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Tim Rhoze, artistic director of Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre (formerly the Foster Community Theatre) and an actor as well, interviewed Gloria Bond Clunie for the most recent issue of the Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre newsletter. The interview is reprinted below, with permission of the author and the City of Evanston.
Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre founder Gloria Bond Clunie is a Northwestern University graduate, an award-winning playwright, educator and director and is an original member of the Playwriting Ensemble at Chicago’s Regional Tony Award-winning Victory Gardens Theater, where her plays “North Star,” “Living Green” and “Shoes” premiered. Other works include “DRIP,” “Sweet Water Taste,” “SMOKE,” “Sing, Malindy, Sing!,” “BLU,” “Patricia McKissack’s Mirandy and Brother Wind,” “Merry Kwanzaa” and “Mercy Rising.”
Mr. Rhoze: What inspired you to create the Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre (formerly the Foster Community Theatre)?
Ms. Clunie: After graduating in theatre from Northwestern, I was interested in doing more directing. I had always felt it important for African-Americans to create images that accurately express who we are in all of our diversity. Chuck Smith, an iconic Chicago area director, suggested I “go direct – go direct anywhere.” God must have ordained it, because the first place I called was the then Foster Community Center and Mr. Evans and the staff there were enthusiastic about doing a production. The sold-out houses for our first show, “What The Wine Sellers Buy,” confirmed that positive stories and powerful theater that spoke to the community was valued. In truth, I may have ‘founded’ Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, in other words, got the ball rolling with those early productions – but a community created it. Our motto from the beginning was the Swahili phrase, “Umoja,” which means “unity.” Notice that a key part of the word “community” is “unity.” The next center director, Mamie Smith, and the Foster Center Board really got behind our work. I’m sure community support continues to be essential for the theater to thrive.
Mr. Rhoze: What new play are you presently penning?
Ms. Clunie: I’m currently polishing up my new play, “QUARK.” As the groundbreaking discovery of the Higgs-Boson (the “God”) particle was announced, we were work-shopping QUARK in St. Charles at the 2012 Collider Play Project – an artistic partnership between Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory and Fox Valley Repertory Theater. I’m excited it’s being produced by MPAACT Theatre – a world premiere – in association with The Goodman Theater. It will be performed at the Greenhouse Theater Center in Chicago from Jan. 17 to March 2. The play tackles love, death, a starving planet and the stars in a world where Alexandra Seabold, an astrophysicist, and her husband, a kindergarten teacher, wrestle with the merits of commercial space travel and the meaning of life.
Mr. Rhoze: What was your first professionally produced play about?
Ms. Clunie: I’ve been writing plays since fourth grade. Several, like “Secrets,” “Dream” and “Sing, Malindy Sing!,” got great productions at Fleetwood-Jourdain. My first equity play was “North Star” at Victory Gardens Theater here in Chicago. It won several awards, including a Chicago Jeff. “North Star” is the story of Relia, a powerful young 11-year-old, coming of age during the Civil Rights era.
Mr. Rhoze: Why do you think theatre is important?
Ms. Clunie: My favorite book, “The Dream Keeper” by Langston Hughes, gets close to why I feel theatre is important.
In it, the Dream Keeper [says], “Bring me all your dreams, you dreamers. Bring me all your heart melodies, that I may wrap them in a blue cloud cloth, away from the too rough fingers of the world.” Theater is a place where a vision of who we were, who we are, and who we might be can explode in a safe place. For me, at the end of a good piece of theater – without any preaching – we are smarter, happier, deeply moved, or understand more. In short, we are better.
Mr. Rhoze: In your opinion, what is the state of African American theatre?
Ms. Clunie: Exciting! Especially in Chicago. Recently, in the span of several weeks, I saw “A Raisin in the Sun,” “The Mountaintop,” “Appropriate,” “Pullman Porter” – and I could go on. And it’s not even Black History Month. Besides Fleetwood-Jourdain, there is ETA, Congo Square, MPAACT and the Black Ensemble solely devoted to lifting up the African American experience. So many dynamic voices reflecting our multifaceted culture in powerful new ways makes us all richer. To understand ourselves as Americans, it’s important to support this explosion and expand our lives by seeing these productions.”
Mr. Rhoze: What advice would you give to an aspiring playwright?
Ms. Clunie: Read! Everything. Especially plays. See. Really look – at everything. See plays – all kinds of plays. Listen. To everything. To plays. All kinds of plays. The ones on the stage, but more importantly, the theatre that unfolds around us every day. Experience. Reflect on what you have read, seen, listened to and experienced. Search for the truth the universe is trying to grace you with – and then write – fearlessly.
Mr. Rhoze: Bonus Question: If you could have dinner and a conversation with someone famous, alive or deceased, who would that be and why?
Ms. Clunie: Jesus Christ. Regardless of one’s religion, His exploration of truth reflected by His teachings in the New Testament would definitely rock the world of a playwright. I’d also like to say, “Thanks!