Writing can be activism by other means. The latest evidence of that comes from playwright Idris Goodwin, who has written five short plays for children and families that he is making available for free.
Under the title “Free Play: Open Source Scripts Toward an Antiracist Tomorrow,” the plays can be found on the website of Theatre for Young Audiences, www.tyausa.org. According to the website, Goodwin’s plays “offer different insights about disconnects in racial conversation and the Black experience in America” and are meant to be read “across the multi-generational spectrum.”
“Systemic racism must end now and forever. One way of doing so is talking with our children about it,” Goodwin said in a statement posted on the site. “These five plays are meant to serve as sparks for conversation.”
In an interview with American Theatre magazine, Goodwin said his own family, in a manner that “hearkens back to folks gathering around the piano,” has been sharing scripts and stories. The playwright told the magazine that he has been heartened by the energy surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I used to be the kind of person who would say, we’re not going to see the end of racism — I’m just doing my part and passing the torch to the next person,” said Goodwin. “But honestly, what I’ve seen in the past few weeks — I’m invigorated, and I’m feeling we have to ensure this is gone in our lifetime. It’s been around far too long, and we know better.”
According to synopses on the Theatre for Young Audiences website, the five plays (three of which are new) are “The Water Gun Song'' (for age 6 and up), in which a parent tries to “explain to a child why a water gun isn’t simply a toy”; “Nothing Rhymes with Juneteenth” (age 9 and up), in which a child and a parent try to complete a rap for a school presentation; “Act Free” (age 9 and up) in which three youngsters wrestle with “the definition of freedom”; “Black Flag” (age 14 and up), in which two dorm roommates are “excited to start their freshman year together, until one decides to decorate their room with a little piece of ‘Southern pride’ “; and “#Matter,” a two-hander about “former high school friends debating matters of life and race” (age 14 and up).
Boston-area theater audiences have had several chances to acquaint themselves with Goodwin’s work in recent years. In 2013, Boston’s Company One Theatre staged Goodwin’s “How We Got On.” In 2016, Lowell’s Merrimack Repertory Theatre presented Goodwin’s “The Realness: a break beat play.”
Then, in 2018, Company One Theatre staged Goodwin’s “Hype Man: a break beat play,” which is about the tensions that arise in a hip-hop group when one of its members decides to take a stand against racial injustice after police shoot an unarmed Black teenager.
In my review of “Hype Man,” I noted that the play blended “a torn-from-the-headlines, Black Lives Matter immediacy with the razor-sharp characterizations that have been among [Goodwin’s] consistent strengths. In ‘Hype Man’ Goodwin makes perhaps his strongest case yet for hip-hop culture as a crucible where issues of racial identity, gender inequity, career ambition, and friendship converge and collide in illuminating ways.”
The Boston Theater Critics Association gave “Hype Man” the Elliot Norton Award for outstanding new script and named the Company One staging as outstanding production in the small theater category.