Q&A: Idris Goodwin and American Prom

    We caught up with the award-winning writer and speaker to talk about the Theatreworks debut of his latest play, plus his move from Colorado Springs and a busy creative future.

    idris goodwin portrait
    Idris Goodwin. Photo by Scott Majors.

    Idris Goodwin may have physically left Colorado Springs last year to take up residence in Louisville, Kentucky, but the influence of the award-winning playwright, poet, director and former Colorado College professor will continue to be felt here through his past and new work. The next local project on tap for him is the debut of American Prom, a play commissioned by Theatreworks, which opens Jan. 24. We caught up with Goodwin over the phone to chat about his move, the play and his busy future.

    Springs: What took you to Louisville?
    Idris Goodwin: A job. A really exciting opportunity to run a youth-focused theater company called StageOne Family Theatre. I’m the new producing artistic director of that company.

    Were you familiar with Louisville before then?

    Oh yeah, yeah, absolutely. So How We Got On, which was one of my most popular plays, had its world premiere at Actors Theatre of Louisville at their Humana Festival [in 2012]. Shortly after that, StageOne, this company that I work for now, commissioned me to write a play about the young life of Muhammad Ali growing up [And in This Corner: Cassius Clay], and so between Actors Theatre of Louisville and StageOne, I was coming back regularly and working with both those companies.

    Obviously you still have connections here. Theatreworks commissioned American Prom. Tell me what it’s about.
    It’s a story about two teenagers who have been friends for years. A young Caucasian male named Jimmy and a black female named Kia. They’re besties, and they’re living in a small American town somewhere in the middle of the country. It’s intentionally unspecified. And it’s about what happens when Jimmy asks Kia to the prom. … They’re living in a town where their proms are racially segregated—not by law, but by choice. This is inspired by true events. There are some small towns in America where black kids go to one prom and white kids go to a different prom, and so it’s really a play about why we do that. Why do we self-segregate? What are we trying to hang onto and what does that do to the friendships? What does that do to the relationships? It’s about what happens when Jimmy and Kia decide that they’re going to throw their own prom in Jimmy’s garage, and it’s about how the town reacts to that.

    american prom actors
    American Prom leads Ilasiea Gray (Kia Bradford) and Mark Autry (Jimmy Trammel Jr.). Photo by Isaiah Downing.

    What is the commissioning process like? With this piece in particular, did Theatreworks come to you with a theme? How did that come together?
    We had a conversation about: Hey, we want to do something together. I had been wanting to write a play on the subject for a while. I pitched them a few ideas, and this is the one that seemed to make the most sense for both of us. … They gave me a deadline, and I tried my best to meet it [laughs].

    Lisa Marie Rollins is directing. Tell me a little about her and how she landed this role.
    Lisa Marie is a multitalented writer and director out of the Bay [Area], and we worked together on my play Blackademics through Crowded Fire, which is the theater that she’s connected with out in the Bay. We became friends there, and I’ve been wanting to work with her again. She’s also going to be guest teaching at Colorado College while she’s there — teaching a class that I created when I used to teach there.

    Do you have any other Colorado Springs, or Colorado-based, projects on tap right now?
    I was commissioned by Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company to write a new play, so I have a play that I’m working on with them, which is about the politics around textbooks and curriculum.

    As we’re kicking off this new year, what’s on your mind—or your desk—creatively for 2019?
    I’m working now at StageOne, so a lot of my energy is spent working here and managing this ship and, you know, planning our next season. … I’m also writing up a new collection of poems that’s going to come out on Haymarket Books, and that book is called Can I Kick It? It’s a bunch of pieces that very freely and loosely and playfully engage with pop culture. But really the book is about me trying to find something to believe in as the world becomes increasingly nihilistic. It’s me, sort of trying to reach back across the landscape of all my heroes from the past. That book’s going to come out in the fall.

    I’m writing a play for Arena Stage, which is a theater out of D.C. I’m in a collaboration between Arena Stage and the Playwrights’ Center. I got a McKnight Fellowship from the Playwrights’ Center, so I’m writing a play called Scarfoot Lives, which is a multigenerational piece about the failure of reconstruction. It spans decades and eras, and it’s all focused on an interconnected family of black artists. It’s really about the intersection of race and expression. So, yeah. Working on all that.

    Want to Go to the Prom?

    See American Prom, written by Idris Goodwin, at Theatreworks.
    Jan. 24 through Feb. 10
    Ent Center for the Arts, 5225 N. Nevada Ave.
    Tickets: $20-$45.50
    Details: uccspresents.org