After years of the play’s development, we were overjoyed last month to finally welcome the creative team, cast, and crew of the world-premiere production of Kia Corthron’s Tempestuous Elements to Arena Stage. The first day of rehearsal was marked by hugs among reunited colleagues, introductions between new collaborators, and presentations by the show’s designers.
We were also treated to moving welcome remarks by Arena leadership and the show’s top creatives, including from director Psalmayene 24:
This is really surreal for me right now. I mean, I’ve been a part of the Arena Stage family for a couple of decades…I started out as an actor with the Living Stage Theatre Company. I then moved into the Education Department, and then that transitioned into the Community Engagement Department. And I’ve directed with the Voices of Now ensemble literally around the world…I’m a part of Arena Stage’s history and this is like a homecoming for me.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to former artistic director Molly Smith—someone who has been a special mentor in my life—for having the courage and foresight to program this play. I’d like to shout out the new queen of the American theater, Hana S. Sharif. And of course, a big shout out to our beloved playwright, Kia Corthron.
Today is a momentous day. Not only because today is the first rehearsal of Arena Stage’s world-premiere production of Kia Corthron’s Tempestuous Elements. But it’s momentous because today is my mother’s birthday. My mother is the first woman, the first Black woman, that I’ve ever loved. (But I’m not here to talk about my mother—the cherished angel that she is.)
I’m here to confess that through this play, I have fallen in love with Anna Julia Cooper (Please don’t tell my wife.) “Why?”, you might ask. “Why have you fallen in love with a woman born in 1858?” I’m glad you inquired. “Is it because she was born into slavery and went on to become the fourth Black woman in the world to earn a PhD?” No. “Is it because she was a protointersectionalist who is one of the first people ever to eloquently write about the unique challenges of being both Black and a woman?” No. “Is it because she had a timelessly beautiful face—the kind of face that has the enchanting power to inspire poets.” No. “Then why? Why Psalmayene 24? Why have you fallen in love with Anna Julia Cooper?” Because she possessed something that is rare and seems to be getting rarer still through the ages: integrity.
Now she wasn’t perfect. Who is? Even Jesus Christ drank wine and hung out with you-know-whats. But she fought for what she believed in. She fought for the benefit of her students. She fought for the uplift of Black people—even when the odds were historically stacked against her. Integrity. And that, for me, is as good a reason to fall in love with someone if there ever was one.
Tempestuous Elements will make its world premiere in the Fichandler Stage starting February 16; get your tickets now!
Photo of Anna Julia Cooper by Scurlock Studios/Smithsonian