Keenan Scott II

Sweater by Valentino

Live from New York: Keenan Scott II

Keenan Scott II's journey to Broadway lasted over fifteen years, starting in a classroom at Maryland's Frostburg State University and ending this past October at the John Golden Theatre, where his powerful work Thoughts of a Colored Man is now running. Born from his undergraduate senior project, Thoughts, the first new play announced for Broadway's reopening, is what Scott describes as a "slam narrative," combining spoken word, slam poetry, and prose to offer a compelling and comprehensive vision of modern Black masculinity. "My goal was to show how we are labeled as a people and turn those stereotypes on their head and show that we're not monolithic," the playwright explains. "We are not these labels that the media might label us with, we are full-bodied human beings like anybody else. Coming from a disenfranchised community, I wanted to break all of those things down and show the widest spectrum of Black men I can and show them in their totality."

Thoughts is one of the more prominent examples of a new crop of works about the Black experience this Broadway season, a long overdue correction that shows promise but offers no guarantees for permanent progress. After last year's movement for racial justice, the theater community is now responding to its own reckoning, launched by an open letter entitled "We See You, White American Theater" in June 2020. Scott's hope is that his work, in helping to lead this moment of transition, speaks to the long legacy of unjustly neglected Black artists before him. "I'm happy to know that I've carried the spirits of my ancestors here and I feel I represent not just myself in this process, I represent my family, I represent the community that made me, my people," he adds. "I truly, truly stand on their shoulders and I'm driven by the spirits of my ancestors so I'm feeling the weight of that in a very beautiful way."

For Scott, who grew up in public housing in New York, his play's arrival on theater's biggest stage is a marker of both how much is now different and how much has stayed the same. "I tell everybody, unfortunately a lot of the themes and issues that I touch on in the play have not changed for my people and my community," he says. "I started writing this play when Sean Bell was killed in my neighborhood in Queens fifteen years ago. That was George Floyd before George Floyd and unfortunately these things keep on happening. I pray with the new attention and the new climate that we're in that people will view my piece a little differently."

Thoughts of a Colored Man is now playing at the John Golden Theatre, New York. Read this story and many more in print by preordering our Fall issue here. See the full Live in New York series here.

Hair by Tina Outen at Streeters. Makeup by Andrew Colvin at Streeters. Set design by Jacob Burstein at MHS Artists. Photographer's assistant: Kyrre Kristoffersen. Stylist's assistants: Maria Montane and Malén Denis. Hairstylist's assistant: Amesha Alston. Makeup artist's assistant: Crisdanil Hidalgo. Set designer's assistant: Casilda Garcia Lopez. Digital technician: Leslie Knott. Production by Heather Robbins at CLM.

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