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Catching Up with Kirsten Greenidge

Kirsten Greenidge

“I’m an artist. I write plays. So my first call — to the heavens, to battle — usually involves a call to create in the midst of so much destruction,” says Milk Like Sugar playwright Kirsten Greenidge on her moving, socially engaged plays. Greenidge’s plays focus on the complex intersectionality between race and class, drawing from contemporary news stories and personal experiences. Greenidge began writing at an early age, but it wasn’t until she attended Wesleyan University that she began to concentrate on playwriting. She then went to the prestigious playwriting workshop at the University of Iowa, where playwrights like Tennessee Williams and Lee Blessing worked on their craft. Based in Waltham, Massachusetts, Greenidge is a professor at BU’s School of Theatre and an alumna of the Huntington Playwriting Fellows program. 

Luck of the Irish“I like to write about the have nots. The outsiders,” explains Greenidge. In her play Luck of the Irish, which premiered at Huntington Theatre Company in 2012, a housing inheritance dispute erupts between an African American family, the Taylors, and an elderly white couple who “ghost bought” the house on behalf of their grandparents, in the era of redlining. “The Greeks loved ‘the other’ in the theatrical gaze and we as a culture are no different,” says Greenidge. “As someone who went to private schools and lived in a solidly middle class town, yet was always somewhat on the outside of the inside, I think the subject never gets old for me. Being black and a girl, and at times really poor, I’m really interested in the idea of America and how its realities exist within that idea.” Greenidge’s Milk Like Sugar focuses on teen girls of color, and grapples with the decisions they make based on the support structures available to them.

Greenidge’s plays offer valuable snapshots into life in New England. “There is still much to be done,” explains Greenidge, “There are still many voices that do not get heard or represented on our stages.” Milk Like Sugar is a homecoming for Greenidge, after first seeing plays by August Wilson at the Huntington as a child. Greenidge is excited to be back, and to work with associate producer and director M. Bevin O’Gara. “As a writer, it is really a joyful experience to work and write (and rewrite...and rewrite again) here, to come to rehearsals here,” explains Greenidge. “When you write a play, you really have no idea, for sure, if anyone is ever going to perform it for real — anything can happen in the theatre, including your script never seeing the light of day. I’m most excited about being ‘in the room.’ To me, as a theatre artist, it is really one of the best feelings in the world.”

Since Luck of the Irish, Greenidge has been steadily writing. She premiered her play Splendor at Company One in 2013, and is now at work on multiple commissions. The first from Big Ten Theatre Consortium Commission is called Baltimore, which follows how a racially charged incident splits a college campus, and will have a rolling premiere including a production in February at New Repertory Theatre/Boston Center for American Performance. The Goodman Theatre in Chicago has also commissioned Greenidge for the play And Moira Spins about the relationship between two sisters. She is also starting a new play that will be set close to home. “I am trudging, happily,” she says, “through research for my commission with Oregon Shakespeare Festival/American Revolutions about Belinda Sutton, an enslaved woman who worked and lived on a plantation in Medford (yes, our Medford, right here. Go visit).” Greenidge is unfazed by the overlapping deadlines of her various projects: “Busy times ahead.” 

— PHAEDRA SCOTT


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