The best thing about being a New Yorker is that I belong here. The direct way that New Yorkers speak… the progressive minds that I encounter in every field and profession… the way that we are movers and shakers… the way that we have a collective understanding unlike anywhere else in the country of what hustling and getting your “grind” on means. I love it. I’m a Detroit girl in NYC, and I’m a NYC girl in Detroit. Brooklyn girl, to be specific. I’ve been committed to NY over 10 years. I’m claiming it as mine now. It’s home.
When people ask me why I am choosing to write this play or that play about Detroit, I always have to take it back to why I’m writing the entire three play series about Detroit. And there are a million reasons why… but this quick story covers most of them:
My fiance (boyfriend at the time) and I both went to Michigan for undergrad. His major was Communications and he was taking this class about the media and its effect on people. He was the only black person in his class— a lecture of about 200 students. The topic of Detroit came up in class. “What do you think of when you hear about Detroit?” the white professor asked the class. (Race is relevant here to note that Detroit is a predominately black city, and a large percentage of Michigan’s black student population was from Detroit). The majority of white students responded with one word answers. They called them out in the lecture hall: “poor” “dangerous” “violent” “less fortunate” — these were the kinds of things that were being spoken into the atmosphere about Detroit. But then the word that kicked him in the chest… that assaulted him worse than any other, was yelled out carelessly… “degenerate”.
He came home to me that evening. He looked me in my face and told me the entire story of class today. When he said “degenerate”, I felt like he had just slapped me. We started to bemoan the word. Who would say that? Why? What do they think of us? Our hometown? Our entire families that are from here?
We come from the most loving people I’ve ever known. Detroiters have been some of the kindest, most progressive, most ambitious, most brave, most conscious, most loving, most hardworking people I have ever known. And yet, in our neighboring cities and educational institutions, we were being thought of as nothing but degenerates.
That night my fiance and I cried. These are the people that I love. These are the people that keep our country driving forward. They are not degenerates. They are beautiful warriors fighting to stay alive in the face of much opposition.
So I am writing three plays about Detroit because I love Detroiters, because I love my family, and because I am practicing self-love. I have a strong belief that what goes into print and what is said over and over about a people starts to become the gospel until it is just as diligently combated with other stories and other perspectives.
If you ask me why would a young person want to see Detroit ’67, I can tell you very simply that it will be a ton of fun. This play is probably one of my funniest. It is a joy ride, it is sassy, it breaks all kinds of rules of social etiquette. It is bold and wild and heartbreaking, I think. And you learn something urgent about the riots and about our country’s history with civil unrest in a way that doesn’t feel like “school” or a “history play”. It catches you off-guard and keeps you wanting to know more. That’s how I like to build a story. I want you on the edge of your seat. I want you to feel like running up on stage and joining the world, and maybe feel like dancing to the music. This is the play of mine that does that. Imagine going to a party back in time. That’s what this is. It will be a helluva time and why would anyone want to miss that?
– Dominique Morisseau
See Detroit ’67:
The Public Theater, Feb. 26-Mar. 17
$20 #GR (General Rush), $25 #ST (Student Tickets)
Classical Theatre Of Harlem, Mar. 23-Apr. 28
$20 #ST Student Tickets