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Jeremy O. Harris

Jeremy O. Harris is an actor and playwright currently residing in New Haven, Connecticut, by way of Los Angeles, California. Upcoming productions include Slave Play at the New York Theatre Workshop this fall, and “Daddy”—coproduced by New York’s Vineyard Theatre and the New Group—starring Alan Cumming, in winter 2019. He received the Rosa Parks Playwriting Award and the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award for Slave Play, and is currently under commission from Lincoln Center Theater and Playwrights Horizons, both in New York.

  1. TYLER, THE CREATOR’S BASTARD (2009)

    Very few black artists are called enfants terribles. Yet one man who’s aggressively embodied that label with great success since he actually was an enfant is Tyler, the Creator, cofounder of Odd Future Wolfgang Kill Them All. On Bastard, his debut solo mixtape (still my favorite in the dense and diverse catalogue of OFWKTA), he opens with a lush piano intro and a takedown of the hip-hop blogs Nah Right and 2DopeBoyz—in a manner worthy of George Bernard Shaw or Adrian Piper—before rapping a shockingly vulnerable and fantastical self-portrait of the artist as a dark, demented young man.

    *Tyler, the Creator, performing at NOS Primavera Sound, Porto, Portugal, June 7, 2018.* Photo: Manuel Fernando Araujo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock. Tyler, the Creator, performing at NOS Primavera Sound, Porto, Portugal, June 7, 2018. Photo: Manuel Fernando Araujo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock.
  2. LACEY LENNON’S TAKE ON MEGHAN MARKLE

    Black women are claiming more agency, complicating roles the West has deemed appropriate—think of Nicki Minaj positioning herself as a fertility goddess, immortal warrior queen, and the greatest rapper alive, or Beyoncé single-handedly colonizing rock music by making every attendee at this year’s Coachella festival kneel before her. But this year, no black woman has rocked the world as seismically as Meghan Markle did by receiving the title of Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex when she married Prince Harry back in May. Lacey Lennon, a recent graduate of Yale’s MFA program in photography, is a studious observer of the ways black women are cast by society and themselves. For her 2018 thesis, she became Markle in a pair of hilarious and multifaceted videos—BBC Markle and Markle Being Softly Spoken To, both 2018—dissecting what it means to be Meghan, a biracial black woman and star in the tradition of the next person on this list.

    *Two stills from Lacey Lennon’s _BBC Markle_, 2018,* HD video, color, sound, 6 minutes 42 seconds. Prince Harry (Ivan Kirwan-Taylor) and Meghan Markle (Lacey Lennon). Two stills from Lacey Lennon’s BBC Markle, 2018, HD video, color, sound, 6 minutes 42 seconds. Prince Harry (Ivan Kirwan-Taylor) and Meghan Markle (Lacey Lennon).
  3. ADRIENNE KENNEDY’S IPAD

    Since I discovered A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White (1976) in the back of a worn collection of black dramas, Adrienne Kennedy has been #goals. No other playwright has as detailed and overstated a relationship to their interiority. She writes purely from her moon sign. Earlier this year, Ms. Kennedy again redefined goals for everyone (except maybe fellow baddie Caryl Churchill) when, at eighty-six years old, she premiered He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box, a play she wrote completely on her iPad. In her New York Times profile, she speaks about the inspiration and ease she found writing on the device at home in Williamsburg, Virginia. I pray that Kennedy’s grandkids keep her tablet charged so that we might soon get another masterpiece.

    *Adrienne Kennedy, _He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box_, 2018.* Performance view, Theatre for a New Audience at Polonsky Shakespeare Center, Brooklyn, New York, January 17, 2018. Kay (Juliana Canfield) and Chris (Tom Pecinka). Photo: Gerry Goodstein. Adrienne Kennedy, He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box, 2018. Performance view, Theatre for a New Audience at Polonsky Shakespeare Center, Brooklyn, New York, January 17, 2018. Kay (Juliana Canfield) and Chris (Tom Pecinka). Photo: Gerry Goodstein.
  4. MELVIN VAN PEEBLES’S AIN’T SUPPOSED TO DIE A NATURAL DEATH (1971) AT THE 1972 TONY AWARDS

    The fact that Melvin Van Peebles wrote a musical that went to Broadway in 1971 is noteworthy enough, but the fact that it was nominated for Best Musical OVER Jesus Christ Superstar (1970) is one for the history books. I didn’t know this particular work until Michael R. Jackson (@TheLivingMJ), a musical-theater genius, introduced me to the majesty of the 1972 Tonys performance. Sadly, it articulated for me once again that denial of opportunity is among the great tragedies of cultural white supremacy. Natural Death gave us spoken word, hip-hop, jazz, and all the images one encountered in a 1970s black American ghetto, forty-four years before the musical Hamilton (2015) took over Broadway and most of the US. Watch this video online and then call your local theater to demand its revival before the umpteenth return of Damn Yankees.

