The world premiere of The High Ground is the result of many years of research, writing, and workshopping, as Arena commissioned Nathan back in 2016 as part of the inaugural group of playwrights in the Power Plays cycle. This is the largest commissioning project in Arena Stage’s history: an ambitious initiative that births 25 new plays and musicals from a diverse mix of writers, composers, and lyricists over the course of 10 years. With one story per decade beginning with 1776 through the present, The High Ground is part of the African-American Voices cycle and represents the 1910s. Seven years later—with a pandemic in between—we will finally experience and enjoy the fruit of Nathan’s many years of work with Arena’s support.
Nathan knew from the start that he wanted to dig into the then-hidden story of the Race Riots of Tulsa, Oklahoma—a horrific event in 1921 where an upper-class Black neighborhood (nicknamed “Black Wall Street”) was massacred. It was one of those events that had been left out of history books, with most Americans never having heard of it. Part of the Power Plays’ mission is to include undiscovered, important stories like this one, and Arena’s support of Nathan’s research led him to be an expert on the topic. He wrote several major and very different drafts of this play, leading to a television short series on this subject as well.
In the time since Nathan began his commission, the world changed and woke up to hidden histories like the Tulsa Race Massacre. When the 100th anniversary of the event was commemorated in 2021, Nathan was at the forefront of scholars quoted on the topic. I am proud that Arena Stage had a small part to play in bringing this lost history to the public. The play we have today is a beautiful and lyrical story of the massacre—a complex portrait brought to life with one of his favorite collaborators, Megan Sandberg-Zakian.
Nathan and Megan’s collaboration has been fabulous. Megan serves as the Artistic Director of Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, a home for new works for the stage located on the campus of Boston University, where Nathan currently serves as Director of the MFA Playwriting Program. So, their collaboration is both on and off the stage, and they are helping other artists bring their new work forward!
Many of you may have experienced other Power Plays over the last few years. So far, Arena has produced eight with two more this season. After The High Ground, we will premiere Exclusion by Kenneth Lin in May. Last season, Arena produced Craig Lucas’ Change Agent and Eduardo Machado’s Celia and Fidel. There are currently 10 projects in development with three decades yet to be confirmed. A lot of important stories to be told.
Thank you for being with Arena on this amazing journey through the web of American history and ideas that are part of the past and present.