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Spotlight Interview: AriDy Nox in conversation with adrienne maree brown.

All Amma wants is to cook her gumbo in peace, but with estranged grandfathers, overbearing mothers, flighty sisters, overly-ambitious best friends, and precocious unborn children plaguing her every move, it’s anyone’s guess whether or not she will succeed. An investigation of Black motherhood and simple magic, AriDy Nox’s bean is a fast-paced and hilarious installment in the Omilade heptology: a series of plays that follow the matrilineal line of the Omilade’s and their mysterious connection to Mother Bayou, a deity of great power and equal danger.

Two days after their golden birthday, AriDy connected with adrienne maree brown for a liberatory conversation about the origins of their work; creation as an act of listening; the labor the world demands from Black femmes; storytelling as portal-opening; and care as a form of generational wealth. Their conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

adrienne maree brown (amb): I don’t think this is your first play. When did you start thinking that playwriting might be the way you were meant to create? Or one of the ways you're meant to create?

AriDy Nox (AD): I’ve been a storyteller forever. I was always a kid who reads. My parents would catch me reading into the night, way past bedtime. And because reading is a good thing, there would be no repercussions, so I really did not learn to stop. I read everything. At my elementary school we had a little library in our classroom, and then you would get library passes to visit the big library. I think you got a maximum of three a week. I had already read all of the books that interested me in my classroom, and I had run out of library passes. And I was probably already starting to exhibit some minor ADHD. I would finish all my work, read my eight million books, then take a nap, and get in trouble for taking a nap even though my work was done.

amb: You’re just supposed to be present and just sit there.

AN: Right. And I’m like, I can’t.

amb: I need to nap so I can stay up all night and read!

AN: Exactly. I was up until 2am reading! I need some recovery time! So I was out of my library passes and I asked my teacher if I could go to the library even without a pass. I said, “I need new books! I need new books!” And she said, “Write your own book.” I do not know if she was being sarcastic. I don’t think it really matters. I ended up writing my own fantasy book. Even then I was really into fantasy and sci fi. So I ended up writing a very bad, very long, multi-chaptered fantasy book that I forced my entire class, including said teacher, to read. And I brought it home and showed it to my parents. My mom typed it up for me and asked me really useful questions. She was like, “Let’s talk about plot structure. Let’s talk about character development. You have a door that appears out of nowhere. Where does it go? How does it appear?” You know, really good, world-building dramaturgy. And I entered it into a contest at school and I won third place, because I cheated. The writing prompt was, “What do you like to do in the winter?” And I was like, “In the winter, I like to write stories. Here is a story…”

amb: That’s amazing.

AN: And I just kept writing. More multi-chapter stuff, and poetry, occasionally. Film, too, I was really big into the YouTube scene, I taught myself how to edit on Windows Movie Maker, and then iMovie, and I had my own vlog series. My senior year in high school I was trying to make my second or third short film, but I didn’t love self-producing. I was living in Mississippi at the time, on the Gulf Coast, and I was really deep in the community theater community there. I did theater at school, and at a couple of community theaters. And a director who knew me really well heard me talking about my short film, and she suggested I turn it into a one-act play. So I made a really weird sci-fi play.

I also make musicals, and I love writing musicals. It’s a transcendent experience for me. Musicals require a lot of talking, figuring out how to co-channel with collaborators, and a lot of back-and-forth and singing because I’m not a traditional composer. So it’s also just a lot of sound. And then [non-musical] plays are often me getting really quiet and figuring out how to deepen. The contrast of those two processes, I think, really keeps me balanced and sane.

amb: I love that. Thank you. One of my favorite things is understanding how an artist finds their primary places where they like creating. If you’re creative, there’s a period of your life when you’re like, I’m just gonna try all the things. I’m gonna try everything. I’m watching my nibling go through this right now. She’s writing nonstop novels, fanfiction novels. But she’s also got a bass, and she wants to be a DJ, and she’s gone through a seamstress stage. She’s gone through all these different phases, and now it seems like writing is the thing. It’s so cool to watch it in someone young and realize, Oh, I did that. I went through that. All the creative people I know go through phases of finding their way, and finding their voice.

