Quick Chat with Tarell Alvin McCraney

Tarell Alvin McCraney. Photo courtesy of the Alliance Theatre

Tarell Alvin McCraney. Photo courtesy of the Alliance Theatre

After winning the 2008 Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s In the Red and Brown Water received its world premiere at the Alliance Theatre, and now he returns with a new play Choir Boy to lead the theatre’s celebration of the 10th anniversary of the competion. A coming of age story about a different kind of boy, Choir Boy follows Pharus and the struggles he endures at the Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys. In this Quick Chat, playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney discusses writing the play, the competition and more.


What was your inspiration to write the play?
I heard a story once about a young man being beaten because he was believed to be gay. And, I remember seeing pictures of his graduation – of him trying to smile as he stood on stage with the person who was believed to have assaulted him, bruised and scarred still from the beating and have to try and smile. It stayed with me.

Was it an easy play to write?
I never write a play until I know the ending. So, the play came fairly fast once I knew how it would end, but I continued/continue to work on it all the time.

Scott Robertson and the cast of the Alliance Theatre’s 2013/14 production of Choir Boy. Photo by Greg Mooney.

Scott Robertson and the cast of the Alliance Theatre’s 2013/14 production of Choir Boy. Photo by Greg Mooney.

How would you describe the play?

Choir Boy is a play about a young gifted man Pharus Young and his last year as lead of the Charles R Drew Prep School Choir.

What do you hope audiences take away from it?

I hope audiences fall in love with the characters and watch and listen and ask of them what the future might hold.


What is your favorite line or scene in the play?

‘Oh NOW you want your sock?’ Nobody says that like Jeremy Pope.

Were you expecting the success that it has seen in New York?

You never know what to expect in New York. You just have to have faith in the work. This was unique because more than anything I had faith in the cast and director Trip Cullman. They all just loved the play and the roles so much. They were all so great and I can’t wait to work with them again.  I’ve known one of them since he was 15 and watched him go through his last days of his high school tenure while doing readings for this show. That amazed me. How mature he got so fast and how much his knowledge helped the play blossom. (Nicholas L. Ashe)

What does the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition mean to you? How important is this type of competition for young playwrights?

Well we know that voices and storytellers all one day go silent. It is, therefore, our job to foster those who must come after while we usher safely those who came before. It’s important that people feel like they have a place to work out their process when they graduate. And, the Alliance has shown us great generosity via the Kendeda Competition.

What is your next venture?

I’m in rehearsal for an adaption of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. I did the adaption, and now I am directing the production which will go up in Nov. at the Royal Shakespeare Company, then with the same company, move to Miami (produced GableStage) in Jan./Feb. And, Finally playing at the Public Theater in New York, same company, in Feb./March. So, I’ll be pretty busy with that for a while, meantime you all take care of my Choir Boys.


Choir Boy plays at the Alliance Theatre on the Hertz stage through October 132013. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website.

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