This past October, we were proud to honor Dominique Morisseau at our 2017 Samuel French Awards. Below, Executive Producer of the Apollo Theater Kamilah Forbes shares her speech that she made while presenting Dominique with the award.
One of my favorite things to do, is to honor my sister Dominique Morisseau. She is fierce, she is a force, and well deserved of all of the praise and accolades.
From the Edward Kennedy Prize to the American Theater Magazine’s Most Produced Playwright of the Season to the Ford Foundation’s Agent of Change Prize, this activist/playwright/actor/tv writer/poet/wife can truly do it all. I have no idea how, but she does! And every project, every play, every cause is met with the same vigor and passion as the previous.
So it is quite fitting that she be recognized today as an artist and activist, recognized for her work towards social justice, honored for her whole being. Because you see, Dom is not just an artist who chooses to write about themes of social justice because it is provocative. She writes about these issues because she has to. It is who she is. A fighter at her core. A warrior woman. She is an activist.
By definition, an activist is someone who campaigns for social or political change. Dominique serves as a true moral compass, a voice of her community. She is who we turn to in times of turmoil, unrest, uncertainty, times like now. Her Facebook page becomes an uptown hall of sorts, a repository of healthy debates, ideas, and always followed by calls to action.
She is keen on her plays not just being interesting and provocative, but pondering the true and driving action that moves us forward. She personally forces us all to have a deeper understanding of the world around us, and not have a sense of apathy. If we don’t agree with something, then we need to get up and do something about it. Take action and make your voice be heard. I know that as a friend I can never come to her with a complaint about the system, or my boss, or a parking ticket, if I don’t have a plan of action or a proposal of success to either fight the system or change it. Fighting the system like she does, Dom can frequently be found on the front lines protesting housing equity, police reform, and gender equality, just to name a few.
And fight it she does. She wields her words and plays masterfully to her success. She writes plays about working class stories, our people, gentrification, racism. And she crafts these narratives at a time when the rest of the country wants to ignore, erase and move on.
With her work this season alone – by having over 11 productions of her work Skeleton Crew being produced by theaters all across the country – she has made us all reckon with the plight of the working class woman and man, and illuminate stories from her native and beloved Detroit. Now that is truly campaigning for social change. Changing the national conversation around working class issues and gender equity. Making sure that our stories are also on the front lines, that our voices are heard. She does that.
Dominique is fierce.
Through her work Sunset Baby and Detroit ’67, she talks about urgent issues of police brutality, political loyalty, legacy, and conflict. These works illicit real debates in which Dominique as writer demands truth from all of her characters. In these instances she does not take sides. She forces us all to reckon with the truth, reckon with humanity and its base on those two forces, truth and humanity. She then asks the question, “What do we do now?”
Dominique is brilliant.
With one of her most recent works is Pipeline, which speaks directly to the school to prison pipeline, she brings up a real issue that is palpable in black and brown urban communities, a conversation we are steeped within. I know this play intimately, know the care and the love with which she paints her world, know the love with which she paints brown mothers, and more importantly the love with which she pains young black men. I wanted the theater to be filled with nothing but young people to see themselves and narratives reflected. Well, I walked into Lincoln Center Theater, which I have been many a times, this experience was different. I had never seen so many black and brown, New York young people in this particular theater. These groups were advocated and organized, and at theater due to Dom’s persistence and sweat equity. In addition, we were all met with an insert in the Playbill penned by Dominique that encouraged the audience to respond vocally if we felt the need, to clap when we felt it, to cry if we needed. It was an invitation to bring their whole selves to this experience, their whole selves. She had created a sanctuary for them to have an experience of transformation. Never before have I seen a writer take such agency over the whole theatre-going experience to empower, and not silence, these young people. I saw them soar in that theater I was in, and once again, I was left speechless.
Dominique is an agent of change.
It is the job of the artist to reflect the world around them, but I believe that Dominique takes it one step further. She makes sure that everything she touches, every piece of the world that she is in contact with, is forever changed for the better.
To Dom, you warrior, you brilliant agent of change. Today, we salute you. Today and every day.