Call and Response: Kwame Kwei-Armah

by Molly Metzler


“The notion that I could actually come to work [at the National Theatre]—and be paid—and just think was unique and new to me, and opened me up to a whole new concept of what theatre was there for, of what art was there for, of what even subsidy for the arts was there for: creating a space where people can think. […] It taught me that thought is everything. And theatre is a palace of thought.”

- Kwame Kwei-Armah, I AM THEATRE

There are certain sounds we equate with a prolific writing: printers printing, keyboards clacking, maybe even mugs being thrown against walls. But what about silence? As a playwright, I agree that free space and time to think are more than gifts, they’re necessities. Ten years ago, when I was a student at Boston University, Lee Blessing visited our class and gave us some excellent advice: “Buy a hot tub,” he said. “The hardest thing about being a playwright isn’t the writing, it’s the thinking.” Well, I’m still not a hot tub owner, but I have found that a metaphorical “soak” is an invaluable thing for a writer to have. I recently returned from a two-week residency at Hedgebrook (a breathtaking women’s writing retreat off the coast of Washington) where my only assignment was to rejuvenate and think. And that’s what I did everyday for two weeks: I looked at the ocean. But I also wrote a new play (even though I didn’t write a word of actual dialogue). It was a wonderful gift Hedgebrook gave me, and I found myself wondering how other artists find ways to “soak.”

What other programs are doing for artists what the National Theatre did for Kwame Kwei-Armah (providing the space and support to simply think)?

Is the space to think an essential part of the process for all theatre artists, not just playwrights?

What is subsidy of the arts for?

What is theatre for?

What are YOU thinking about? (Or: Where do YOU do your best thinking?)

Let us know, or better yet, don’t just tell, show.

  • Tomas DeMoss

    Oddly enough, my favorite place for chilling out and thinking is in bed. Not under the covers snoring but propped up on pillows with my mags and books and my space pen and yellow marker and a clip board of typing paper for notes and whatever. Music. My Westie, Dalton. My cat, Paris. It’s delicious, private, quiet and I totally sink into it. I usually do this around 9:00 PM and am there for 2 to 3 hours. My mind, regardless of it’s quality, is my friend and my favorite creative plaything. It amazes me. It’s almost like it’s an ‘Other’ that I somehow plug into. Shakespeare probably had grander thoughts than I do, but he did not enjoy them any more.