If you don’t know Donja R. Love by now it doesn’t make you a bad person. I have read enough of Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly to realize that just because you make horrible decisions doesn’t mean people are horrible.
I will say, however, that you are missing out on Love. Not just the writer but actual LOVE.
Earlier this year, the playwright’s Sugar In Our Wounds premiered at the Manhattan Theater Club’s New York City Center, and it caused a reaction, both in the theater and the community. This is both a subjective and objective statement. Sitting in the crowd at the conclusion of the play, I felt exactly what a theater experience is supposed to provide, a connection with the actors on stage and the people in the theater around us. We were wrapped in a quilt of despair, hope and love. The conversation between art and audience was palpable even when no words were said. This is a rare feat for any creative work.
Now Mr. Love, at just 32 years old, has the chance to do it again this fall with the world premiere of his new play Fireflies at the Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street in New York. Fireflies stars Khris Davis (“Atlanta”) and DeWanda Wise (“She’s Gotta Have It”), and is directed by Saheem Ali (Sugar in Our Wounds).
SOULE got a chance to engage with the Philly native about his work, his life and keeping love alive.
SOULE: So tell us about your new play Fireflies?
Donja R. Love: The play is set during the Civil Rights Movement, specifically right after the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing – which killed four little Black girls. We meet Olivia and Charles, a married couple who are pillars in the Movement, as they navigate the bombing and the strain the Movement has placed on them and their marriage.
I understand this is part of a collection of work?
Yes, it is. It’s the second play in The Love* Plays, a surrealistic trilogy that explores Queer Love during pivotal moments in Black History: Slavery (Sugar in Our Wounds), the Civil Rights Movement (Fireflies), and the Black Lives Matter Movement (In The Middle). All plays stand alone, yet are in conversation with each other. Characters from one play are descendants of a character in another, and characters from one play are referenced in others.
What was your goal when you set out to create this play or any of your plays?
Honestly, all my plays stem from me needing to heal and grow and learn and love. And this play was no different. It also was fueled by me wanting to see myself reflected in history. Something I’ve never seen before in theatre… Black, Queer people in history.
Why did you choose theater as the outlet to express your art?
As cheesy as it sounds, it actually chose me. I thought I wanted to be an actor, but I quickly realized that wasn’t apart of my ministry. I learned writing was. In 2018 I found out I was HIV positive and what really helped me navigate through my diagnosis was writing. After learning my status I wrote my first play and profoundly enough, I started healing. That’s what writing and theatre does… heal, save, love – just like any beautiful community. Theatre is a community.
I talk to several people who believe theater is for tourists, or an elite class, or for the rich. Who do you believe theater is for?
Theatre is for all folx, from all walks of life. That is why I write about the people I do, to show varied narratives on stage. And that’s why I’m so adamant about theater authentically marketing to those people, AND making them/us [feel] welcomed in these spaces.
Also why do you think there is a disconnect between certain demographics and theater?
It goes to people not seeing themselves reflected. It goes to people not feeling welcomed. And it goes to pricing. All three need to be radically changed.
Your other work “Sugar In Our Wounds” received much critical acclaim. Do you take in reviews? How do you feel about a work once it’s on stage?
I try not to look at or give weight to reviews. But in the age of social media that can be hard. People tag me to reviews, even critics when the reviews aren’t so kind. I remember for SUGAR, the NYT wrote such an elitist and privileged review that made me so hot. Not the review itself, but the reality that certain publications don’t reflect the world, they’re so homogenous (aka, all white) – and these publications review work that they have absolutely no cultural connection to. It’s absurd and an abuse of power. You would think in 2018 they’d get the picture, and since they haven’t I question if they even care.
How do you know when a piece you are working on is complete?
I look at my work as living, breathing things. So, I think a piece is always in development, it can always grow – just like people. But usually when they can exist in the world without me by it’s side, that’s when my plays are “complete.”
You have been an advocate for Black theater and the recent send out of the 2018-19 Black Ass theatre season in New York. It got a lot of buzz. What was your reason for doing that?
Surprisingly it did. I say ‘surprisingly’ because honestly I just did that for me, as celebration to the Black ass work that’s out there/coming up. But again, theatre is about community – so of course the community celebrated it’s Black ass theatre, too!
For those who saw Sugar can we expect similarities with Fireflies?
For sure! There’s a character in Fireflies that’s a direct descendant of two characters in SUGAR. And, along with Queerness, surrealism also exists in this play. Where SUGAR had a talking tree, Fireflies has a sky that’s on fire.
Fireflies runs from September 26th through November 11th 2018. There are several discount ticket prices available for this show as well as Queer Black Theater Night. Please click the link for all ticket details.