I also think that every way of creating is actually a way of listening. It’s all different ways of listening. I’m a songwriter, but the way that I hear stuff doesn’t make me feel, Oh, I need to learn how to play 14 instruments. What I hear are the lyrics and the core melody, as if someone is walking through a forest singing it by themselves. That’s how I hear. And as I was reading your play, I thought, Oh, you hear this dialogue that is outside of time, outside of space the way that we’re familiar with it. But there’s also an aspect of the familiar. We’re floating in time-space continuums here, and we’re definitely in a Black kitchen in the South. Both of those things are equally true, and why don’t people think of a Black kitchen in the South as being a sci-fi, space-age location? You know?

AN: No, exactly that.

amb: Tell me a little bit about how this story started to appear to you?

AN: We had playwriting classes in my [musical theater] grad program, to really understand structure for book-writing. For one of the final exercises, we had to take pictures, pull things off of the table, and think of corresponding structures we wanted to experiment with. I got this beautiful postcard of this young, Black femme toddler coming out of water that was sparkling and interdimensional. Some of my best ideas are just really clear, in some way. It could be a really clear structure, or a really clear setting. In this case, what came to me, really clearly, was a whole story—and this is now the plot of another play, witchling—of a young woman who lost her husband and daughter in a fire, and she makes a deal with her village’s local deity, Mother Bayou, to get a new daughter. Mother Bayou only has one daughter, so she’s like, “I’ll share her with you. But you have to return her every night.” And of course, things happen. I had this play fully mapped out in my mind, but I could not write it, which was very weird for me. I could only manage one little opening monologue, and then it was very stubbornly stuck, so I put it away in my little drawer. And when I applied for the Emerging Writers Group, I applied with a different play. But I talked about witchling in the interview. I said, I get the feeling maybe that play is actually more than one play. I think it might be a triptych, and I want to work on the triptych. So bean was supposed to be part of this triptych, and was my origin story for a particular character, Old Lady. But the more I’ve worked on bean, the more I’ve realized the whole is not a triptych. It’s actually seven plays, tracing seven generations of this matrilineal line, that are all in relationship to Mother Bayou, and making their own different kind of bargains with her, and with the village.

I was smile-laughing at what you were saying about songwriting, because in another play in the cycle, bayou, the god-world is mostly heard in music. Little Goddess hears prayers in that walking-through-the-forest music sound, which is the kind of composing I do by myself the most. She hears everyone singing to her, or singing around her, or the environment singing to her, and out of that, she becomes Mother Bayou. And bean began with me asking, how is Old Lady born? How does she come into the world? I thought, she has this mom who wants to have a baby, but she doesn’t want to have all of the stuff you have to have in order to have a baby, so she gets this magic bean. I wrote a version of it. And it was really similar to witchling; not that it didn’t want to be written, but it felt like there was more. At first, I don’t think Child was even really a character. Or she showed up, but a lot less. It just kept evolving, kept splaying out, and the drama with Jules, all of this stuff just kept coming as I pulled that thread. And that’s still happening. I mean, I’m still writing it. I have two weeks!

amb: I felt quite bewitched by the way Child is written, and the dialogue that’s happening between Child and Amma. Anyone who’s ever been in that place of trying to decide about creating or not creating life in your body—it feels like such an intimate, particular kind of conversation. I’m so curious to see how you’re going to stage that part of it, because it really is this otherworldly thing of like, just their legs. Have you figured that out? Or you don’t have to figure that out, some director will figure that out.

AN: And luckily, Taylor [Reynolds] who’s directing this reading doesn’t have to figure it out yet. But yeah, one of the things I’m excited about, whenever it has a staged performance, is how does the reveal work?

amb: It feels like this play is a lot about heartbreak. And longing. Jules is longing, Bird is longing, Amma. All these longings that are moving at odds with each other. What was breaking your heart as you were writing this play?

