Lynn Nottage will unveil the first scene from her unreleased work “Sweat” at the University of Minnesota on Wednesday.
Penumbra Theatre actors Carl Atiya Swanson, James Craven and H. Adam Harris join her in the reading. Nottage, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, has achieved commercial and critical success with her plays, including “Ruined,” “Intimate Apparel,” and “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark.”
Aside from playwriting, Nottage also co-founded Market Road Films and contributed projects to TV networks including HBO, Showtime and Harpo.
Nottage graduated from Brown University in 1986 and earned her master’s of fine arts at Yale University, where she is a faculty member. She also works as an associate theater professor at Columbia School of Arts.
“My time at Yale was incredibly difficult, and I think what it taught me was tenaciousness and perseverance, and how difficult this field was going to be, and how competitive it was going to be,” Nottage said. “At Brown, I learned more about the joy of making theatre, because I had no expectation that it was ever going to become a career, so when I was writing and producing plays it was simply for the joy of it.”
University of Minnesota theatre professor Dominic Taylor remembers meeting Nottage as a peer at Brown University.
“We were on the green,” Taylor said. “I think my first thought was, ‘I didn’t know someone so young wrote a play.’ When you’re in class with someone, they’re regular people to you. Playwrights are these other things. And I’m like, ‘You wrote a play and you won an award?’”
Nottage wrote “The Darker Side of Verona” as a high school student and, as a result, received admittance into an educational program through the Young Playwrights Festival in New York.
She never performed “Verona,” so while at Brown, Taylor held a non-speaking role in the first play she performed, titled “Eulogy for a Missing Player.”
When asked for advice for aspiring playwrights, Nottage said, “I think it’s important to produce your play by any means necessary. I think a lot of people wait for opportunity, and I think it’s up to the playwright to create opportunity. I believe the stage can be anywhere.”
After Nottage graduated from Yale, she worked for Amnesty International for four years.
“She had concerns in the world, and I think that’s a significant thing. She doesn’t make art outside of a social concern. She’s a really committed person,” Taylor said.
Most of Nottage’s work consists of dramas that center on social issues. Her Pulitzer-winning play “Ruined” portrays the rape and murder of citizens during the civil war of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her comedy, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark,” highlights struggles African-American actresses faced in the 1930s and 1970s.
Her play “Sweat” follows friends working at a steel plant that may be downsized. She said it highlights the aftermath of legislation in the 1990s that caused many factory workers to lose their jobs.
Taylor said that because people generally look to Shakespeare’s work as a standard for playwriting, Nottage’s visit gives an important opportunity to meet a successful, living playwright.
“The best thing is for students to come in to contact with a living person who writes plays. And also, a playwright who’s concerned about the world is really important to me; I think that’s very significant,” she said.
Actor Carl Atiya Swanson also spoke of his anticipation for the event.
“I think this is an exciting opportunity to be able to meet a playwright, who has not only commercial but also critical success, and to be able to interact with new play development in this format,” Swanson said. “When it goes up in a year or so you can say, ‘Hey, we talked about it at Coffman.’”
What: Lynn Nottage talk and reading
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Coffman Union