50 Shades Of Bluford
This week marks the first world premiere by an African-American playwright in Utah history. “MAMA,” written by 30-year-old Carleton Bluford, is described as a celebration of mothers and motherhood. The play takes place at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center Studio Theatre and runs through Feb. 22.
“MAMA” is the first play produced in partnership between Plan-B Theatre Company and The David Ross Fetzer Foundation for Emerging Artists. It was chosen from 24 submissions from Utah-based playwrights age 35 or younger; it was a blind reading process. The panelists unanimously ranked “MAMA” first among the submissions.
Bluford describes the play as being about mothers in different time periods. “Kind of going though their lives and showing the different ways they sacrifice for the people they love,” he said.
Bluford said that though playwriting is a craft he has learned on his own, he does come from a family of story tellers. “My family is wrought with story tellers,” he said. “Ever since I was young, my parents have been reading and telling us stories.”
When he was in college he helped some upperclassmen put on a ten-minute play festival. “They were brilliant inspiring people of whom I look up to very much,” he said. “Once we started writing our own stuff, Larry Dooley, a professor at Weber State University thought it might be a good idea to educate us on playwriting since we were trying our hand at it and thus began the playwriting class at Weber State,” he said. “After that, I was hooked.”
He has now written half a dozen plays along with 15 ideas or half-started somethings. He said he is elated and amazed to have a play accepted by Plan-B Theatre Company. “I’ve been working on getting a play produced at Plan-B since college,” he said. “Through training and the two-year writing program I did with Plan-B in conjunction with Meat and Potato Theater Co., I’d like to say I’ve grown up a bit,” he said. “And will continue to grow, but to finally break through and have something fully produced on a professional stage is a dream come true. I’m terrifically excited.”
He said he feels nervous and excited about being the first African-American to have a world premiere show here in Utah. “Because what that means to me, is that I’m the first to speak up with ‘our’ voice in this medium in Utah,” he said. “I wonder what kind of responsibility that holds and if at some point when the dust settles, my feet will be held to a certain fire. But…I’m also kind of excited about that, I love challenging norms and breaking stereotypes, perhaps this means I will get the chance to. It also means that there is work to be done and the potential to do it.
“Wallace Thurman was a brilliant black man from Salt Lake City credited with jump starting the Harlem Renaissance. I played him in a play called ‘Wallace’ at Plan-B and to me, this is a bit serendipitous. He and I share a fire and I relate to him more than a lot. I’d like to think he’ll be in the audience critiquing my play, writing notes, and later on, back at the house, he’ll whisper in my ear, ‘You think you’re finished? Child you just getting’ started, boy you betta quite playin’ and write!…Well done.’”
He said his future plans are to go on creating other worlds. “Not just on the stage though,” he said. “Soon film, and any other medium my expression sees fit to relate through. I am working on a piece called ‘The Priesthood,’ a musical Called ‘Deep Blue,’ and a documentary called ‘2%’ about black people in Utah. Quoting a line from ‘Angels in America,’ ‘The great work begins.’”
Plan-B Theatre producing director Jerry Rapier said he is intensely proud of Bluford. “It’s indescribably exciting to watch a seasoned playwright watch their latest play come to life,” he said. “It’s that times a thousand to watch a young playwright experience all of this for the first time.”
“MAMA” plays through Feb. 22. For tickets and more information go to Planbtheatre.org or Arttix.org or call (801) 355.ARTS (2787).