Aeneas Hemphill

Meet the Playwrights: Aeneas Hemphill '17

April 13, 2017

Aeneas Hemphill’s thesis play Black Hollow is an American myth about the uniquely American problem of gun violence.
Black Hollow will run at the Signature Center on May 3, 5, and 6th.
Hemphill talks about the theatrical inspiration for the play, the works of Naomi Wallace, and the struggles of writing about gun violence. Full interview available here.

Can you tell me a little bit about the origin of this play? Where did the idea come from? Did you work on it in class?
This idea originated in Lynn Nottage’s “American Spectacle” class during my first year, in which we drew inspiration from theatrical forms outside of the realm of theatre proper. Black Hollow was inspired by the structure of a trial. I had been thinking about the underlying principles of justice in our society and how much it resembles Aristotelian dramatic structure: eliminate the deviant, achieve catharsis, and restore order. Our method of justice, of consequence, revealed itself as inadequate to me in dealing with issues that are systemic and historical. It made me think of how so many of our public discussions are dead ends, how we refuse to truly examine where many of our problems come from. Our conversations around gun violence are one of the clearest and most maddening examples of this. So I tried to wrestle with it in a way I hadn’t seen anyone do before. In this play the town, without anyone to punish, deprived of that catharsis, turns inward, examining itself to find answers, and a way to move forward.

Who is your mentor? Why did you want them as your mentor?

Naomi Wallace was a perfect choice for this project for many reasons. I’ve long been a fan of her work: it’s political, poetic, and grounded. She is extremely thoughtful, bold, and has a deep understanding of what she explores. I haven’t very many others in the current field talk about what she talks about in the way she talks about it. She is the kind of writer I want to be, and a perspective I want to bring into the mainstream. I think her work is even more vital than it’s ever been in this era of politics.

What has been most challenging about this process?

This is a very difficult subject, especially to dramatize. I’m trying to come at it from a unique angle, and speak a truth that is not apolitical but moves beyond the parameters of our current politics. This is a play that I want all kinds of people to be able to experience and react to. I don’t want to preach to the choir, to reinforce a particular viewpoint. For this play to truly matter, it has to contend with the issue on a human scale, and it has to be healing in some way.

Black Hollow will run at the Ford Studio at Pershing Square Signature Center on May 3 at 2:30 pm, May 5 at 8 pm, and May 6 at 2:30 pm. Free tickets are available here.

Aeneas is a writer and performer from Washington, DC. He is a graduate of Kenyon College and is currently pursuing an MFA in playwriting at Columbia University. His plays include AriadneThe Wordless EndA Stitch Here or There: A Sock Tragedy in One Act, and The Troll King. He is currently a member of Pipeline Play Lab.