When We Are Proud to Present … opened at Soho Rep. in 2012, I was incredibly nervous. I was worried that some audiences would hate it and be offended, that reviewers would pan it or ignore it, that the play would mark my failure as an artist, or worse, that I would have created yet another source of racial trauma for black actors and audiences. You know, “new play jitters.”
I said as much to Jon Dembrow, Soho Rep.’s Board Chair, while I cowered in a corner of the lobby before our first preview. He responded with a shrug, looked at me squarely, and said, “I think it’s a great play.” Oddly, I believed that he thought so. This was before we’d had our first review, or even our first audience; before the play was extended; before the play’s director, Eric Ting, won an OBIE; before the play was published; before it changed my career as a playwright. It felt the same way with my latest play, Fairview, which premiered at Soho Rep. this summer: the same gut-clenching fear was met with the same unwavering support.
It’s easy to say that something is good in retrospect. But believing in an idea, a gesture, or a collaboration, before its existence is a foregone conclusion … that’s trickier.
Soho Rep. is sometimes marveled over as being somehow magically ahead of the curve; that somehow, on a shoestring budget, in a tiny house, they always manage to know what seemingly risky show will work. But it isn’t magic or chance, it’s not a gamble or a bet, it’s the simple fact that Sarah Benson, Cynthia Flowers, and Meropi Peponides are clear-minded and undiscriminating in their determination to make work that is worthwhile. This determination permeates the staff, the Board, the associated artists, the approach to audience outreach, the partnerships with other arts and community organizations – to make work that is worth making and worth seeing.
It’s my personal opinion that the only thing that theater does better than any other form is “be live.” The fundamental fact of human beings coming together in a room to watch and react to other human beings is completely bonkers, essential to being a human animal, and is less and less common for us as a culture. I truly believe that we need spaces like Soho Rep. to help artists figure out genuinely new and provoking reasons for us all to leave our goddamn houses and be in rooms with other people. Otherwise, we will forget how to be around other people and waste away, as wraith-like ghouls, shrieking into our devices until we die, forgotten and alone.
Jackie Sibblies Drury
Playwright, We are Proud to Present.. and Fairview
Writer / Director Lab Co-Chair