Home > Playwright Posts > “Why do I speak first and then write?”

“Why do I speak first and then write?”




I couldn’t find my playwright headshot to put in this blog so I’m sharing my actor headshot instead.


That’s a really bad lie. I don’t even own a playwright headshot. I wish I did. Or maybe it’s not necessary. A shot of my playwright head. What does my head look like if I’m posing as a playwright and not a performer?


Like the other artistic labels I embrace, playwriting came to me by accident. It began my Junior year of college. I was bored. So I decided to visit my University’s archival collection and look for articles about racial discrimination on my campus. The librarian brought me a 1 foot high manila folder titled “RACE”. The articles dated back to 1968, when Georgetown admitted its first class integrated class.  I spent a whole day in the Archives reading newspaper articles and yearbooks.  At the end of the day I decided that I was going to write a play using this material. The thing was, this play was going to have many voices and only one actor: me. And there it began. In 2008 I premiered suddenly BLACK, at Georgetown to many packed audiences. I became a performance artist.


Since then, I have created and performed another solo show, FUFU & OREOS that continues to evolve.   I mine for new narrative material through extemporaneous storytelling.  It’s like prose up on its feet.


Why do I speak first and then write? I’m sure it’s because I was a debate and public speaking nerd at a boarding high school in the boonies of Western Massachusetts. I also think it’s because my Mother is a really good speaker and storyteller and it definitely has something to do with how Fela Kuti was always performing in the moment.  It’s a lot of things.  I have spoken words with no preparation that start somewhere unknown and then hit the air with immediacy and importance. These words have helped me in high school defeat a debate opponent’s immature philosophy about Wal-Mart’s labor laws (ahem, Deerfield Academy).  Words have saved me from the trauma of family tragedy.  Words have brought me close to strangers.


In the past year, I’ve been finding solace in writing first. Typing on a GoogleDoc or putting pen to paper feels daring in a different way than when I’m performing. I’m hearing a lot of voices in my head it’s extremely scary but exciting to find a new way to bring them to an audience.


My one-minute play in this weekend’s festival, RED DRINK, has been in my belly since I quit my job at Starbucks in 2010. I wanted to know why I was addicted to venti iced passion tea lemonades and I wanted to know why first dates are so silly. I hope you enjoy this minute of exploration because it’s my first where you won’t have to see me to listen to my words.


The first time I heard Mimi and Kyle perform my play the other actors and playwrights around the rehearsal table laughed (a lot, huzzah!) and asked questions and share their stories about sugary beverages and cultural and class-based totems. It was an awesome moment. It gave me a joy that is VERY different from the joy I get from performing. Last year I was an actor for Boston’s first OMPF and now I get to participate in a different way. I’m very grateful to Dominic and Boston Playwrights’ Theatre for this experience.


-Obehi Janice


The 2nd Annual Boston One-Minute Play Festival in partnership with Boston Playwrights’ Theatre will run Jan 5-7 at 8PM at BPT. Tickets are $20 and available here.The Jan 6th performance will livestream howlround.com’s New Play TV



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