When I was a boy growing up in Baltimore, my parents would often go out to the theater. They’d get dressed up, eat a nice dinner at a nice restaurant (usually Tio Pepe), and make their way to Centerstage. For what may seem like obvious reasons, those always seemed like magical nights to me: very grown-up, very meaningful, very important. I romanticized the entire experience, enjoying it from afar. I was always very concerned about whether or not they’d had a good time… and they always did.
More than three decades later, I’m now a playwright, and I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that the pinnacle of achievement in my craft would be to have my work appear on stage at the very same theater. And tonight — I honestly still can’t believe I get to say this — it will.
This evening marks Centerstage’s 50th anniversary. To celebrate, the theater created the My America project: fifty playwrights were asked to write two-minute monologues exploring the state of our country. Our monologues were all filmed by director Hal Hartley, and they’re going to be screened all year long in the theater’s lobby. In addition, a small sample of the work created for the project — including my short piece, ANTHEM — will be performed live this evening.
I’m honestly not sure I’ll be able to stand the excitement. I may faint when Kwame Kwei-Armah, the theater’s artistic director, calls me up on stage. Or get cold sweats. Or both. No, really. I actually mean it.
Part of my anxiety, I should note, comes from a few of the other 49 names on the list of 50 playwrights: Anna Deavere Smith, Quiara Alegria Hudes, Neil LaBute, Christopher Durang, Lynn Nottage, Lydia Diamond (my classmate from Northwestern — go NU!), Lee Blessing, Marcus Gardley, Naomi Wallace, Rajiv Joseph, Qui Nguyen, Kia Corthron, Melanie Marnich, Dan Dietz, Willy Holtzman, Sam Hunter, Julie Jensen, Lauren Yee… you get the picture. I’m incredibly, incredibly humbled to be among them.
Still, though… it’s the thought of my young parents, all dressed up in date clothes, sitting in the same space I’m about to be in, the same space in which my adult words are about to be spoken: it just doesn’t get any better than that, let me tell you. Not even a little.