AN: Sometimes I feel like I’m too embodied to notice, or to be fully cognizant of what’s happening in the play. So often when I’m writing, I feel like I’m channeling more than generating. There’s a way in which the story feels so much itself. When I was talking about witchling being like, “Okay, you can’t write me yet”— that’s really how it actually feels to me. The play is telling me, “You don’t have enough information.”  Or, at the time it just felt like, “Not yet.” And I’m like, “Okay.” Because I don’t fight with my creative voice anymore.

amb: That’s right.

AN: But to answer your question directly… I’m developing a practice where it is a deepening into myself when I write, rather than trying to pull from the ether, or generate, or use my skill set, or whatever, but like you said, trying to listen; really figuring out how to listen to the work. It’s requiring me to be more of myself. And that’s showing up in every aspect of my life. What does it mean to be my full self? And that’s been heartbreaking.

amb: Yup.

AN: It’s been revelatory to understand how much of myself I have not been for a very long time. And so, a deep longing to do that unapologetically. My birthday was yesterday, I turned 29.

amb: It was? Happy birthday!

AN: No wait, it was two days ago. It was on Monday, the 29th. So, my golden birthday. And I wrote that day, “I feel more myself than ever,” which is true. But I still feel that I am myself apologetically. I always have to catch myself from saying that I’m sorry, around so many aspects of myself. There is a new line in the play—I’m gonna misquote it—I think I wrote it only three weeks ago—“I don’t want the things that everybody wants me to want. I want something that I can’t quite imagine yet.” And I think that’s my deepest longing: to be able to have curiosity around who I am, to be able to let that flow and evolve, and to not be afraid that it’s going to be so outside of what everybody wants me to want, that it’s not going to be accessible to me in any real way, or that it’s something that I have to say sorry for. Because I still feel that sometimes. So that’s the heartbreak and longing I’ve been grappling with, for a pretty long while now.

amb: I’ve been working on this theater project [To Feel A Thing: A Ritual For Emergence]—and really, theater has not been my space, so it’s very new for me. Often when I create, I’m like, “I’m just gonna follow this.” There’s an impulse, and I’m going to follow it. So many folks are asking, “But what is it? And how do you want people to feel, and where does it land?” And I’m like, “It’s gonna show me, it’s gonna tell me, it’s gonna explain to me!” Especially since you’re about two weeks from you reading, do you have a sense, at this point, of what you want people to walk away with from this play?

AN: Okay, I’m having a lot of reactions.

amb: You can reject it as well.

AN: It’s not that I’m rejecting the question. This is the deep Gemini in me. I’m having a very deep, dual reaction. Part of my reaction is, I think intentionality in theater, especially because it’s so embodied, is really important. So I really do understand that question. What is your intent? What are you hoping for? Because if you don’t shape things with intent, it’s still gonna have an impact. You just didn’t shape it.

amb: Yup, absolutely.

AN: I’ve seen that happen. And then people are defending the show, like, “Oh, that’s not what I meant. That’s not what I meant.” And it’s like, “Okay, but that’s what it’s doing.” Which is why I think development processes, having readings, having workshops, are so useful—because you can see what the play is doing before it has to go and be an independent entity. So I totally get that question. And as a dramaturg, it’s a question I’m always asking other people, and myself. But sometimes I feel that they’re very separate impulses. So the dramaturg in me is like, “What a great question! Answer it, AriDy!” But the artist in me… like you said, it’s channeling, it’s listening. For this play, I knew very early on it was going to be about Amma. The things I knew almost immediately: We weren’t going to leave the kitchen.

amb: Ever.

AN: Ever.

amb: I love that.

AN: More importantly, people were going to come to Amma. Amma wasn’t going to go to people. There are different plays in this seven-play series where people are going places, doing things, traveling. I knew, with this play, Amma is in the kitchen, making her gumbo, and that’s the play. And I knew it was about motherhood, and what it means to be intentional about bringing life into the world, even if that intentionality doesn’t look the way that other people think it should look, or imagine it would look like.

Those were my intentions, going into the play. But I also feel—and I feel this with most plays—I can feel the larger intent, but there are so many intricacies within it. And that always feels like the magic—when people can tell me a thing about the play that I didn’t know.

amb: I love that part of it. I’m like, “Oh it is? Wow!”

