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The Folger Spotlight

An Interview with Psalmayene 24

As Metamorphoses takes the Folger stage, we share this interview with its director, Psalmayene 24, conducted by production dramaturg Faedra Chartard Carpenter.

Faedra Chatard Carpenter (Metamorphoses dramaturg): You’ve mentioned—in the digital program notes and in outside interviews—that the death of Tyre Nichols in January 2023 was a definitive influence for you. Tyre Nichols’s killing [at the hands of police offers] concretized your vision to direct Metamorphoses with an all-Black cast. Can you share more insight into how this tragedy influenced your vision for the play?

Psalmayene 24 (Metamorphoses director): When I learned about who Tyre Nichols was—a skateboarder, an amateur photographer—something about that really resonated with me. I just identified with him. I used to skateboard in my youth and I enjoy photography, so in my mind, Tyre represents what many people might call an “alternative kind” of [American] Blackness that I’ve always connected with and related to because of my Jamaican background. In my younger years, sometimes I would feel out of place around African-Americans; I was born in the States, but really, I’m a first-generation American. So, when I was younger, there was always that feeling like I was an outsider at times, even within Black culture. I mean, I’ve moved way beyond that, but there’s still a kernel of that type of thinking in me. So, because of who he was, it really sort of cracked open this sense of mourning.

Carpenter: This idea of “alternative Blackness” is interesting because, as we know, Black people are not, and have never been, monolithic—yet ideas persist about what is “authentically Black,” particularly regarding representations of African Americans. One thing that’s so important about how you’re conceiving Metamorphoses is that you are resisting singular representations of Blackness. You are clearly working to emphasize notions of the African diaspora.

Psalmayene 24: Yes, well we often talk about “African Americans” and even though the word African is in that term, we divorce Black people [in America] from any sort of real tangible connection to Africa. So, I thought it was important to start there, to ground this production by gesturing to Africa, but also knowing that the arms of Africa have reached out throughout the globe. I wanted us to think about that influence, about how that looks culturally; how that looks through clothing, sound, and movement. I think theater, and this particular play, feels like the perfect medium to really explore the full reach and breadth and richness of the African diaspora.

 

The company of 'Metamorphoses.' Folger Theatre, 2024. Directed by Psalmayene 24. Photo: Brittany Diliberto.

Carpenter: But you also artfully balance that exploration with the broader exploration of humanity in this play. Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses, like Ovid’s poem, uses mythic tales to examine the ubiquitous, every-day choices of people—the good, bad, ugly, and beautiful.

Psalmayene 24: Yes, most importantly, this play is about humanity. I think this production really seeks to amplify, affirm, and highlight that people are people. We all have goodness, we also all carry the seeds of evil within us. Whether or not those seeds are allowed to grow is another thing, but this is really a human dilemma. When we think about slavery, for instance, that’s really an example of man’s inhumanity toward man. It’s brothers and sisters killing brothers and sisters.

Carpenter: Is there anything in particular, when conversations start happening as audiences leave Folger’s theater space, that you hope people will be talking about after seeing this production of Metamorphoses?

Psalmayene 24: It’d be great if audiences came in having specific feelings or thoughts—one way or another—about the ensemble being all-Black, and then left really talking about the themes of the play and talking about the ideas; if the fact that the people who are telling the stories are Black is not at the top or forefront of audiences’ minds. Rather, I hope people will be talking about the richness of the stories and our storytelling. And, ultimately, what I want people to really leave with from this production is knowing, really knowing, deep in their core, that we are all the same; we all feel the same impulses and are haunted by similar demons. We all have dreams that are similar and in harmony with each other. The vessels of this story just happen to be Black people.

Metamorphoses
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Ovid’s classic stories of the loves, losses, and transformations of gods and mortals are reimagined for the 21st century in Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation.
Tue, May 7 – Sun, Jun 16, 2024
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Inside the Season:
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Join Folger Institute Director Patricia Akhimie as she discusses 'Metamorphoses' with production dramaturg Faedra Chatard Carpenter.
Wed, May 22, 2024, 6:30pm
Folger Haskell Center
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Photos of Dr. Sasha-Mae Eccleston, Dr. Patricia Akhimie, and Miss Kitty with the words: Scholar Talk: Metamorphoses

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Dr. Sasha-Mae Eccleston and Miss Kitty dive deep into themes around 'Metamorphoses' in a conversation led by Dr. Patricia Akhimie.
Fri, June 7, 2024, 6:30pm
Folger Haskell Center