The Playwright’s Room: Goldie Patrick
BY Robbie Armstrong, June 2, 2021
This week, Playwriting student Goldie Patrick sat down with us in The Playwright’s Room. Patrick is a proud alumna of Howard University where she earned her BFA in acting. She is the former founding Executive Director of FRESHH Inc Theatre company for Black womxn and girls. She is the creator and facilitating writer of Feminine Folklore, a devised theatre performance series that examines the intersections of race and identity of diverse womxn. Both a student and teacher of hip hop theatre, she recently wrote and directed the hip hop theatre play HERstory Love Forever Hip Hop at the John F Kennedy Center. Patrick is a practical applicant of tradition and a passionate supplicant to the calling of future folklore. Her theatre-making is activated by Yoruba culture, and Ifa traditions anchor her writing process, form, style, and voice. Her other works include Surrender an Egungun mixtape, Til the water breaks, and Small Water Woman.
Tell me about your first time in Theatre.
Goldie Patrick: It was one of the most significant moments of my life. I was in 3rd grade, in Ms. Wesley’s class. I talked a lot and I would always get a low grade in “citizenship” on my report card, because I talked too much. So Ms. Wesley reignited the Drama club and told me to be in the play. We did The Bus Ride, the story of Rosa Parks. I played Rosa Parks because I have a loud mouth. Then we took the play to our city council and later Rosa Parks came to see the play and we met her. This was the moment that went off for me. I was talking, people were listening to me, and it was important. This moment was when all the things clicked.
You direct, produce, and teach, so why did you pick Playwriting for your MFA studies?
GP: I knew that I wanted to move to New York. I had grown out of D.C. I was working more in New York and I decided that it was time to move on. When I considered my studies, I thought about what I needed. I’m in theatre because I make space. That’s why I made a theatre company, so that I can make space for Black women and girls. As a playwright I experienced a lack of critical analysis and work. If you’re popular, you get produced, but you don’t get pushed to develop as a writer. I wanted discipline and rigor around writing. I don’t want to write about what the industry wants right now, I want to write about stories that I think are important. I want to be a better writer. Columbia provided an opportunity for that.
Tell me about FRESHH Inc. Theatre and working in Washington D.C.
GP: I was an equity actor for two years, right after graduating college. I then did a lot of work in the non-profit sector and worked with many councils. I was also a professor of hip hop history and culture at Howard University. A lot of white theatres said, “We need money because we need to diversify.” So I started FRESHH Inc. Theatre because what we were doing was a myth. There’s a myth that Black women do not work in the theatre. Finding Black theatre artists and making hip hop theatre is so easy to do when you’re in the community. There’s a pipeline for every profession. Because I worked at Howard for so long, I knew how to make that pipeline and introduce people to technical theatre. Everyone loved when they sent interns to us because after their internships, I would hire those people in larger roles and then give them assistants to manage. We are a community. If you’re a sound designer that’s cool, but do you want to write? So much of theatre is limiting people but we wanted to put people at the forefront of what we did. People were paid at the rate of what they’d be paid at a white theatre. That was at the core of our mission. Our goal was to make space, not to produce at the budget of a white theatre. We always considered what is fundable?
Through our youth program we got a multi year grant from the NOVO foundation for social justice work for women of color. That was a beautiful grant because I could invest in the people who could do this work well. We also produced the The Next of Kin festival, which featured works by six Black womxn playwrights and six Black womxn Directors. I disrupted what I’ve experienced in the festival model. Festivals are laborious on the actor, so we created a shared profit model. Each artist had a code, and if their friends came, they used that code, and the artist got paid 100% of the profit.
What play did you submit to Columbia?