AN: I just did this two-week development process in Minnesota for a different play, A Walless Church, that I’ve been writing for years, and I think it’s finally almost done. An actor said something so brilliant. She was talking about rest, and perfectionism. She said that the way people are asking these characters, who are godlings, who are taking on Black woman forms, to do a thing—“The way that people ask Black women to do a thing quickly and perfectly; that’s the frustration the godlings are having with the process.” And I was like, “That’s why that happened!!!!” It was a small part of the play that so many people had asked me, “Why is it here? What is it supposed to be doing?” And I was like, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” And she just very naturally intuited, “Yeah, this is really about that thing about perfectionism.” And I was like, “It is! It is about that! Thank you.” That has happened to me enough in development processes where I can balance the impulse of, I know what the play is supposed to be doing, I know what my intention is around it, and more intuitively, I just know that this is supposed to be here.

amb: Yes.

AN: I’m not a precious writer. Any of my collaborators will tell you, I’m not a precious writer, I will cut a thing in a second, usually too fast for my collaborators.

amb: That’s the Gemini in you.

AN: They’re like, “Hey! Can we just sit with it for like, a workshop, before you cut it?” And I’m like, “Naw, cut it!” I’m not precious about things—which gives me the trust that when my body, when my intuition tells me, “Don’t cut it,” it’s not out of me being precious. It’s not like, “Oh, I really, really love this.” It’s, “That’s supposed to be there.” Can I give you, explicitly, language about why it’s supposed to be there? No, I don’t have it yet. I might not have it. But I do know it’s supposed to be there. So there are things in this play that I know are supposed to be there. I know the Jules dynamic is supposed to be there, even though the dramaturg in me is sometimes like, “Is Jules with his stupid, charismatic face taking over the play?” There are moments where I have that question. But then I’m like, no, Jules is supposed to be there. Jules is doing something.

amb: It feels like it’s a situation in which everyone else is kind of looking at Jules as if he should be the central aspect of the storyline, except for Amma. And Amma is just sort of like, I’m literally on a different mission right now.

AN: Yeah, I’m doing a different thing.

amb: And I feel the different stages of maturity that everyone’s at in the process of being able to discern all of that. Which feels really grounded, actually. Amma, it’s not like she’s sure what she’s doing, but she’s sure that—she’s like, I’m in my process right now. And in an ideal world, I would just be able to have my fucking process. Make my gumbo, do my thing. Except I’m in this world in which every single person in my entire village has to come in right now and make demands of me. And I still gotta find the clarity to have my moment.

AN: This kind of ties to your heartbreak question, too. I was in another writing fellowship process, a year of writing this play with the Horizon Theatre in Atlanta. And part of that process was that they would gather all these Black women together in these talking circles on Zoom, and we would just talk about different themes for the night. The writers would take notes and then we were supposed to make a play out of it. And there was this theme of everyone needing everything from us all of the time, and there not really being a safe space from that. Other Black women would understand. But there was no escaping that everyone needs something from us.

amb: Oh yeah.

AN: We talked about politics, we talked about the prison industrial complex, we talked about spirituality, we talked about church, the Black church, and branching out of the Black church, we talked about the South versus the north—like, these are just the ones I went to—and in every single one of those sessions, at some point we talked about how much everyone needs from us. Like, when it comes to the prison industrial complex, somebody thinks about all of the labor demands on the women outside. When we’re talking about spirituality, black women are the pillars of the black church. It always came back to the labor, seeing labor. And how do you carve out a space for your own longings in the midst of all the labor that everyone asks of you? So I think that is something that has naturally become the center point of the piece. What does it look like to watch a Black femme, a Black woman, really pursue her own longings, in an unorthodox, untraditional way, quietly and unassumingly, even as the world demands, demands, demands from her in a million different ways.

amb: And to be the main character, regardless of what other people’s attention is on. Right?

AN: Yeah.

amb: Which I really appreciated. Is there anything I didn’t ask you about, that you want to say about this play?

