“When at curtain the theater goes dark and we, as one, take in that breath of heightened anticipation, what would happen if the lights bumped back up and we found ourselves in the midst of people of every race and ethnicity and age and socioeconomic status? Then theater would have done what it can do best: calling us all together into one space to share a live event—a dynamic, unpredictable, charged interaction between performers on stage and an audience that brings with it a myriad of backgrounds and traditions and histories, and thus leaving us all the more richer.” — Kia Corthron
Renowned playwright and novelist Kia Corthron has etched her name into the annals of theater and literature with an extensive body of work that challenges societal norms and delves into the complexities of the human experience.
Born in Cumberland, Maryland, Corthron credits her second grade teacher, Mrs. Proudfoot, as the person who inspired her to write. “I (originally) wanted to be a teacher. It was Mrs. Proudfoot who first encouraged me to be a writer,” she stated. Like Tempestuous Elements’ Anna Julia Cooper, Corthron was later called to teach in other forms. “Eventually I did teach writing to various communities: graduate school playwriting students, inmates on death row, war veterans, incarcerated males and females. Most recently I led a zoom writing workshop for sufferers of COVID.”
Corthron is the author of numerous plays, which have been produced across the U.S. and internationally. The diversity and richness of Corthron’s storytelling shines through in her numerous works exploring societal issues, personal struggles, and the human condition. From the explosive Breath, Boom to the heart-wrenching Come Down Burning, her narratives resonate with audiences across the globe. Of Breath, Boom, The New York Times said, “Ms. Corthron has created a vivid world, believable and eye-opening, a place worthy of a dramatic visit, where no one would want to live but many have to.”
Corthron’s Tempestuous Elements is a testament to her continued work making unknown history come alive for audiences. This searing new play reveals the struggle of educational luminary Anna Julia Cooper as she fights for her students’ rights to an advanced curriculum. In a scandal orchestrated by the government, her tenure as principal of D.C.’s historic M Street School is sabotaged by her colleagues and neighbors, leading Cooper’s professional and personal relationships to become fodder for innuendo and social ostracization.
When asked about how to balance writing about real life historical figures, Corthron replied, “When weaving nonfiction elements into an invented narrative, unless it’s a time travel book and the point of the story is to rewrite history, I believe it’s a matter of ethics to be historically accurate in portraying real characters. That doesn’t mean a living or dead icon can’t interact with fictional characters.”
It is clear Corthron’s plays are not just stories—they are powerful vehicles for social commentary and change. In the vast landscape of contemporary drama, Kia Corthron stands as a trailblazer, pushing boundaries, and challenging audiences to engage with the complexities of our shared humanity.
Tempestuous Elements will make its world premiere at Arena Stage starting February 16! Buy tickets today.