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#WHYIWRITE: Happy National Day on Writing

Written By Melvin Tunstall III

It’s our day.

You can thank the National Council of Teachers of English for all of the celebratory love coming your way today. The National Day on Writing is an initiative built on the premise that writing is critical to literacy but needs greater attention and celebration. 

For the past 11 years, the group has seen thousands of people share their responses and engage in activities around the theme of #WhyIWrite, so today I thought I would join the party and put a little TheaterMakers spin on the hashtag!

It was actually my Mother who predicted I would be a writer years before I wrote my first musical. She saw something unique in my high school reports and even though she knew I could sing, loved performing, and had my sights set on Broadway, stated with the confidence only a Mother possesses, “You’re a writer, Son.” 

It would take a few years before I would attempt my first musical (a revue built around the music of George Gershwin called By George!) but Mother was absolutely right. Once I heard an audience laugh at a joke I had written, I was hooked!

As I began pondering #WhyIWrite, I recalled when I was in college frequently being asked “What is your dream role?” to which I always responded, “No one has written it yet, I will probably have to write it myself.” 

Hamilton’s Daniel Yearwood appears as G.B. Washington, III in Senior Class at the 2021 NAMT festival.  

I realized the idea of becoming a writer was born out of not being able to find roles for Black men that would showcase all I was capable of and loved doing. And the shows that I could star in- like The Tap Dance Kid– featured diverse casts and you can imagine the challenges of casting diversely back in the nineties in Small Town, USA.

My other dream role, the Leading Player in Pippin, when revived on Broadway, gave a Black Woman the chance to take on Fosse’s iconic role. 

I did get to step into the shoes of Tony Winner André De Shields with the European Company of Ain’t Misbehavin, but only as an understudy during rehearsals because the main actor NEVER called out. Professionals. They are the worst!. 

Needless to say, the choices for roles for Black Men- outside of slave, showbiz, or struggle narratives- were few and far between. So, one of my goals has always been to give Black men full bloodied characters with wants that encompass joy and don’t always derive from struggle. 

I write what I know. 

Recently, while filming an excerpt from my new musical Senior Class for the NAMT Festival in New York City, the actor playing our leading man- an affluent Black Teenager in Harlem with a Henry Higgins-esque personality- thanked me for his big solo number in the reading. 

“We never get to sing songs like this.” 

This is #WhyIWrite.”

I am way past the age of playing the role of a high school drama nerd, but I am so honored to be able to give another young black male the chance to sing and play a role that I would have killed for in high school. I approach all of my characters that way. I want to give actors roles that utilize every skill in their toolbox. 

Using your voice to create and give voice to marginalized characters can be the key to landing representation. Now, more than ever, agencies are looking for writers with unique perspectives and new stories that center around characters we have not seen before- or characters, like Black men, seen in new narratives. We are excited to give you the opportunity to hear directly from some of New York’s top representatives at this year’s TheaterMakers Summit!

 

Getting Repped: When and How to Find the Right Agents, Managers, and Lawyers

With MAX GROSSMAN and RASHAD V. CHAMBERS

 

There are hundreds of ways a career in theater can look. Tune into this panel with industry agents, managers, and lawyers about how to navigate getting representation and deciding which path is best for you and your show. 

 

Happy National Day on Writing, TheaterMakers. With the Summit just a couple of weeks away, share with us in the comments below “Why You Write” and which panel you are looking most forward to at this year’s Summit! 


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