AN: I think, to the point about it being a seven-play series. There’s something about it, to me, that’s about generational wealth. And the intentions we’re building. There’s a monologue Amma says about why she’s doing this. There’s something so real about it, to me, about wanting something different for the next generation. I think that’s a really big part of all seven plays. How are we planning for the next generation? And what is their inheritance, outside of the material? What is their spiritual inheritance? Care, and the inheritance of care. I also want to say that I’m so excited for your theater piece, because I love Troy Anthony, and obviously I really love your work in all its manifestations. So I’m really excited to see it.

amb: I’m so happy to be creating in the same field that you’re creating in. I think there’s something important about the Black folks who are making theatrical experiences right now, where we need to open portals that take us out of time, out of this moment, and allow us to envision the future. That’s what I felt so much with this play. You’re opening a portal; that’s what I’m trying to do. You’re trying to break some cycles; that’s what I’m trying to do. And it’s hard, because I like to make stuff where everyone can see it as fast as possible, and theater feels so inaccessible to me, still. I’m learning from Troy, from Charlotte [Brathwaite], and Sunder [Ganglani], all of my collaborators: how do I deal with the fact that maybe only 50 people got to see this, or 500 people, or whatever it is? But it’s portal-opening. Even if two people get to experience it, that is a legit portal experience.

AN: I feel the same way. When I say that theater is such an embodied art, that’s exactly what I mean. It’s such portal-opening, it’s such us going through together, coming into a space. That’s what I love about great shows. You come into a space and you consent to be transported. It’s also what I hate about bad shows. Like, I consented to be transported. How dare you take me here?

amb: Take me back!

AN: Take me back now. Turn around. But when it’s good, it’s just, Oh, you took me here?

amb: Thank you.

AN:  Oh, wow, I could never have gotten here without you. Thank you for opening this door.

amb: That’s right.

AN: And in that way, sometimes I think it has to be smaller in order for us all to honor the integrity of the process. Like, I think when you do a show in an arena, it’s very different from when you do a show in a black box. Not better or worse, just totally different.

amb: Even live versus not-live is a whole…

AN: Also different. Also a different door opening. I also just want to uplift community theaters. I think there’s something, especially about the New York community, where we’re like, “Oh, this [New York run] is the life of the show.” Forgetting that, for me, at least, this is the way that the show launches and gets into the public consciousness. So then it can go to a community theater on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, where someone who hasn’t written their first play yet can be in a play and experience theater and fall in love with theater, so that they can open their own portals.

amb: That’s the thing. I love this, and I’m really proud of you, and grateful for the work you’re making. And I’m super excited to see what happens with it.

AN: Thank you. You’re invited of course, if you’re in New York.

amb: I think it’s happening while I’m in Amsterdam.

AN: Oh, right, you’ll be in Holland with Troy. Oh my god, break legs!

amb: Thank you. Break legs! Peace.



AriDy Nox is a multi-disciplinary black femme storyteller and social activist with a variety of forward-thinking creative works under her/their belt including the sci-fi operetta Project Tiresias (2018), the ancestral reckoning play A Walless Church (2019), the afrofuturist ecopocalypse musical Metropolis  (2019), and many others. Nox creates out of the vehement belief that creating a future in which marginalized peoples are free requires a radical imagination. Their tales are offerings intended to function as small parts of an ancient, expansive, awe-inspiring tradition of world-shaping, created by and for black femmes. As a graduate of the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at Tisch School of the Performing Arts at NYU and a beneficiary of the Emerging Writers Group at The Public Theater, she has been inordinately privileged to share the workings of her imagination among a vast array of inspiring and supportive artists of various radical backgrounds throughout the city.

adrienne maree brown grows healing ideas in public through her multi-genre writing, her music and her podcasts. Informed by 25 years of movement facilitation, somatics, Octavia E Butler scholarship and her work as a doula, adrienne has nurtured Emergent Strategy, Pleasure Activism, Radical Imagination and Transformative Justice as ideas and practices for transformation. She is the author/editor of several published texts, cogenerator of a tarot deck and a developing musical ritual.