Kimber Lee, author of brownsville song (b-side for tray) answers questions about the play.
How did you come to be interested in writing this play?
I've spent a lot of time training in boxing gyms, and I follow several blogs written by female boxers. One of them posted a story about the loss of a young man who trained at a gym in East Flatbush, where she coaches and does some tutoring. The beautiful simplicity in her vivid description of this young man and the way he died stayed with me - I kept thinking about his family and what they were going through, and I didn't know what to do, how to help, how to respond in a way that felt respectful and useful and real. But I felt a responsibility to attempt to do something, to bear witness somehow, to not let this person's passing just flicker by and disappear - because I knew it wasn't disappearing for his family. So when I sat down to write, to work on another project, actually, that first monologue of Lena's just came blazing out of me. And as the play has been shared with more and more people, that sense of responsibility has grown as well. Our entire creative team, led with such grace by director Patricia McGregor, has worked as hard as possible to infuse our production with the light, humor and resilient humanity of the Brownsville community, and not add to their struggles by presenting the neighborhood as only a dark, dangerous place where only violent things happen - they are all too accustomed to being stereotyped this way in the media. But as we have seen in recent years, the effects of our collective failure to stem the tide of gun violence has spread beyond the borders of any particular neighborhood, and so the struggles and pain of the Brownsville community belong to all of us, no matter our zip code, and with every loss, we are all diminished.
In the brownsville song (b-side for tray) script, the structure of the lines on the page is different from most plays. Why did you choose to write the lines this way?
Utilizing line breaks in the way that I do is a way of tracing the formation and progression of a character's thought, and to use the geography of the page to map the urgent action of that inner life that I hope is bubbling underneath everything that is being said (or not being said). I always find myself (in life, as well as in theatre) just as interested in the things a character does not say, or does not allow themselves to finish saying, as I am in the words they speak. There's something unseen but deeply felt and very electric in those spaces.
Can you explain the significance of the title?
I wanted a title that could encompass the feeling of a lament, of mourning, but that would also contain hope and sense of celebrating a life. And the "b-side" - for those of you who don't remember record singles (45rpm) - the hit single would always have a not as popular, or unknown song on the other side. I wanted Tray's song to show us a side of a familiar story that we may not have considered before.