This week Playbill catches up with Black Filipinx playwright and Kilroys List honoree Roger Q. Mason, whose play Lavender Men—presented by Playwrights' Arena and Skylight Theatre Company—is currently enjoying a limited engagement at Los Angeles' Skylight through September 4. Mason also stars in the production, which is directed by Lovell Holder and features Alex Esola and Pete Ploszek.
The genre-pushing play, which reimagines President Abraham Lincoln through a queer person of color’s storytelling lens, follows Taffeta, a self-proclaimed "fabulous queer creation of color," as she invades Lincoln's private world to confront issues of visibility, race, and LGBTQ+ inclusion.
Mason's work has been seen in New York at Circle in the Square's Circle Reading Series, MCC Theatre with Carnegie Hall, La MaMa ETC, New York Theatre Workshop, New Group, The Fire This Time Festival, Dixon Place, American Theatre of Actors, Flea Theatre, and Access Theater; and regionally at McCarter Theatre, Center Theatre Group, Victory Gardens, Chicago Dramatists, Steep Theatre, Serenbe Playhouse, Theatre Rhinoceros, Open Fist Theatre Company, EST/LA, Coeurage Theatre, Rogue Artists Ensemble, and Son of Semele. They also serve as an associate producer on the Discovery+ docuseries Book of Queer and researcher for Freeform/Disney’s How We Got There.
What is your typical day like now?
Roger Q. Mason: Honey, these days are packed! It is often said that we, as artists, spend so much of our day advocating for the opportunities to practice our art. Truer words have never been spoken. My day usually starts with some dynamic stretching routine for grounding and centering. Then I spend a lot of time Zooming and telephoning through creative processes and production opportunities on both coasts. In the afternoons, I set time aside for writing so that the instrument remains fresh. Then, on show days, I'm off to the theatre. On our off days, I choose a place—far from the house—where I can just have an experience, usually one involving nature. I love the beach. Love it. I was born in Santa Monica, and I'm the Capricorn Queen—the sea horse, honey. And, of course, moments of self-care are essential. I love a vintage shopping moment (especially for wearable art pieces), I've been doing yoga since I was 16 years old, and oftentimes I cook to unwind.
Tell me a bit about the genesis of Lavender Men, from the idea of the play to the current world premiere.
The true genesis of Lavender Men occurred when I went to Washington, D.C. for the first time at age 12. My family attended the 75th anniversary of my grandfather's graduation from Howard University. On the trip, we visited the Ford's Theatre, and I became obsessed with Lincoln, the antebellum era, and that moment in history when our notions of history, memory, and identity began to crystalize as a country. I carried that childlike wonder for "Lincolnia" with me until I moved to Chicago and found/announced myself as a gender expansive, plus-sized person of color. That was a fertile time in Chicago because there was a wealth of queer artistic talent living and making work in the city at that moment. Their efforts galvanized me to use my art to disrupt the biases that separated rather than unite us. Lavender Men is the marriage of my fascination with history and my urgent need to employ art to change our world for the better.
How would you describe Taffeta?
Baby! Miss Taffeta is my homegirl. She saved me. Before her, I'd been writing from a place of result-oriented, professional respectability—in other words, writing for the cis-gender, male-centric, Western definition of success in our business. And then, Taffeta came along—a character that I was writing from my personal perspective, unapologetically, vulnerably for myself to perform. She opened up so many channels of creativity, empathy, and wonderment within me. With Taffeta, all you can do is be present and open to the moment. Through creating her for Lavender Men, I really understood what it means to write from the perspective of the performer. Now, you ask, who is she? Well, just look at her—she's Fabulous personified.
What do you hope audiences will take with them after seeing the production?
This production is a testament to the power of collaboration and camaraderie. Lovell Holder, as director, builds a creative community where we all feel safe, bold, and completely supported to take risks, fail upward, and discover our best artistic selves. That sense of hive-mind pride comes through in this production. As far as the show itself is concerned, I hope people have an aesthetic experience like they have never seen before. We mashup genres like nobody's business and pull out all the stunts. Thematically, I hope this work builds compassion for those who are often pushed to the margins, even within already-marginalized communities.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
History is cyclical. The last '20s, the 1920s, saw a period of tremendous interest in Black art, queer art, experimental art. Then, with the Great Depression, the Second World War and its aftermath, we saw said communities onstage and off being pushed into limited roles. They were no longer the fashion to support. We cannot virtue signal and uplift fringed communities in reactive, part-time ways. Freedom and justice must be constantly fueled by interest, engagement, and commitment.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past two years that you didn't already know?
I learned that I loved being in pictures! I spent so much time on Zoom in performances and panels that I essentially gave myself a basic education in film and TV acting. And I adore it! I filmed the short film Taffeta, directed by Lovell, during that period, and it has literally screened across the world. I also did a Blumhouse horror special with Amazon, and it was a blast. So, more film and TV, please!!
Do you have any other stage or screen projects in the works?
You will see Lavender Men on the big screen soon—that's all I can say about that for now. I am part of the inaugural Breaking the Binary Theatre Festival, produced by George Strus, in October, wherein I'll be presenting my play Hide and Hide, directed by é boylan and dramaturged by Gaven Trinidad; there will be New York showings of my plays The Duat and The Pink in the fall as well. And, I'm a commissioned playwright at Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, where I am developing a new play about Bayard Rustin.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
People need to donate to the New Visions Fellowship, an initiative of Dramatists Guild and the National Queer Theatre. The fellowship provides artistic and professional development mentorship to Black, Transgender, and Gender Expansive playwrights. We need to support our storytellers because they are the mediums who dream forth our future.