Dael Orlandersmith is an award-winning poet, playwright and performer. Her 2002 play, “Yellowman,” was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Her new solo show is called “Forever,” currently at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City.
In the show, Orlandersmith revisits some of the most formative — and harrowing — memories of her childhood. She recounts how she escaped from her abusive, alcoholic mother by turning to music and books. She joined us in studio to talk about “Forever.”
On finding a family of artists
People in the arts, specifically, are looking for other people to validate them: Do other people feel the way I do? The outsider thing is something that's really throughout my work — Janis, Jimi, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain. All of us are looking for a family in that regard, aesthetically, who lean toward the arts.
On the significance of Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris:
I went because there are a few people that are buried there. ["Forever"] starts and ends at Jim Morrison's grave, and The Doors play a heavy role. In terms of literature ... Richard Wright is buried there. When I read "Black Boy," I [thought], Oh my God. When I heard Chopin, I [thought], Oh my goodness. When we read something, when we hear something, we realize we're not alone.
On putting a very personal story onstage:
It's still a piece of theater. There's still a beginning, middle and story/conflict resolution. And this is also a hybrid. It's certainly based on fact because these things did happen, but also it's memoir, it's memory and impressions and thoughts ... I also think one gets to a certain age where you just want to tell an interesting story. You have nothing to lose at this point. As one ages, you become more comfortable in your skin. But also I just want this to stand on its own as a piece of theater.