In the week leading up to WAM Theatre’s reading of THE LIGHT, playwright Loy A. Webb took time to answer our questions about her inspirations, motivations, and working life.
What were your initial inspirations or motivations for writing THE LIGHT?
The inspiration for THE LIGHT came out of me trying to figure out where I stood in relation to the issue the play talks about. There was an actor that I was a fan of. I adored him and his work because he was the type of actor who didn’t accept roles if he felt it was demeaning in any way to African-Americans. And I was like yes, we need more people like that!
He had a film that was supposed to come out. It was his passion project that he worked really hard on and I had followed its trajectory. It went to Sundance and did extremely well. And I was super excited to see it. Then a little while after allegations came out that he had sexually assaulted a young woman while he was in college. I remember thinking, I would love to hear the young lady’s side of the story. Not that I didn’t believe it, but I always want to hear what the victim has to say.
Her brother ended up coming forward saying she had committed suicide five years earlier because she was still dealing with the traumatic events of that incident. I remember people were debating all over social media about whether or not we should support the film when it came to theaters nationwide.
Around that time, I remember I went to see South Side With You, the love story about Barack and Michelle Obama. And a trailer for that other film came on and I started crying. I cried for that young lady that took her life, and I cried because of my confusion about the situation with this particular actor. And I said I cannot support the film, but I can write about my feelings on all of this. That was in 2016 and that was the naisance of THE LIGHT.
Was there a particular moment or part of the story that came to you first? and conversely, was there a moment or aspect of a character or the relationship that surprised you as you were writing?
What came to me first was I knew I wanted it to be a couple. I just felt like that was fertile ground to explore this conversation. And what surprised me was how much I fell in love, with the love story of these two characters. As I wrote the beginning, I just kept being like “Wow, I love them for each other, and despite what I’m about to send them through, I am rooting for their love.”
Everyone who saw the off-Broadway performances of THE LIGHT in theatres in 2019 (pre-pandemic) talked about how moving it was. A lot has happened since that time. How do you think this play speaks to the moment that we find ourselves in now?
Unfortunately, this play is still relevant. During the pandemic, a young woman named Oluwatoyin Salau, who was an activist, was sexually assaulted and murdered. In the midst of the protest for Black Lives this summer, her death made us question do we value Black women’s lives even as they are on the frontlines protesting for justice for those killed at the hands of police? Someone tweeted and this is a literal quote from around the time Oluwatoyin got murdered, “Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about Loy A. Webb’s amazing play THE LIGHT. There is a monologue in which the female protagonist, Genesis exclaims, ‘We’re not worth marching over!’ She is speaking in regards to black women. I can’t get that out of my head.”
It was that tweet that reminded me that until marginalized women’s lives are valued, this play will continue to be relevant.
I was fascinated to hear that you are an attorney as well as a playwright, can you tell us something about how those two careers intersect and inform one another?
Denzel Washington said it best, “Show business is 90 percent business, 10 percent show. Without the business, there is no show.” Being an attorney, and keeping the above quote in mind, my business is always as important as my art.
Is there something that you are currently working on that you’d like to tell our audiences about?
I just wrote on a television show called The Ms. Pat Show which will be premiering on BET PLUS this summer. I’m so excited about it. It’s a comedy about a real life comedian Patricia Williams aka Ms. Pat and her journey. It was co-created by my playwriting brother, Jordan E. Cooper. He wrote the brilliant play, Ain’t No Mo’ which premiered at The Public Theater in 2019. I had a chance thanks to Ms. Pat’s generosity to see my episode filmed and I had such a blast and I’m so proud of the show we created.
WAM Theatre is an organization that operates at the intersection of arts and activism. So I always like to ask the artists who work with us:
What art/artists are currently inspiring you?
I would have to say my peers in the arts are inspiring me. So many of us got knocked down during the pandemic and to see their resilience in spite of has made me more resilient and they are consistently my lifeblood, whenever I second guess whether or not this is something I want to continue to do when things get tough.
What activism/activists do you draw inspiration from and/or want to shout out?
I recently bought letters that playwright Alice Childress, who I also call my literary mother, wrote her attorney. In those letters she’s discussing her concerns about taking on a particular project. She talks about how hard the business is, but yet not being able to accept a show just for money if it doesn’t align with her values. Alice’s words in those letters, will forever be my reminder of not what I do, but why.
WAM Theatre’s digital reading of Loy A. Webb’s play THE LIGHT is streaming April 25 – May 2.