BJ Tindal on how ‘Goodnight, Tyler’ began
In this interview, i’m talking to BJ Tindal, winner of the 2019 Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition, about his play Goodnight, Tyler. Goodnight, Tyler is a contemporary and unexpectedly humorous drama that follows a young man after he’s been murdered by the police. How we experience and take ownership of grief and the ways we live our lives.
How did Goodnight, Tyler begin? What was the first spark of this story?
I went to Oberlin college in Ohio, a small liberal arts school about 30 minutes south of Cleveland. In November 2014, which was the fall of my junior year. There was big gathering for all the black students in what we call The African heritage house or the A House. They were airing whether Darren Wilson, the cop who shot Michael Brown was going to be indicted. And then he wasn’t.
And I just remember this silence and feeling heartbreak happening in the room.
After that a lot of us were just a mess, not being able to get out of bed to go to class in the morning, not eating, not sleeping, being really taken out of our lives for a little bit… My class and the class under me had a lot of black poets, musicians, and theatre students so we came up with this thing called The Black Rage showcase. It was going to be a variety show of art made by black artists, expressing their rage, pain, and frustration around everything that was happening.
At that point I was trying hard to express all my feelings in this through poetry.
I started doing spoken word during my senior year of high school. That was always my place to go when I needed to process things that were happening. Poetry is: I have feelings, I’m having a hard time, that’s where I ‘m gonna go, I’m gonna go write that. And It wasn’t working. I feel like I always had my queer poem, my gender poem, and then my depression poem and this is going to be my police brutality poem, about how I’m upset that black people are dying.
It just felt like something that was sitting with me for longer, which is when I turned to playwriting. So, then it was…this is different. This is something I like to do but now I’m pairing it with this thing that is really important. And also, this is something that I have a heavy stake in. Can I do the thing that I love to do? Which is write humorfully about serious things.
Can I do that with this? Is it going to be to dangerous? I worked really closely with a dramaturg Maansi Sahay Seth. I remember her reading the first version and going “BJ what do you want from us”? There was a sentence in the first draft where Chelsea talks about offering up her cat as a séance to get Tyler back and it’s a joke. But she pointed out it’s the first time she says he’s dead. And she goes “do you want us to laugh or be upset here?”- I’m like I don’t know this is what she says. He laughs and continues- so it was tricky, I needed to be able to sit with this longer. So, I did.
For me It takes several months to get to what I feel is “complete”.
Also, what was happening on campus then is I had a lot of white friends…And I’ve always had white friends that were close to me and part of who I am intimately. But this was just a spot where they could not sit with me and could not understand what I was going through.
I was so angry, yes at them but also just angry at now there’s thing that keeping us apart. And I wish it didn’t, but it does, and I understand why it has to. I was very frustrated because the people that I love very much weren’t able to stand with me. So that’s what the play became about.
It became about a Black man who has to grieve his own life and the different types of grief that happen around him. Specifically, as it relates to how he lived his life, and it just evolved from there. The characters are always who they’ve been at heart. But the show still comes from a place of needing healing and speaking a voiceless voice.
Goodnight, Tyler is written by BJ Tindal, and directed by Kent Gash. It runs at the Alliance Theatre’s Hertz Stage through March 10th, 2019. Using the promo code GOODNIGHT25 you can get 25% off your tickets to Goodnight, Tyler. Click here to buy tickets and you can call the box office at 404.733.4690