The Talented Mr. McCraney

Miami native Tarell Alvin McCraney is one of the most talented young playwrights on stage today.  McCraney has made quite a name for himself in theaters in New York, Chicago, Miami, London, and points in between.  It’s a long cry from his childhood of growing up in Liberty City, the inner city area of Miami, Florida.  There he triumphed over adverse circumstances including issues of drug abuse by his mother.

In 2003, he earned a BFA from the Theater School at DePaul University. Later in 2007, he earned a Master Degree in Fine Arts in playwriting from Yale University. In 2010, Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago asked him to become an ensemble member. It came right after Steppenwolf produced the highly successful Chicago premiere of McCraney’s acclaimed trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays.  The three plays include The Brothers Size, In the Red and Brown Water, and Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet. They’re set in a rural Louisiana community. McCraney used his experiences growing up in the South along with Afro-Caribbean mythology as his muse. In the spring of 2013, the Steppenwolf produced the world premiere of McCraney’s commissioned play, Head of Passes.

In 2011, it was our privilege to honor McCraney (in absentia) with an Esteem Award in the Artistic Expression category for The Brother/Sister Plays.  PrideIndex reached across the globe to the UK to interview McCraney via email.  McCraney is hard at work in rehearsals for Antony & Cleopatra with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).

PRIDEINDEX (PI): Describe that moment of epiphany when you first knew without a doubt that you wanted to become an actor (or theatre-artist). Who did you first tell and what did that person have to say about it?

Tarell McCraney, 2013 MacArthur Fellow

TARELL MCCRANEY (TM): It would be false to pretend that there was one moment. There were many invitations, scattered over my young life, some as simple and elegant as after-school programs, others scholarships to educational research in art and dance. I decided to dedicate my life to making work that mattered (and even that ‘mattered’ shifts), but don’t remember the moment that I decided theater would be my life. It sort of just always was.

PI: Thus far in your career you have made quite a name for yourself in the theater world in New York, Chicago, London, and points in between. Will your fans ever get see you on film or television? If so, please describe your ideal television or film project.

TM: I’d love to work in TV and FILM but have no projects lined up currently. Mostly, what I love is the art of collaboration so my friends have promised me many moments of doing just that. They always ask, “Hey, T, would you like to write on this series, or what do you think of this idea.” I’m always happy to help and to engage but have no ships of my own that I am putting to sail.

PI: According to published reports, you live from theater residency to residency. Where would you like to ultimately settle down?

TM: That is the question, isn’t it? I don’t like to travel at all. I’m happy when I get there, but the notion of packing up and moving to or even visited some place for too long … well, my face doesn’t register pleased put it that way. But that’s probably why I haven’t made any ONE place my home. I think the idea of having some place that I am paying to be housed and has my creature comforts would make it very hard for me to get up and go anywhere, even for work.

PI: What are you working on right now?

TM: Right now, I am typing to you from London in my seat at rehearsals for Antony & Cleopatra with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). I am also working with Gable Stage at the Biltmore in Coral Gables, Florida, and at The Public Theater in New York.

PI: When do you plan on coming back to Chicago?

Tarell McCraney, 2013 MacArthur Fellow

TM: I’ll be there briefly in November, but I’m always back in Chicago. It’s where Steppenwolf is housed.

PI: Writers often bring part of their own personal experiences to their work. What part of yourself or your experiences did you bring to The Brother/Sister Plays?

TM: Too many to count. Although, I will say that none of the plays are autobiographical. Most of those events were based on myths I learned or stories I heard.

PI: If your artistic style were a dessert, what kind of dessert would it be?

TM: Banana Pudding. You take old and mix it with current to get something new, but that’s more a method than a style, huh?

PI: Name at least three people who have most influenced your style as an artist.

TM: Style… (Hmm). I think that changes from piece to piece, so the influences change often to name just three would be blasphemous.

PI: What would your profession be if you were not a theatre-artist?

TM: A gardener or a lawyer.

PI: You’re the recipient of the $625K MacArthur Fellowship where were you when you first the news? In one sentence describe how you felt.

TM: I was at the airport heading to New Haven. I thought I was being punked.

PI: What is the one thing you want your fans to take away from your work?

TM: One thing? Like the Amerie song? I don’t know if there is one thing to take away. I hope there isn’t just one. I hope they COME with their full selves.