After Slave Play closed on Broadway in January 2020, playwright Jeremy O. Harris was whisked off to London for a new production of Daddy, his other controversial play about race, sex, trauma, power, love, and kink. When the Almeida Theatre shut down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Harris decided to stay in the swanky Airbnb where he’d been put up. “It felt more comforting to be in an unfamiliar landscape during an unfamiliar time than to be in like a really familiar landscape with like a surreal reality,” he explains. “I’ve just been living in this gorgeous apartment and reading and watching anime and living, like, a hikikomori lifestyle for, you know, three months.”
We caught up with him on July 7th for our latest “RS Interview: Special Edition” video series to talk about the state of American theater as it grapples with systemic racism, his website Black Word Broadway, and what his two-year HBO deal may mean for his creative output. “I do theater because I love it,” he said. “And when I see that the thing I love doesn’t love me the same way, I don’t necessarily know that I need to put all my time and energy into it.“
Harris is a great talker, so the conversation careened from topic to topic. “I’m sure people are watching this and we like, what the hell is this dude talking about? Because I’m not making complete sentences all the time.” So among other things, we discussed watching the filmed version of Hamilton that premiered over the July 4th weekend, why rapper Noname is a radical young artist others should aspire to, the chaos of Kanye West’s “poetic presidency he’s running”; the power of queerness, and how to resist self-censorship.
Although Harris was on a short list of new plays to have been nominated for a Tony Award for the past season, he doesn’t seem bothered that it was postponed and everything is in limbo. Rather than worry that culture may be another casualty of the global health crisis, he’s encouraged by what people are doing around the globe and even gave away 155, $500 grants to playwrights. According to him, it was “almost $80,000” of his personal wealth and implores others with means to support creative people as well.
“If we can’t vote in someone who’s going to help us redistribute wealth; if we can’t vote in like a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren … It’s going to stay in our pockets,” he explains. “I do think that it’s incumbent on artists to start doing the work of redistributing their own wealth. You know what I mean? And putting it directly in the art, in the hands of artists in their community that they think are important, that that could have been them. Had they not booked that one dumb TV show that gave them, like however much money an episode. … I know that there are playwrights that have way more money than me; there are actors who have way more money than me. And, like, we can’t get Cuomo to do it, we can start doing it publicly and actually say: Here’s the money I have. Let’s give it [directly to the people who need it].”