The Apollo Salon Series presents new work by innovative performing artists. The Apollo provides them with a week of workshop and rehearsal time and the opportunity to showcase their work on the Apollo Soundstage. Ladykiller’s Love Story, part of the Apollo’s 2017 Salon Series, is a new musical written by New York City playwright Jocelyn Bioh that uses the music and lyrics of singer/songwriter, CeeLo Green.
How did you transition from acting to playwriting?
J: You know, I first got into the arts as a dancer. I went to the local community center in Washington Heights and fell in love with dance. I thought I was going to be a fly girl on In Living Color. I knew I wanted to learn more about acting in college. Sadly, I went to Ohio State and they cast to type. I needed to make up credit for not getting cast in shows, so I took a playwriting class and my professor told me that she thought I had a really good ear for dialogue and that I should continue to work on plays. So, I applied to some grads schools as an actor and some as a playwright. I got into Columbia's MFA Playwriting program. My acting career took off when I graduated, but my playwriting career took more time.
Tell me about your journey to Ladykiller’s Love Story.
J: Well I'm a very spiritual person; so I think there are never any mistakes when things are supposed to happen for you. I was working a coat check job and I would come home late at night. To keep myself up on the train, I would listen to music and I was obsessed with CeeLo’s album “Ladykiller”. I didn't realize that I hit shuffle one night on the train and the songs essentially played in the order they now appear in the show. Because I felt that the music was telling me a story, I quickly grabbed my notebook and scribbled down the idea. I wrote it in like seven months or so. Then I went to Kamilah Forbes, who was running the Hip Hop Theater Festival at the time, and asked if there was any way she could help me. Kamilah was like, “let’s plot it into the Hip Hop Theater Festival’s Critical Breaks to be developed.”
Kamilah has been involved in so many new development projects.
J: What’s incredible about Kamilah is that she has a very eclectic background and has a real understanding of what it takes to create a piece. She just has such a sharp understanding about creating beautiful, moving, compelling art. Being able to work with her like this has been so valuable to me. This musical would not be what it is had I not asked Kamilah to be the director. I’m just grateful that I met her and that she took a chance on what was essentially a blank resume as a playwright.
Is CeeLo involved at all with the project?
J: CeeLo’s team is involved. When I first finished writing the initial draft, I went to CeeLo’s management. They didn’t take me seriously at first, so I just kind of kept nagging. Once we did a presentation and they saw it wasn't some corny musical and it was still really respectful of CeeLo’s music and honored his eclectic and unique style, they came on board.
So what is the musical about?
J: It’s about a young, quirky, Radio DJ who’s trying to get radio play to make a comeback. One night he has a chance encounter with a young woman, which completely changes his inspiration for the story and his play. It has all the makings of a musical: boy meets girl, boy loses girl and boy spends two and a half hours trying to get girl back. I also knew I wanted to push a musical that featured people of color. I wanted to tell a compelling story where the people just so happen to be black.
The collaboration with the Apollo obviously came through Kamilah Forbes but how was it pitched to the Apollo?
J: You know Kamilah and I have always had conversations about how to get this musical done and the audience that we knew would help us get there. We were interested in injecting a new kind of life and spirit into the stories being told in the Uptown Harlem theater community. So she presented it to the powers that be at the Apollo and they just flipped over the idea.
What will you get out of this staged reading?
J: The purpose for me is to hear new changes, see how the musical is now working and also to take an aggressive step toward real development - cause we're ready.
What has your history been with the Apollo?
J: Well I grew up in New York so I used to go to the Apollo all the time as a kid and saw a bunch of shows there. My parents are from Ghana and my mom wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer or an engineer, something that will make me financially stable. Taking me to see shows and stuff was not at the forefront of her mind. I wasn't going to Broadway. I lived uptown, so any shows that I went to see were at the Apollo. As somebody who grew up seeing amazing theater here, to possibly have my show share that same stage would be a dream come true.
So what's next for you?
J: Well I am currently in tech, working on my first production Nollywood Dreams at Cherry Lane Theater. It’s part of the Cherry Lane mentor project. They pair an early career emerging playwright; in this case it’s me, with an experienced playwright, Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, who also happens to be a good friend. In the fall. I'm going to have my official world premiere of a play I wrote called School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play. It’s playing at MCC Theater downtown and Rebecca Taichman is directing. I’m super excited about that.