Regarded as an electrifying spiritual portrait of Black American Life, Stevie Walker Webb’s “Ain’t No Mo’” is the latest show to take The Public Theater by storm. Opening March 12th and running until May 5th “Ain’t No Mo’” poses a satirical plotline, though not so ironic at all. The story portrays a large exodus of Black Americans out of this country that has never loved us.
What seem to make “Ain’t No Mo’” a “satirical” piece are also what simply make it the truth. Yes, there are comedic moments throughout the show, but overall it is a slightly futuristic portrayal of Black life in America, leaving audiences to ask themselves “What are we going to do, to restore this land?”
SOULE had the privilege of speaking with the director of “Ain’t No Mo’” Stevie Walker Webb about the play’s incarnation and its impact.
SOULE: How do you label yourself, career-wise?
SWW: I would say that I really just identify as just an artist.
I feel like a director is a misogynistic word. It gives me a very masculine kind of patriarchal undertone. When people refer to me as the director, I feel a kind of trembling in my spirit about it because I feel like it’s that thing of like I’m the person who designates what people do and when/how they walk in, what the action of something is … but I’m really not that person. I feel like I’m a space maker or midwife even. Like [I] hold the hand of the playwright.
My job is to hold the hand and help give birth to a new thing or to a new idea, to make space for something to be born into the world. “Director” feels reductive of that spiritual process.
Describe your relationship with the playwright, Jordan E. Cooper. How did you both create “Ain’t No Mo?’”
He’s like my best friend, He’s my brother. We can look at each other and not even speak and know that we are thinking the exact same thing about a moment or about the way something is developing or about the way a conversation is happening around the work, which was really useful in the writing process. He wrote the play in my living room. He came over to my house, it was around the time that 45 was running for president and no one thought he was going to be president and everyone thought it was a f*cking joke.
He showed up to my house and what he had was maybe three to four pages of text. Those three or four pages were all of the Peaches’ monologues, they were actually one big monologue. So he read the monologue for me and we laughed. It was so f*cking funny. And he said “I don’t know exactly what this is. It doesn’t really seem like a play, I think I do want it to be a play.” And that’s the thing, when you have a friend like that, like you say, I don’t know what I’m doing or I have a feeling about something and somebody can be a mirror to you and can say emphatically, yes.
I’m like, say it, don’t be scared. You know? And I was saying that to him because I was trying to develop that muscle in myself as a human. So we got to practice being bold and courageous with each other through his writing process. It became a process of moving towards me saying I’m going to talk like my normal damn self when I’m in these white institutions. So that’s how the writing process started. We would just sit and he would just read a page to me, it was like something out of the Harlem Renaissance, he would come to my house and read these pages to me and we would cackle and laugh and drink a little whiskey.
“Ain’t No Mo’” is often described as Satire. How do you feel about that? What made you go that route?
I think that black people should all be “welfare activists.”I like to use terms like that because I believe that emphatically being raised the way that I was raised where there was so much injustice– while I was working on “Ain’t No Mo’” [I thought of] my baby brother who struggles with mental health issues because he had lost a friend to gang violence. And his way of dealing with that was developing PTSD and multiple personality disorder. He was having an episode and when my mother called 911 to try to get support, they sent cops to our neighborhood and instead of taking him to a hospital, they took him to prison and held him there for 11 months in solitary confinement. So while we’re working on the scene where Damien is murdered by the cops or the scene in the prison where we see the spiritual and psychological destruction of Blue as a result of being incarcerated, I’m dealing with having my brother spend 11 months in solitary confinement because he had a mental break and he’s poor and black.
It took me 11 months of conversations and phone calls and emails to get my brother out of solitary confinement because I didn’t have the economic resources. We couldn’t pay some rich white lawyer to get my brother out of these jails. So to me, our lives are satirical. When you are poor and you are black, and queer– when that’s your identity, then you are living at the stakes of the satire that’s in that play. So it’s really funny to me that people say, you know, it’s satirical when it’s like, no, those stakes are the stakes of our lives. In some ways, this play is not a play at all.
Do you feel that “Ain’t No Mo’” poses a larger question that you want audiences to leave with?
I feel like in our generation we’re in this really precarious situation towards progress and towards moving forward. I think the way forward in any situation, no matter who you are, is love. That really is the only way forward. How do you move forward without forgiveness? How do you move forward without love? How do you move forward without reaching towards the light in a situation no matter what the situation is?
The challenge is, okay, I’ve seen this thing, it destroyed me or it made me feel safe. It made me feel joy and made me laugh. So you have a feeling and the last thing that you hear is “Give us our shit back, Give us our shit back.” He looks around at the audience (and that staging is very intentional) and he goes out, while peaches is alone in the space. Jordan is looking at you. Then the flag drops. We’re in America. We are here together.
For More on Stevie Walker Webb, watch his interview with The Public Theater.
We all need to get our shit back. We all got some shit we need to get back.
What was taken from you? White people have an idea of that only folks of color were traumatized by slavery, traumatized by the history of this country.
No, they were too. They were just as traumatized. Capitalism took shit from them too. So they need to get their shit back and I think it starts with asking the question what was taken from me? What is the spiritual and psychological price that I have to pay to maintain my power, what is the actual cost of my privilege? Not on the world, or on others, what is the cost to my soul? Black people are systematically stripped of their personhood and humanity and the white capitalistic systems that strip us don’t get to do that without a cost to their own humanity. We all have to get our humanity back.
After this conversation we are not only ready for the world to experience “Ain’t No Mo,” but to know what Stevie Walker Webb and Jordan E. Cooper may be creating next.
AIN’T NO MO’ is a vibrant satirical odyssey portraying the great exodus of Black Americans out of a country plagued with injustice.
In a kaleidoscope of scenes of the moments before, during, and after this outrageous departure, Jordan E. Cooper’s extraordinary new work explores the value of black lives in a country hurtling away from the promise of a black president. (The Public Theater).
For showtimes and tickets, please visit The Public Theater.
Cover photo: Todd Estrin