GP: I am editing that play right now and it is hilarious. I wrote a play in college and it was terrible. This is when I discovered hip hop theatre. I thought, “I’m a genius, I’ll do a play where people rap on the stage with a DJ.” My professor told me that hip hop theatre already existed so my idea wasn’t brand new. But this is where I learned about the people and the plays in the hip hop world. Then I submitted my play to Kamilah Forbes and a hip hop theatre festival. I had a relationship with the Kennedy Center and they wanted to produce my work. So I told them about my play, HERstory, Love forever Hip Hop, which is also the play I submitted to Columbia. I worked on it a lot. The premise is that hip hop is personified by a woman.
I wrote this play as a dedication to hip hop. I wrote about ways that hip hop has been degraded and how women in hip hop have been degraded. I devised and worked for women in hip hop and documented their stories. The characters would have moments where they told these stories. In the play hip hop is a woman on her deathbed. The only people that care enough to come are women. Those women clash. They discuss, should they fight for hip hop to live? Or should they take her off life support?
I’m rewriting it for submissions. I want to sharpen the structure and drive the plot more. When I wrote it, I was directing, so I purposely scaled back because I knew the budget was modest. The rewrite can reflect a bigger budget. I’m used to putting a play up and striking it down. I write with the idea of a black box in mind.
Tell me about your work on By the Way, Meet Vera Stark.
GP: That was when I realized I wanted to move to New York. It was a beautiful experience and it was only a two week rehearsal. I love the process because I’m a nerd and I love dramaturgy. I was reading all the books and the papers and made a timeline across the rehearsal room. First day at the table, everyone had such a developed character. People came in, ready. It was such a hard piece but everyone made it seem easy. We had to shoot a film during the rehearsal. It was great.
What other plays are you writing right now?
GP: One takes place during the May 22nd Black Lives Matter protest. It’s a journey of Black love amidst a protest. I wrote it consciously that it might only see life on Zoom. I’m writing this to document this moment in our lives. It is a play that I could intentionally write in a new form, with stage directions that are choreographed. I wrote this with LGBTQIA people in mind. All of the characters can be played by any person regardless of gender identity. I’m mindful of the gender and making sure the characters can be played by any person.
What kind of artwork and experiences influence your work?
GP: Every play I write is in the cadence or rhythm of a song. Music guides me. I am most influenced by my spiritual practice of Ifa. Everything I write now is a prayer. I am in love with the work of Elizabeth Catlett. I grew up with her artwork in my home and didn’t realize it. I saw her work at a museum and realized that I had the same piece in my house. I love visual arts, but dance is my greatest muse. I love Afro Caribbean choreographers and the idea of how the body moves. The tradition of dance inspires me.
What’s a lesson you’ve learned from your time at Columbia so far?
GP: I have lived my whole life in great intention of Blackness. I love being Black and being a descendant of Africans. I grew up in Detroit and my school was 97% Black. I went to Howard and I was in chocolate city at a historically Black college. I built a Black theatre company. Coming to Columbia is the whitest thing I’ve ever done. My first semester at Columbia was all teachers of color but now in the second semester I have one teacher of color. The thing I’ve learned most at Columbia is that there is a choice to assimilate to white theatre and there is a choice to not assimilate. It is intentional. Being at Columbia means I have to be mindful of accepting and digesting a culture that does not speak to me or for me.
I was nervous coming into this program as an older, non-traditional student. I can never hang out, I go to bed early. As a result of our circumstances, from the jump we had to develop a certain awareness around a lot of the things that people don’t get to put at the center of their relationships. It eliminated a lot of the pretentiousness of attending an Ivy League school. I respect my classmates and their bravery to tell uncomfortable stories and not marketable stories. We are holding each other accountable and we’re not going to pretend that we’re not on stolen ground. We’re never going to pretend that white supremacy doesn’t exist. We’re never going to pretend that heteronormativity doesn’t exist.
What are you working on next?
GP: I am directing a play with On Air. It’s a radio play company. Last year I directed a Dominique Morrissea play and this year I’m directing another show. I just assistant directed Between The World And Me, the film, with HBO.