The Playwright's Room: DeAndre C. Short

BY Robbie Armstrong, February 1, 2021

The Playwright’s Room is a series featuring the newest cohort of Columbia Playwriting students. These playwrights study under the tutelage of David Henry Hwang and Lynn Nottage


This week, Playwriting student DeAndre C. Short sat down with us in The Playwright’s Room. Short is a playwright born and raised in Virginia. He received his BA in Theatre Performance and English from the University of Lynchburg. He’s an avid collector of coffee mugs, Harry Potter memorabilia, and ailments—a couple lung collapses. He has taken it upon himself to beat constant writer’s block by writing plays that explore the experience of gay men of color, internalized racism, interracial relationships, dating culture, colorism, mental illness, and familial dynamics which is completely opposite of the dead White playwrights he’s obsessed with such as Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee. And just maybe one day he’ll achieve his back-up plan of being a stand-up comedian—to which his mother would say isn’t a back-up plan. 

Tell me about your first time in Theatre.


DeAndre C. Short: My first time was when I was 14. I acted in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I’m from New Kent, Virginia and my school had a partnership with a theatre in Kent England. That theatre company came over from England and did this show. I auditioned and was in the ensemble. I had a great time and fell in love with being on stage. I was then selected to go to England and do the show there. 


I started writing when I was 10, on an old 90’s computer. I was so young and writing these dramatic Lifetime movie stories. I faded away from that but in high school I started writing short stories again and my English teacher told me I was writing really great short stories. I then wrote the lyrics to a musical and my theatre teacher told me it was really good. I moved on and wanted to write roles for people like me, small skinny boys. In college I started not getting cast because I am Black so I started writing roles for me and for people like me. 


What kind of artwork and experiences influence your work?


DCS: Albee has great form, structure, and dialogue. He’s constantly exploring the same concepts in every play and I do that too, trying to elaborate on the same concepts and issues. Angels in America has been very prominent in my life. I love work that is that long. I love plays that are so well written and you can see everything vividly. I believe in hearing what people have to say and truly listening. I think hearing useful and useless knowledge is powerful. I listened to Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die” while writing a whole play once. When I listen to those lyrics I really feel and picture the world of her music. Musical artists influence and inspire my writing. Ariana Grande is my favorite artist and she sometimes has inspired me to write certain scenes. I am inspired by life and ordinary people; those are the stories that we need to examine and exhume. I think it was Viola Davis who said, “The graveyard is where the best stories are,” which resonated with me. The stories of the poor and the wealthy, the stories in the graveyard are the stories we need to write about. The world around us is a story in itself. 


I worked at Colonial Williamsburg for 3 years and I have so many stories and inspirations from the people I was around while there. In one of my plays I’m examining what it would be like if slavery were real today: white woman’s role in slavery, and white woman’s role in perpetuating racism. I’m using music in this play and looking at the juxtapositions of this fantasy world.


I’d love to hear about one of your plays.


DCS: Growing up in a very liberal and religious family, I’m always writing personal characters. My mission is to create inclusive LGBTQ+ theatre. I mean stories about gay men and not centering on white gay men, but also BIPOC gays. I want them to not be supporting characters. When I saw Moonlight I thought I could finally relate to those people. 


I wrote a play which was an ensemble show with 3 white men and 3 men of color. In the show, the main character is a Black man who is surrounded by a white bisexual man. The Lebanese character in the show is trying to find his place in a community that thinks that he’s Muslim and a terrorist, when he is neither. The main character is Black but was adopted by white parents and he wants to figure out who he is in a world that is white centric. The show is about how the past will affect the present and the future. I was going to do three acts, one in the past, one in the present, and one in the future, but now I’m not sure about that. The show is not finished yet and I’m trying to play with the past affecting the present . 



What’s a lesson you’ve learned from your time at Columbia so far?


DCS: Patience, patience, patience, and failure. Fail big and fail hard. Fail miserably. This is the one chance you have to do it in this space. Don’t measure yourself to every single person that’s around you. Their pace is different from yours. I’m ambitious, I’m a Ravenclaw, and I don’t like to fail. Not being afraid of failure and vulnerability is key. We have an opportunity to fail and my work doesn’t have to be good on the first draft. Over time the work will be better. 


How would you define your writing style?


DCS: I take situations and put them in the most extreme versions of that. We are in a culture that is cancelling people rather than holding them accountable. I like to explore these situations at their most extreme and the fall out afterward. Most of my shows are set in Virginia because there is so much history and richness here. It’s a state people constantly find themselves coming back to. Some of the oldest colleges are in this state and many landmarks are named for Confederate generals. I like talking about identity and what mistakes we make in our life. I like exploring Black communities, racism in the queer community, interacial relationships, and mental health. I like to explore how Black bodies are looked at in white spaces. Theatre is a white space that is telling Black stories. 


What artwork is resonating with you right now?


DCS: I have an obsession with three shows on TV right now. I love Succession, Industry, and The Flight Attendant. These shows are changing the game. They show authentic portrayals of cringe worthy people in certain sectors. They have such strong dark undertones in comedy. I just love HBO shows in general. I love all the dark comedies that are happening right now. I love how all these characters in these shows are assholes. You root for them, but you also can’t stand them. I think television is going to change and comedy is not going to be enough.