Special FeaturesChecking In With… Polkadots Playwright and Beautiful Actor Douglas Lyons"There's an entire generation of theatre artists waiting in the wings, with fresh stories to tell."
July 27, 2020
As the temporary shutdown of Broadway and theatres around the world continues, Playbill is reaching out to some of our favorite artists to see how they are physically and creatively responding to a changed world.
The series continues with award-winning composer-playwright and actor Douglas Lyons, seen on Broadway in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and The Book of Mormon. Some of his writing credits include Chicken and Biscuits (Queens Theatre), the 2018 Off-Broadway Alliance-winning Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical (Atlantic Theater Company), Beau (Adirondack Theatre Festival), and Five Points (Theater Latte Da), which is now in development with Hamilton's Andy Blankenbuehler.
What is your typical day like now? My typical day has changed since quarantine began. About a month ago, I booked the writers room of a TV show, so I'm working five days a week on that. I usually rise around 8:30-9:30 AM and tend to emails and any admin work. I've been doing these awesome Zoom workouts with my buddy Tristan Fruge, and by 12:30 PM I'm in front of my computer for the workday.
What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period? TV Shows: Ozark, Songland, Katori Hall's P-Valley. Documentaries: Disclosure, Michelle Obama's Becoming, Off the Record, and The Defiant Ones. Podcast: Fanti.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding Black artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow actors, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further? Going forward, equity needs to be our theme. Not only in casting but in theatre owners, producers, and directors. The power structure of our industry feels like an elitist recycle bin. New shows, but with the same 5-10 names at the helm.
There's an entire generation of theatre artists waiting in the wings, with fresh stories to tell. Post this pandemic, there's no acceptable excuse for our stages not to represent our real world.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest? Call your friends and family. Don't be afraid to reach out to the people who love you—trust me there are more out there than you'll ever know. Use this time to invest in yourself. Most artists are temporarily unemployed, so figure out what else emerges from you. There's so much within you that can contribute to the world. Find it. Own it, and don't apologize for it. You may surprise yourself.
How, if at all, are you keeping your creative juices flowing? Has that been helpful to you? I've been a pandemic Zoom whore. I've reconnected with so many friends around the world. I've also used this time as an opportunity to rewrite and pick up projects. Having Zoom readings has kept my theatre hopes up. Documentaries also give me a huge sense of inspiration. I love one-on-one conversations around the journey of being an artist.
Are you working on any theatrical projects during this time? Yes! A new Lyons and Pakchar musical short, Fatigue, with Jodi Picoult and Tim McDonald. Also Long Wharf Theatre has graciously agreed to virtually premiere a new play of mine next month. Additionally, I'm penning my first screenplay, which we hope will land in movie theatres winter 2021!
What organization (s) would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change? During quarantine I founded The Next Wave Initiative. All of our proceeds directly fund scholarships and mentor programs for the Black theatre artists of tomorrow.