Call Redialed: NEW Roger Q. Mason Interview: The Duat at Philadelphia Theatre Company

broadway film filmmaker movies off-broadway play playwright producer queer playwright regional theatre theatre writer Jun 03, 2024
Call Me Adam Title Page. Call Me Adam logo is on the left side. Roger Q. Mason's headshot is on the right side. In the top center of the page is an orange circle with jagged edges that says Featured Interview. Between our photos it says Traveling To The Egyptian Underworld. Below the title and in between our names there is an auburn circle that says www.callmeadam.com

I am so excited to catch up with playwright Roger Q. Mason after our great interview together in 2023.

Roger's play, The Duat, is about to make its world premiere at the Philadelphia Theatre Company, but in 2021, I got to get a different angle about their play, when veteran actor Gregg Daniel (HBO's True Blood) performed the show virtually.

Now to get the behind-the-curtain story from the playwright themself is even more exciting!

In this NEW interview, Roger once again answered my call, but this time around they revealed:
  • How they came up with the idea for The Duat
  • What their underworld would like look like
  • What they have struggled to come to terms with
  • What super power they would like to have
  • So much more

Connect with Roger: Instagram

Fusing dialogue, music and movement, The Duat follows Cornelius Johnson, a former FBI COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Program) informant as he awakens in the Egyptian afterlife. While he awaits judgment, Cornelius struggles to come to terms with his family history and his own troubling role in the civil rights movement at UCLA in the late 60s.

The Duat will be presented in the round with seating onstage, creating a uniquely intimate experience as audiences transition through the Egyptian underworld inside one man’s battle to save his soul.

The Duat will play at the Philadelphia Theatre Company from June 7-23, 2024. Click here for tickets! 

1. It's great to catch up with you Roger! This June, your show, The Duat, will be having its world premiere at the Philadelphia Theatre Company. What are you looking forward to most about this run? First of all, Adam, is it wonderful reconnecting with you. Thank you so much for your enduring interest in my work.

Yes, ‘tis true: The Duat is premiering this June 2024 in Philadelphia, and I cannot wait. One of the things I’m really looking forward to with this run is seeing how audiences respond to the entirety of the production. While it is a solo show, it is a mammoth, panoramic look at Black history, present, and future life as seen through the lens of our main character: Cornelius Johnson.

With spoken word, multiple character embodiment, percussion, lighting, scenography and a unique in-the-round audience orientation, this is going to be a spectacle people won’t soon forget.

2. Out of all the theatre companies out there, what made you want to have The Duat's premiere at the Philadelphia Theatre Company, a company I have been fortunate to provide press coverage for throughout the past 10 years? I’ve known Taibi and Tyler for quite a few years now, and my trust in them as creative leaders and arts administrators let me know that Philadelphia Theatre Company, especially under their leadership, would be a beautiful home for the play.

Taibi called me when she first got the job, and said she was bringing me to work with her! I would be in her inaugural season. That kind of commitment and loyalty carries you far in our business. So, with great pride, I premiere the show at Philadelphia Theatre Company, and I trust it will be the beginning of a beautiful future with Taibi, Tyler, the company, and the City of Philadelphia at large. Philly is SUCH an iconic arts town, and I am having a blast building this play here.

3. The show fuses dialogue, music, and movement...when you were writing the show, did you have it in your mind that there would be music & movement, or did that incorporation come afterward, during the development of the play? I always knew that I wanted the play to be interdisciplinary. That was part of its design from the beginning. What’s changed, I think, is the rigor and dynamicism of the drummer’s engagement. They are an integral part of the story – a discovery we made in a workshop last year that really opened the play up for me in new ways. We’ve continued to expand that connection to narrative in this production through collaboration between our actor, Philly legend Frank X and our percussionist, Barbara Muzikaldunk (M.D.) Duncan.

4. For those that don't know, in ancient Egyptian mythology The Duat, is the underworld or afterlife, it's the place where souls travel to after death. What made you want to write a show about this? This is a bit of ironic humor on my part. Neal, our hero, was an outsider within the Black community of his youth. Inspired by the stain that white supremacy leaves on POC perceptions of class and color, Neal eventually turns on his peers in college – members of the Black Power Movement because he feels ostracized from them.

So, I thought, what would be the worst thing to happen to some who did such a thing: have their soul judged in the Black afterlife. That might be the absolute worst place for them to end up, and the best place to begin a drama.

Roger Q. Mason, Photo Credit: Abdullah Helwani

5. Press notes state that your lead character, Cornelius Johnson, is a former FBI COINTELPRO informant. With so many careers to choose from, what made you decide to write Cornelius as someone who worked in the FBI? This is from history. There was a counterintelligence effort in the late 1960s-70s led by the FBI to break up activities by Black Power Movement groups. They used former members, outliers, or inconspicuous community denizens to spread lies and insight fights within the various organizations that sprung up seeking Black freedom at that time. The goal was disunity and acrimony. That’s been a tactic our country has used over and over again to hedge the treat of people-based progress. I think about the slave rebellions of the early 1800s and the anti-union efforts of the 1930s.

