The four plays come from writers in Plan-B’s Theater Artists of Color Writing Workshop. The workshop was inspired by a 2017 gathering, hosted by Plan-B, for theater artists of color in Utah. Attendees hoped to build a stronger support network in a predominantly white industry, and many quickly agreed that, to make progress, artists needed to tell their own stories on stage. In the years since, the Workshop has been a launchpad for artists of color, most of whom were writing their first plays. Plan-B has debuted many of these works in table readings, educational workshops, the company’s Play at Home series and Plan-B productions.
This year’s plays are Guise by Chris Curlett, Organic by Tito Livas, Suicide Box by Tatiana Christian and DoLs by Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin. Curlett’s play draws on his own experiences as a Black man living in Utah, addressing themes of masculinity, mental health and the personal impacts of social change. “This play is pulled from my experiences moving from Los Angeles to Utah,” Curlett explained in an interview with Catalyst. “I have lived all over the globe and have had tough environments to acclimate to. This was, by far, the most difficult.” Organic, described as a “dark comedy about love, perception, and Grindr,” is also semi-autobiographical, centered on a gay, interracial married couple and a closeted gay man in denial of his sexuality. And Suicide Box is a dark comedy that, as the title suggests, takes the unique hell of customer service to its logical, mental-health-crushing extremes.
Like the other playwrights in Local Color, Darby-Duffin drew on her own experiences to write her first play. DoLs, (it stands for daughters of lesbains,) was inspired by a formative period of Darby-Duffin’s youth in Baltimore. Playing hooky in the park, she stumbled upon Julie, another self-described nerd who would rather skip class to explore libraries than hang out and smoke. Through Julie, she became involved in the DoL community group, even though neither Darby-Duffin nor her family identified as gay.
Julie and Darby-Duffin’s friendship was relatively short-lived—they lost touch after a few months, though Darby-Duffin has since tried to find her on Facebook—but the connection they shared was meaningful. A natural storyteller, Darby-Duffin naturally drew on her childhood for inspiration—and she realized that nobody else would tell her story. At the initial Theater Artists of Color gathering, the group discussed the limitations they felt in the Utah theater community. “I thought, ‘Who the hell is going to write, specifically, my story that is centered around a black girl?’’’ she says. “Oh, I guess I have to write my own story.”
For Darby-Duffin, the personal connection goes even further: her daughter, Darby Mest, is playing the character based on herself. Though the play has inspired the pair to revisit family history, Darby-Duffin says she’s purposefully avoided influencing her daughter’s performance. “I’ve gotten to listen in on a couple of audio performances, and I smile every time … You know when movies do flashbacks? It’s kind of like that.”
Darby-Duffin has worked for years as a singer, actor and director, but writing an original play was a totally new experience. She admits that making the leap from acting and interpreting the words of others to writing original work was daunting. “It’s extremely vulnerable,” she says. For inspiration, she turned to Curlett. The pair met and shared ideas, guiding each other through the hiccups and jitters of first-time playwriting. Darby-Duffin’s experience as a performer helped her imagine the play. “I could pull in all the pieces of me as a performer, as an actor, as a singer, and I could totally see it.”
Darby-Duffin says she hopes to continue playwriting, including scripts that cover subject matter outside of her own experience. “I was initially a little hesitant at calling myself a playwright,” she explains. Now, awaiting DoLs’ official debut, that trepidation is gone. “Even if [DoLs is] the only one, I consider myself a playwright…I’m gonna claim that it’s mine. I did the work. And nobody can take that from me.”