Culver City Patch caught up with actress and playwright Danai Gurira who wrote The Convert, the Center Theatre Group's production currently playing at the .
The Convert focuses on Zimbabwe and the struggles with cultural identity, ownership and morality.
Culver City Patch: As a playwright you have won an Obie, Helen Hayes, and NAACP Best New Playwright award. From which do you obtain your greatest pleasure…acting or writing?
Danai Gurira: It’s really difficult to distinguish them. They both feed the same thing in me in a sense, which is my passion for storytelling. They are both very demanding and require a lot out of me, and I would have it no other way. They are very different hats, but at the same time they are streams of the same river.
Patch: You received your MFA from New York University’s School of the Arts. In what way did that program influence your approach as an artist?
Gurira: The program influenced me very much. NYU acting under the design of Zelda Fichandler who is the great founder of the arena stage and often considered the mother of Repertoire Theater in America, oversaw that program, which is beautifully designed to create storytellers and artists.
They teach you how to nurture craft and how to not just wait for that call on the other end telling you someone wants to cast you for a role. You are taught how to find your own voice and you are vigorously trained as a classical actor, but you are also opened up to creating your own works, to develop your pieces, which is where I developed my first play The Continuum in which I won an Obie.
I don’t know if I would be the artist that I am today without that tutelage because who you give your time to in those three years of apprenticeship for the MFA is very crucial. It does largely shape who and what you become, what your voice is artistically. There are a lot of people who came out of that program who have gone on to become storytellers in other realms. I remain close friends with teachers who I still consult with on my work, and who I still go to when I need to brush up with on my acting.
Patch: How much do you identify with your character of Jill that you played in HBO’s Treme?
Gurira: Greatly, as she was a very interesting woman. In terms of being a woman who has made her own space in the world, made New York her home and found her own voice, I could identify with that. She had a desire to connect with the best and richest cultural aspects of the community that she is in. She is a connoisseur of jazz music and of things that I am not. However, I can appreciate the fact that she had a very specific interest and deep and intricate knowledge of that realm. Treme creators apparently took a few things from me specifically as they created her character apparently. The fact that she went to drama school, etc. It was very cool to work with a character who was a contemporary woman progressing in the world as a young black woman doing her thing in the big city.
Patch: What do you want audiences to come away with after seeing The Convert?
Gurira: That’s a tough question to answer. I mean there is so much that goes into creating a play. There are just so many factors that I am exploring, that whatever people take with them, as long as something resonated I’m happy. I can’t prescribe a response. I am always very keen to see Africans portrayed more complexly. If people can learn to realize the complex nature of the Africans' history and identity and how it has culminated, that to me is an accomplishment in terms of what I would love to see happen for an audience.
Patch: What’s next for you?
Gurira: I am about to become a part of the cast of The Walking Dead on AMC. That starts in a couple of weeks. A lot of the characters are very popular in the comic books. The character’s arrival is highly anticipated, and I am excited about that.
The Center Theatre Group's production of The Convert opened on April 19 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd. Culver City, 90232 and runs through May 19. For tickets and information click here.