Weaving Our Pain into Light - an artist's statement
My work is a personal documentary of the life and times of people from the African
Diaspora. Folks who through slavery and Jim Crow created something bright and shiny
in the new world. Good Bread Alley is based on my Great Grandmother Celia's life. My
origins are a rich soup of African Americans, Gullah People, the Hausa, the Dahomey,
Afro Cubans, Santeros from Oriente, righteous Jewish activists, a Radical
Bahamian/Cuban father, a Jazz-singing-Flower-Child mother, politically-on-fire gay
uncles and quietly masculine and softly feminine lesbian aunts. In short, a tapestry full
of storytellers who laid out my history with a bucketful of drama. From female
impersonators to gangster women who sold moonshine and talked to spirits, I have
inherited the gift of story.
The best storytelling thrives on specificity. In the specific, lives the universal. The
universality of a mother wanting better for her child even if it means running into the
middle of a riot to save her. The universality of a mother crying to heaven upon finding
that the daughter she’s worked four jobs night and day to protect has been raped. The
universality of a father sharing Toni Morrison stories with his six year old daughter
painting a picture of a world beyond Miami’s “Pork N’ Bean” housing projects. My stories
are peopled with saints, bad-asses and visionaries imagining more for themselves than
what the world has promised.
These are the people, places and things that I write about and what I learned from Liberty City (co-written by April Yvette Thompson & Jessica Blank) is that people leave the theatre remembering the love and the struggle, the wit and courage of the characters. The four white, small-town Massachusetts mothers who bought tickets to Liberty City because they’d never seen a story in which a “quiet mother was so brave,” convinced me that empathy is the key to creating common ground. I believe the best way to do that is to draw finely-woven, complicated characters who speak the poetry of their dreams in everyday life. Characters whose love is so deep, so specific and so full of the “expectation of good” that people cannot help but empathize. I write emotionally, vividly, truthfully about the places where we are broken, where we are fragile, where we are scratching and fighting our way to the surface to create something new and groundbreaking. I write with compassion because Great Grandma Celia’s magic was a bundle of love wrapped up in struggle and bound by the kind of poetry that makes you cry out because words are not enough. I have many of Celia’s heirlooms on my altar to Oshun, but the greatest is the gift of memory. Memories that wash over me like water splashing across the decks of slave ships into the faces of new born babies waking them into a new world of possibility – a world where I continue “weaving our pain into light.”
April Yvette Thompson is a Tony-winning producer, actor, writer, thinker, dreamer in search of beauty, truth, love & flights of serendipitous grace.