Layon Gray returns to the NoHo Arts District for a new play – “Searching for Willie Lynch”
One of the NoHo Arts District dot com team’s favorite things to do is to highlight the success of our arts district and that always means the fabulous folks who live and work in North Hollywood. We’ve known Layon Gray for years now and have seen his success grow as he brings award-winning plays to folks in NoHo, Los Angeles, New York City and all around the U.S. and globe. Layon is in NoHo for a reading of his new play “Searching for Willie Lynch,” based on the infamous Willie Lynch letter, on Friday, February 28 at The Avery Schreiber Playhouse. So North Hollywood, meet Layon Gray, and Layon, welcome back to NoHo.
When did you start writing and producing plays?
I wrote my first play in 1994 in Louisiana while I was in college. It was actually on a dare. A friend of mine was in a band – they had written a song and wanted to write a play centered around the song. He said if I could do it he would pay me $1000. This was amazing. I was a starving college student so I took the deal. I just had to figure out how to write a play. Lol. So I went to the Library checked out a book on writing plays, studied the format and wrote it. The play sold out people laughed, cried, and truly enjoyed it. Even though I thought it sucked. Lol. But I was hooked from then on. I begin to read more plays, study the art form of writing, yet staying true to my style of writing.
Which one of your plays debuted in NoHo?
Almost All of them. Lol. The Hollywood Dream was my first at the Two Roads Theatre in 2001, Meet Me At The Oak at the Whitmore Lindley in 2003, Soldiers Don’t Cry at the Avery Schreiber Theatre in 2004, Diary Of A Catholic School Dropout in 2005, The Girls Of Summer in 2006 at the Whitmore Lindley, Black Angels Over Tuskegee at the Whitmore Lindley in 2008. Most all of them have won several ADA Awards. NOHO has been a wonderful place for me to workshop all my plays. The support I receive from the community has always been incredible. Most all the shows sell-out every night. It’s beautiful to be appreciated like that.
Tell us a bit about your New York play success.
Wow! It all started in NOHO. In 2010 we took a chance and raised almost 30k for a two-week run of the play Black Angels Over Tuskegee in NYC. We hustled, hit the NYC streets with gorilla marketing and that run has now turned into four years and counting! The play has become an international hit performing in St Thomas Virgins Islands, Bermuda, and British Columbia. It continues to tour the country to sell out arenas while its NYC cast continues to rock out the big apple. Broadway is so close for the production. I’m having so much fun. I feel very blessed.
Tell us more about the reading for “Searching for Willie Lynch” in NoHo?
The Willie Lynch letter has always been something I wanted to learn more about. The letter is a short speech given by a slave owner, in which he tells other slave masters that he has discovered the “secret” to controlling black slaves by setting them against one another. Some people believe it is to be true, some don’t. However I thought the subject was fascinating. Being from Louisiana I’m very familiar with voo doo, spirits and folk lore so I thought that what would be a great idea to mesh all those elements together along with the Willie Lynch Letter way of thinking and create a play. Out of that “Searching For Willie Lynch” was born. The premise of the play: On the bank of the James River in the colony of Virginia in 1712, a slave owner named Willie Lynch allegedly read a letter to teach his methods to slave owners on how to keep black people divided for 300 years. The play centers around three families in 2008, 1965 and 1925 that have lived in the same house over the years and how a door could be a portal to the past and a celebration to the future.
The play performed at the National Black Theatre festival in 2013 to rave reviews. I took risks with this show that I haven’t taken with any other I have written and it payed it off. Audiences loved the surprises. I wanted to do a reading of one of my shows in NOHO for Black History month and this show was a no brainer. A POWERFUL cast has been selected to bring this incredible work to life: Demetrius Van Grosse, Antonio D. Charity, Gilbert Glenn Brown, Christopher Carrington, Kinnik Sky, David Wendell Boykins, Ben Cain, Daebreon Albert.
WHEN: Friday, February 28 at 7:30PM
WHERE: Avery Schreiber Playhouse
4934 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA. 91601
Seating is VERY limited.
RSVP: We are asking people to RSVP to Dorothyspellman@gmail.com
What advice would you give to young playwrights?
I would say to create your own path to success. There are many roads that can lead you to that pot of gold. Be a trendsetter. My own roads are being built everyday. Have fun in the journey. Continue to work 6 or more hours a day on your passion. Stay in the fight and continue to strive to be the best and put out the best work you can. Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech in 1910. There is an excerpt from it that inspires me every day. I would like to share it with you. It’s called THE MAN IN THE ARENA:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
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