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Suzan-Lori Parks on White Noise: It's a play that rips the mask off what we call civilization

The piece has its UK premiere at the Bridge Theatre

Suzan-Lori Parks
© Johan Persson

Suzan-Lori Parks is a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright – in fact, the first African-American woman to receive the award. Parks has been responsible for some of the biggest plays of the last few decades, including Topdog/Underdog and Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2, and 3) . She now returns to the UK with White Noise, which is making its UK premiere at the Bridge Theatre. She discusses the piece here:

The play was at the Public Theater in New York in 2019 – can you talk about seeing its pertinence grow and develop over the last two years?

 I'm really excited about doing the play at the Bridge. When we premiered in 2019 I felt that the world wasn't yet ready to really have the conversations that the play is encouraging. I feel like we're more ready now.

Do you think the show will be received in a different way in the UK compared to across the Atlantic?

 While UK folks are traditionally seen as more reticent, more reserved, I've found our production team (director, actors, designers) really thrilled by the opportunity to dive in and wrestle with the themes in White Noise – cause the play is so explosive and embracing. What's great about UK audiences is that there's a strong tradition of allowing art to catalyze public discourse. Also – hey, folks in the UK often see racism as more of an American Problem but – those challenges are everwhere.

What did you make of the critical and audience response to the show's original world premiere?

White Noise is a play that rips the mask off of what we call civilization. And so, we had a range of responses. Folks were stunned into silence. Folks stood up and cheered. Some people with their arms crossed during the show stayed late in the lobby having deep discussions with strangers. Folks whose race or ethnicity is not specifically represented in the play found their story in it too. And again, as we initially premiered in March 2019, there were lots of people who wondered if we even needed to have conversations about race, and class. Back then, people were much more assured of their "woke-ness." I feel like 2020 was a wake-up call for the whole world.

What was the initial prompt for the text?

 I got the idea to write White Noise by watching another play of mine: Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 and 3). That play is set in the 1860s and there's a moment in part two where the main character, an enslaved man named Hero, wonders what his life would be like if he were free – should a law enforcement official ask him who he belongs to how would he respond. And Hero wonders, if he says that he belongs to himself, would the law official leave him alone? So, back in 2014, watching that play of mine gave me the spark to write this one. Lots of my plays are linked: Fucking A and In The Blood. Topdog/Underdog and The America Play and The Book of Grace. FCH 1,2,&3 and White Noise.

5. How do you place White Noise among your plethora of works – what has lingered with you in terms of crafting the piece?

 That's a great question. This play was a radical departure for me in that, more than ever before, I had to fully journey from the heart of the person I call "Myself" into the heart of the person I call "the Other." The writing of White Noise is still transmitting aftershocks.