March and early-April, Lee, an OBIE award-wining playwright and director, has been hard at work conducting her next theatrical experiment with a diverse team of Brown students and New York theater artists.
Referred to as the “it-girl of experimental theater in New York City” by Studio 360, Lee has for the last six weeks been working with students in the experimental and process-oriented rehearsal environment in which she thrives. Lee and her team have been interrogating, creating, destroying, questioning, making and remaking night after night in a slew of closed-door rehearsals.
Lee, an artist that seems more comfortable with uncertainty than anything else, has been deliberately elusive when talking about the nature of the play. So we wondered, what is STRAIGHT WHITE MEN? The official explanation: the play investigates “how straight white men react as their once-unchallenged cultural predominance begins to erode. The show will use the conventions of the ‘well-made play’ as a starting point for its examination of straight white male identity.”
Hailed as “the most adventurous downtown playwright of her generation” by The New York Times and “one of the best experimental playwrights in America” by Time Out New York, Young Jean Lee has made a point of making new plays based on the last thing in the world she would ever want to do–in effect challenging herself with each new work to write the worst play ever. As painful as that may be, this seemingly dubious strategy has yielded Lee such acclaimed successes as Lear and The Shipment, both Time Out New York Top 10 picks for 2009 and 2010.
With such success we wondered how it came about that Lee is running this experiment called STRAIGHT WHITE MEN in Providence. It turns out that although the work was commissioned by the Wexner Center for the Arts, an incubator for the arts in Ohio, Lee accepted an invitation by the faculty and students from Brown’s Theatre Arts and Performance Studies Department to devise a new work using them as veritable guinea pigs. That new work hits the stage this month for the first time at Brown University’s Leeds Theatre.
We asked Lee what she was expecting when she agreed to come develop the early stages of her work at Brown. Her response revealed the enthusiasm with which she embraces uncertainty in her process, saying that: “I wasn’t sure how a bunch of twenty-something students were gonna help me make a play about older straight white men, but fortunately the Brown students are brilliant, and this has turned out to be an amazingly productive experience.”
When asked how working at Brown has served this process, Lee was overwhelmingly positive, stating that: “The staff and students at Brown couldn’t have been more supportive and generous—you can tell they prioritize creativity and really value the artists they invite here as well as their students. They’ve given me no excuse not to be creative.”
A New Play in Progress STRAIGHT WHITE MEN (April 4-7, 10-12 &14) Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm. Sunday at 2PM. Leeds Theatre, 77 Waterman St., Providence, RI Contact the Brown Box Office at 401.863.2838 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. www.brown.edu/go/tickets