Power ain’t stupid – it knows that if a bunch of people got together to identify and question how they were being disenfranchised, they might just come up with a successful and sustainable solution to their subjugation. And power can’t have that – otherwise it would no longer exist.

6. Press notes also state that Cornelius awakens in the Egyptian afterlife, awaiting judgment. If you could imagine what the underworld looked like, how would your underworld be decorated? My underworld? My personal underworld?! Oh, I think it would be a jazz club where Jon Batiste played alongside Ella Fitzgerald endlessly. That would be my kind of heaven.

7. Playing off of awaiting judgment. If you were awaiting judgement in the afterlife, what is something you feel you might be judged for? I think that story is still writing itself. Haha! We shall see.

I pride myself on being honest, forthright and fair to everyone with whom I live and work. I always keep it real so no one is ever blindsided and disappointed. And I do try to make sure I find at least one thing affirming to say in every conversation I engage – and it is genuine praise too. Not just for karmic acceleration.

Roger Q. Mason, Photo Credit: Abdullah Helwani

8. Press notes additionally state Cornelius struggles to come to terms with his family history and his own troubling role in the civil rights movement at UCLA in the late 60s. What is something you have struggled to come to terms with? As a multi-racial person, I’ve always navigated that middle ground of culture and identity. But, I have to say what I’ve struggled with more is my perception of time. I grew up in a time warp household. My grandmother and two aunts were born between the 1890s and 1910s, so our house felt more like a 1930s extended family than the 1980s-90s. Kids at school often made fun of things I said, music I listened to, and values I held – and I was made to feel out of touch with my peers.

Now, we exist in a space where history is being revised or erased by comfort and cancel cultures in exchange for validation of one’s own point of view. As a historist, I find myself as a useful tool to people trying to remember who we were are a road map to who we can become. So, thank goodness I embraced the time warp and stayed the course. For me, history was not something of the past to remember fondly or faintly – it was living, as it should be for us all.

9. If were you to have had a role in the civil rights movement in the late 60s, what part do you think you would have played? I would have been a writer – same as now, holding our culture accountable for its follies and praising its strong suits.

10. In our last interview together, you mentioned "I make some of the best Texan beef chili you'll ever taste, especially when I have a draft due. Cooking is how I brainstorm and how I write." What dishes did you cook, if it wasn't Texan beef chili, when you were either conceptualizing this show or writing it? I still made a lot of chili! And some gumbo. And now I am going more meatless, so red lentils with sautéed shiitakes are a highly fulfilling umami feast.

BONUS QUESTIONS:

11. If you could have any super power, what would it be? The power to make time stop because she waits for no one!

12. Winter Retreat or Summer Vacation? Grand Cayman – winter or summer, hands down.

13. Coffee or Tea? How do you take it? I love jasmine pearl tea.

14. Boxers or Briefs? Honey, you gotta ask my gentleman callers, cuz you won’t catch me unwrapping that candy this time around.

Roger Q. Mason, Photo Credit: Bronwen Sharp

More on Roger Q. Mason:

Roger Q. Mason is a writer and performer who uses the lens of history to disrupt the biases that divide rather than unite us. Their playwriting has been seen on Broadway (Circle in the Square Reading Series); Off and Off-Off-Broadway; and regionally. Mason's World Premiere of Lavender Men was lauded by the Los Angeles Times as "evoking the mingled visions of Suzan-Lori Parks, Jeremy O. Harris and Michael R. Jackson."

They are a recipient of the inaugural Catalyst Fellowship, awarded by the Dramatists Guild Foundation, in celebrations of theatre makers whose work impacts social justice and civic change through art. 

As a filmmaker, Mason has been recognized by the British Film Institute, Lonely Wolf International Film Festival, SCAD Film Festival, AT&T Film Award and Atlanta International Film Festival. Their films have screened in the US, UK, Poland, Brazil, and Asia. Mason holds degrees from Princeton University, Middlebury College, and Northwestern University.

They are a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, and an alum of the Ma-Yi’s Writing Lab, Page 73’s Interstate 73 Writers Group and Primary Stages Writing Cohort. Roger currently produces a memoir/cooking segment on Instagram called Cooking with Q: A Playwrights Guide to Telling My Trouble.  Previously, they co-hosted the podcast Sister Roger’s Gayborhood and hosted This Way Out Radio's Queerly Yours: Portraits in Courage.

Roger has served as lead mentor of The Marsha P. Johnson Institute’s Starship Fellowship, the New Visions Fellowship and the Shay Foundation Fellowship. They are currently on faculty at CalArts.

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