Is that normal for theater?
No, but for television, yes—for film, yes. A lot of times in theater you see individuals who will write a script or if it’s a musical, one person will write the book and the other person will do the lyrics. But I wanted it to be something unique. I wanted it to be something where I can use what I do as a consultant to show other theaters [that] there are ways to involve the community in developing brand new pieces for the stage. It’s important—especially in Baltimore—that we tell our stories. I knew it would take funding to pull this off. So I wrote to BOPA for the Creative Baltimore Award and I got that as an individual artist. I was introduced to the Rubys Artist Grants and got one of those.
Thank you. I got that and I said, “Keep writing Troy, because if you do, you could do this the way you want to do it. You want to be able to pay people for their time.” So I wrote to the Awesome Foundation and got that award. I received a sponsorship from the Black Arts District. I felt like the universe was speaking to me saying, “Okay Troy, in your accountability circle you’re the elder there, so take this and lead.”
I decided to get a group of men together and do a community conversation, ages 27 to 76. I knew it was important to talk to Black men about mental health, so we were able to get a therapist and he came in and then we sat with these men and they opened up. They told their stories. It was amazing, because most of them had never met. They were people that I pulled together. And they just talked. I mean it was a lot of tears and some of them would break down telling their story and others would just comfort them. And I said, “Whoa, these guys don’t even know each other.” That’s when I knew I was on to something.
So we took the information from that and it gave us some ideas about other characters for the production, but we felt like that wasn’t enough. So, we did another one, dropped the age to 16 and went up to 80. The one thing that was common in both, was the younger generation telling the older generation, “We want to hear your stories, however we don’t want you to pass down your pain to us.” So the whole idea was to find a way to tell the stories without passing [the pain] down, without making it sting.
We took all that information from the community conversation, recorded it, and then I assembled the writers room which consisted of Sheila Gaskins, Eze Jackson, Tracy Jiggets, Derrick Watkins, myself. You usually don’t do it like this, but I assigned each one of them different characters. We decided that we wanted to create a character, Uncle Brother, who was an openly gay patriarch of the family. You don’t see that type of character for men in films or stage productions—you know, usually they’re the comic relief and that’s it. But we wanted to make sure we addressed some stories [that came out of] our community conversations. So, starting to connect the community conversation to the writings room, we added another level to it …