Playwright/Teaching Artist talks “The Magnolia Ballet”

Photo by David Hagen

Terry Guest is an award-winning Playwright, Poet, Actor, and Artist based in Chicago. His acting credentials include work at renowned theaters such as Steppenwolf, Goodman Theatre, Actors Express, etc. His play “At the Wake of a Dead Drag Queen” was the recipient of the 2018 Out Front Theatre Spectrum Series Grant and had its world premiere in Chicago at The Story Theatre.

About Face Theater at The Den Theater will present “The Magnolia Ballet” by Terry Guest and Directed by AFT Associate Artistic Director Mikael Burke, May 12 – June 11, 2022. The Magnolia Ballet” is a Southern Gothic fable that’s equal parts high drama, meshed with poetry and dance and the exploration of masculinity, racism, and the love between a queer kid and his dad.

Ezekiel is a Black teenager with a secret. Every day, he finds himself haunted by ghosts plaguing men in Georgia for generations, ghosts of racism, homophobia, and toxic masculinity. Ghosts show up in the other men in his life, including his emotionally distant father. But when Ezekiel discovers a trove of forbidden love letters among his late grandfather’s belongings, he realizes that perhaps the only way to exorcise these multi-generational ghosts is to burn everything.

PrideIndex was thrilled to interview Terry Guest via email as he prepares for opening night. He shared his muse for this project, the takeaway, and plans to have dinner with actress Audra McDonald.

PrideIndex (PI): Tell us about yourself and the journey that brought you to today.

Terry Guest (TG) I am from Albany, Georgia, so I guess my journey begins there. Growing up queer and Black in the south will make you an artist or a preacher, and I didn’t like waking up early, so I chose art. 

Photo by Nathanael Filbert

PI: When did you know you were going to be a writer? 

TG: Honestly, it still surprises me. I think I really felt like a real writer when I finished my second play. The first one was good luck. The second one was hard work. 

PI: How do you nurture ideas for new projects? 

TG: I try to nurture my curiosity without judgment. I am always listening to new music, watching movies, and researching random historical events with the hopes of expanding my knowledge and interests. As a writer, it is helpful to know a little about a lot. 

PI: Talk about “The Magnolia Ballet.” Where did you find your muse? 

TG: I am so proud and soooo excited for people all over the country to see this piece! There are currently five scheduled productions in 2022 (three of which are a part of the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere)! “The Magnolia Ballet” is about a father and son living in the swamps of Georgia and the ghosts that haunt them. With that in mind, I would say that my “muse” is the land that raised me. This show was also heavily inspired by my family, Nina Simone, Flannery O’Connor, The Bible, Tennessee Williams, Eve’s Bayou, Alice Walker, Kerry James Marshall, Janet Jackson, Tony Kushner, and Alex Haley. 

PI: Are you Ezekiel IV, or was his story loosely based on your own experiences growing up? 

TG: No, I am definitely not Ezekiel. I always say that the show is not factual, even though it is 100% true. 

PI: What do you want audiences to take away from Ezekiel IV?

TG: I want audiences to leave with a better idea about where they fit in the scope of American history. Pretty ambitious, huh? Haha! 

PI: As black gay men, we all face issues of homophobia, racism, colorism, role-playing, and self-hate within our community. How can we “burn down the house” or exorcise these demons within our own lives? 

TG: OOOO Lawd! I wish I had the answer. I wrote “The Magnolia Ballet” to wrestle with this question, and I only came up with more and more questions. I suspect that we will be exorcising those demons forever. The important question is, how are we taking care of ourselves and our communities as we “burn down the house”?  

PI: “The Magnolia Ballet” has played to rave reviews in St. Louis and Indianapolis; where else will it play after Chicago?

TG: It has only played in Indy so far. After Chicago, it’s going to Williamston and Detroit, Michigan, and Buffalo, New York.

PI: Are there plans for “The Magnolia Ballet” to play on Broadway? Is there a Tony Award in your future? 

TG: Are there *plans* for it to go to Broadway!!? Not yet, but if you know somebody with a couple million lying around, give them my number. More than a Tony Award, I would like this play to lead to me having dinner with Audra McDonald. Haha! 

PI: What else would you like to share? 

TG: Nope! Thank you for caring about my work.

“The Magnolia Ballet” May 12 – June 11, 2022, About Face Theater at The Den Theater