Idris Goodwin: The conversation starter

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Idris Goodwin is an American poet, rapper, essayist, lecturer, professor, author and playwright. He is offering five of his “Short Plays for an Anti-Racist Tomorrow” to theaters and communities everywhere to perform for free.

“My work has been screaming ‘Black Lives Matter’ for a long time, now,” Goodwin said.  “These plays are my invitation to spark conversation.”

During the month of November, Riverwalk Theatre is presenting the five plays virtually.  Goodwin’s “Nothing Rhymes with Juneteenth,” “Black Flag,” and “Act Three” can be viewed by going to the theater’s website and Facebook and YouTube pages.

On Nov. 23, “Water Gun Song,” directed by Janell Hall is Riverwalk’s next Goodwin show.  On Nov. 30, “#MATTER,” directed by Rose Jangmi Cooper, will be shown. Both are at 7 p.m. and can be streamed afterward.

Goodwin has no target audience for his plays. They are meant for “everyone and anyone,” he said. “I write for humans.” 

The response to the play quintet has been overwhelmingly positive. “It’s been downloaded over 10,000 times in six months,” Goodwin said. “People from all over the world have checked the plays out.” Fifteen different organizations from theaters to universities and other community organizations have created digital presentations.

The five plays are intentionally, distinctly different. “I am trying to provide a variety of entry points for different readers,” he said. “Black Flag” and “#MATTER” are more debate-driven and oppositional. “Nothing Rhymes with Juneteenth” was meant to be more celebratory and accessible and “Act Free” is a tragic comedy.

“‘Water Gun Song’ is bittersweet and has already prompted some very powerful responses from parents,” Goodwin said.  That play earned the most positive feedback.  “Folks of all backgrounds have said, ‘That’s the rule in our house!’ or ‘My mom wouldn’t let me have water guns,’” Goodwin said.

Of the five plays, he has no favorite. “I love all my children equally,” Goodwin said. “Each has something unique that I like.”

“It all started with ‘#MATTER’ back in 2016,” he said. “That’s my oldest sibling.”

Riverwalk is presenting that play as a Zoom webinar. From a link on Riverwalk’s website and Facebook page, guests will be able to participate in “#MATTER” live.  The other four Monday plays were pre-recorded.

“Black Flag” was also written in 2016. The other three were written in June of 2020 — just after George Floyd’s police murder in Minneapolis on May 25.

“Racism is awful and messy and completely illogical,” Goodwin said. “It is something that has been diagnosed centuries ago that the country refuses to permanently cure.”

“We have to move foreword and we can only do that if we get some solidarity,” he said.  “We can only get solidarity if we get some understanding. This is where the artists come in,” Goodwin said. “We tell the stories and we stimulate the mind.”

“I’ve been telling stories damn near my whole life,” he said. In the past 20 years, Goodwin has written over 50 plays. “I got full-length, three acts. I got plays for youth; I got shorts. I got two-acts, history plays, Zoom plays, comedies,” he said. “I do this for real.”

Goodwin might be best known for plays such as “And in this Corner …  Cassius Clay” and “HYPE MAN” — a break beat play that was selected out of some 540 submissions and earned the Elliot Norton Award for Best New Play of 2018.

In Goodwin’s 2010 album, “Break Beat Poems,” he coined the term, “Break Beat Poetry.”  Goodwin is also famous for leading a “I Like to Rhyme” song on “Sesame Street.” In the past eight years, the song netted over 30,000 views on YouTube.  His channel also has popular recordings of original musical raps and spoken poems.

Goodwin was born in Detroit. He received a B.A. in film, video and screenwriting at Colombia College Chicago. Goodwin received a MFA in creative writing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and his graduate work was at the University of Iowa Playwright Workshop.

Goodwin has lectured at schools and colleges throughout the United States.  Between 2012 and 2018, he was an assistant professor in theater and dance at Colorado College.

He left to become the artistic director of StageOne Family Theatre in Louisville. In May, he returned to become irector of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College.

“I am the vision guy,” Goodwin said. “But right now, because of COVID-19, we are doing mostly virtual content and planning for the future.”

As for the future of the country, he is conditionally optimistic. To reach real equality and justice, “erasure and denial don’t work,” Goodwin said. “Only policy change and, education and disruption have moved us further.”

“Short Plays for an Anti-Racist Tomorrow”

Each broadcast live at 7 p.m. and hosted indefinitely at riverwalktheatre.com and facebook.com/riverwalktheatre.

Nov. 9: “Black Flag,” directed by Rico Bruce Wade

Nov. 16: “Act Free,” directed by Julian Van Dyke

Nov. 23: “Water Gun Song,” directed by Janell Hall

Nov. 30: “#MATTER,” directed by Rose Jangmi Cooper

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