    *Melvin Van Peebles, _Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death_, 1971.* Performance view, Tony Awards, Broadway Theatre, New York, April 23, 1972. Garrett Morris and Barbara Alston. Melvin Van Peebles, Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death, 1971. Performance view, Tony Awards, Broadway Theatre, New York, April 23, 1972. Garrett Morris and Barbara Alston.
  5. 3 HOLE PRESS

    Imagining other ways to bring transgressive pieces by and about people not generally seen on American stages—especially to those audiences who might benefit from the engagement—has been the mission of my peers and colleagues. The phenomenal playwright Rachel Kauder Nalebuff is also the director of 3 Hole Press, a publisher of independent theater works that is quickly becoming the gold standard in contemporary American performance-text publication. The press started with a bang when it published Aleshea Harris’s Obie and Relentless Award–winning play, Is God Is (2018), then established itself as a major supporter of voices playwrights have been championing among themselves for years, such as Daaimah Mubashshir, Will Arbery, and Alexander Borinsky. In the tradition of Graywolf Press, Nalebuff’s outfit is for playwrights’ playwrights—a gift to all lovers of daring plays.

  6. MOON MISSIVES

    As my PaPa used to say, “If one dog’s licking a bone, best believe another gonna find a way to lick it how it ain’t never been licked before.” Another pair of theater artists sharing and archiving a vast range of work from exciting thinkers and makers are Jaime Wright and Celine Song, whose quarterly magazine, Moon Missives, exists somewhere on a Venn diagram between Courtney Perkins’s @notallgeminis and Edward Albee. Each issue covers three astrological signs: The editors choose artists and writers with those signs to produce work they feel speaks to their symbol’s spirit. For my Gemini contribution, I offered a collection of poems in which I imagine myself as both Kathy Acker and her lover, a bifurcated intellectual wet dream.

    * Page from _Moon Missives_, Summer 2018 issue.* Illustration: Cass Sachs-Michaels. Page from Moon Missives, Summer 2018 issue. Illustration: Cass Sachs-Michaels.
  7. FASHION SHOWS AS THEATER

    Gucci’s 2019 Cruise collection offered up a spectacle that might’ve brought Romeo Castellucci to tears, while Thom Browne’s Spring/Summer 2019 men’s presentation—full of deconstructed whimsy and pageantry—was so succinct that it could’ve been conceived by a young Robert Wilson. And Virgil Abloh’s first men’s collection for Louis Vuitton, Spring 2019—whose play of identity and citation called to mind Ralph Lemon—makes me wonder why we bother seeing theater or performance art at all.

    * Look from Thom Browne’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection runway show, Paris, June 23, 2018.* Photo: Pixelformula/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock. Look from Thom Browne’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection runway show, Paris, June 23, 2018. Photo: Pixelformula/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock.
  8. MY HERO ACADEMIA (2016–)

    Grad school is hell. I cope by diving into the anime series My Hero Academia. Its protagonist, Izuku Midoriya, wants to be the world’s greatest hero. In the show’s universe, everyday people have superpowers. Midoriya was born without gifts, or “Quirks,” as they’re referred to in the anime. After the world’s greatest hero endows him with special abilities, he enrolls at a school for defenders of the world in training. What better metaphor for an arts-based graduate program is there?

    * _Izuku Midoriya_ (_My Hero Academia_), 2016–,* still from a TV show on MBS. Season 1, episode 6, “Rage, You Damn Nerd.” Izuku Midoriya. Izuku Midoriya (My Hero Academia), 2016–, still from a TV show on MBS. Season 1, episode 6, “Rage, You Damn Nerd.” Izuku Midoriya.
  9. JANICZA BRAVO’S WOMAN IN DEEP (2016)

    Flawed people and their ambitions are at the heart of this short film by Janicza Bravo, one of those artists I’m constantly learning from. Each viewing reveals her depth and humor in new and unpredictable ways. Woman in Deep is delicious. Its wisdom regarding the insidious dangers of an aging white eye/lens is trenchant, abundant. As you watch the lady of the house—played with manic brilliance by Alison Pill—spiral into a solipsistic decay of her own design on the eve of her birthday, original revelations about race, class, and gender pull you deeper into Bravo’s unyielding imagination.

    *Janicza Bravo, _Woman in Deep_, 2016,* HD video, color, sound, 14 minutes 13 seconds. Birdie (Alison Pill). Janicza Bravo, Woman in Deep, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 14 minutes 13 seconds. Birdie (Alison Pill).
  10. SHIRLEY CLARKE’S PORTRAIT OF JASON (1967)

    Rarely do you see a portrait of someone else and feel that you’re looking back at yourself. Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason was, for years, known only by academics, cineastes, and black queens who stole a bit of their swish and swivel from the movie’s star, the legendary hustler and raconteur Jason Holliday. But the film was restored and rereleased in the mid-aughts, which inspired a new wave of excitement. It also opened up a space for those who wanted to complicate Clarke’s framing of her subject (see Stephen Winter’s wild and terrifying 2015 movie-about-the-movie, Jason and Shirley). Yet the film already contains all the complexities I want from it: the ways Jason luxuriates in and then resists Clarke’s attentions, for instance, or how he plays the part the director wants him to inhabit and then, capriciously, drops the act. Jason is the model queen and black enfant terrible that, at various points in my life, I’ve dreamed of being.

    *Shirley Clarke, _Portrait of Jason_, 1967,* 16 mm transferred to 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 105 minutes. Jason Holliday (AKA Aaron Payne). Shirley Clarke, Portrait of Jason, 1967, 16 mm transferred to 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 105 minutes. Jason Holliday (AKA Aaron Payne).