This month, award-winning British playwright, actor/director, broadcaster and singer Kwame Kwei-Armah relocates to Baltimore from London, not to put up a new play or act a short-lived part, but to prepare to play the full-time role of artistic director at Centerstage starting July 1.
Kwei-Armah is well known to Baltimore audiences through his plays Elmina’s Kitchen and Let There Be Love—which had their American debuts at Centerstage—as well as his work as director of Naomi Wallace’s Things of Dry Hours. He serves on the board of The National Theatre and The Tricycle Theatre, both in London. He most recently served as Artistic Director for the World Arts Festival in Senegal, a month-long world festival of black arts and culture, which featured more than two thousand artists from 52 countries participating in 16 different arts disciplines. As an actor, Kwei-Armah appeared in the British TV medical drama Casualty, and in a recurring role on Holby City, among many other British television appearances. He was born in England, and is of British Afro-Caribbean descent.
You have moved to Baltimore with your wife and four children. How do your kids like this town?
Very much. My eldest has been a few times and they always have a great time.
I’ve read that you are super excited to move to Baltimore — and of course work for Centerstage — and I’m wondering what you like most about this city?
The people—the artistic community—and for personal reasons the Harbor. It was the last New Year I spent with my mother, and we spent it there.
Could you name a major difference and maybe a surprising similarity between Baltimore and London, where you’ve been living?
The major difference is that Baltimore doesn’t have a subway! Similarities are harder. I have to think more on that.
Will you make regular, even daily, time for your own writing as you serve as artistic director?
It won’t be daily, but I intend to write one play a year.
What do you expect your (hyper-busy) new schedule will look like?
A combination of finding plays, directing plays, having ideas, having meetings, fund raising and being inspired.
Soon to ask, yes, but what do you already know you’d like to achieve in this role?
Hard to say, but I want to raise the profile of Centerstage nationally and internationally. Want to bring an international feel to the theater and a stable of new writers to the stage.
Irene Lewis said Centerstage is “extremely lucky to get my friend Kwame, who had been an associate artist here. It’s nice to provide some continuity, but it will be very different.” What will that main difference be?
I stand on Irene’s shoulders, so there is a lot of common ground. I’ll know how different we are after a year of reviews!
You said that the selection board for this position was” tremendously brave to make a man of color the artistic director.” Can you say more about this point? Why, “brave”?
Well, there is only one other man of color running a major LORT (League of Resident Theaters) theater, however, I was speaking more to the fact that they “cast” a playwright to run the theater.
Board president Jay Smith said the theater will continue its “commitment to diverse plays and the African-American community in Baltimore, which is a legacy Irene brought to us and left with us.” How conscious will you be of aiming to bring in a diverse audience and diverse material?
I am absolutely committed to it. It’s one of the pillars of our theater’s success.
Having carved a career as a professional playwright and director, what special insights or strengths do you bring to this artistic position?
I’m not sure that they are special insights, but I feel having played all the roles–from actor to writer to director to now producer–I’ll have a natural feel for what is good, not just for our audiences, but for all the theater-makers who pass through or reside here.