Six Questions With Playwright Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm

Tania Thompson
 | Apr 03, 2017
Tearrance Chisholm
Chisholm Workspace

Tearrance Chisholm's workspace.

For playwright Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm, the key to his writing is location, location, location. That’s why his favorite writing space is the desk in his bedroom. Right next to his bed.

“In theory, I could roll out of bed and get to writing,” he says. “But more often I write myself to sleep. This space works for me because I’ve decorated it with things that inspire me and colors. I love color.”

This work space is where he wrote Anacostia Street Lions, part of the 20th Pacific Playwrights Festival, April 21-23, 2017.

We had a few more questions for Chisholm. Read on.

What story did you read in secret as a kid?
I used to read this book of fairy tales and Mother Goose rhymes in secret. Not because the content was forbidden, but because the book was part of a set that my grandmother kept in the off-limits sitting room, and the books were for decorative purposes only.

When did you know you wanted to be a playwright?
In 2008, the first play I wrote won me a trip to The Kennedy Center [for the Arts] Summer Playwriting Intensive. There, I wrote a monologue that made an actor cry. I’ve been obsessed with the power of the playwright ever since.

What play changed your life?
That’d be two. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s production of We Are Proud to Present… by Jackie Sibblies Drury. I saw this play during my grad school-induced existential crisis. It really helped me to understand why I was a playwright and my responsibilities as such. Also, Bootycandy by Robert O’Hara at Playwrights Horizon. This was one of the first times I truly saw aspects of myself and my experiences represented on stage. This, too, shaped my goals as a playwright.

What inspired Anacostia Street Lions?
Like most of my plays, it was inspired by location. I was living in Anacostia at the time and a stray cat moved herself and her four kittens into my backyard. I watched her meticulously care for these kittens and, despite all odds, the kittens thrived. I found this to be a metaphor for the people living there.

Coffee or tea?
Iced coffee, but only when I think it goes with my outfit.

What are you binge-watching?
“Family Matters.” Jaleel White (who plays Urkel) is a comedic genius! And I love that he was this black boy from Chicago who was nerd and genius and unapologetic about both. I'm kinda obsessed. Side note: They used to call me Urkel when I was younger.

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