Profile: Jeremy O. Harris (1989-)

Jeremy O. Harris is an American actor and playwright, known for his plays Daddy and Slave Play. He was the winner of the 2018 Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, given by the Vineyard Theatre in New York City. A profile in the New York Times said that Harris’s “ability to render subconscious trauma into provocative theatrical expression, as potentially unsettling as entertaining, has earned him a lot of attention in a very short time.” Out called him “The queer black savior the theater world needs.”

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Harris grew up in a military family, moving often before settling in Martinsville, Virginia. He has since lived in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. He attended the Carlisle School in Martinsville, Virginia. Harris majored in Theatre at DePaul University in 2009 but was cut from the program after a year. He graduated with a Master of Fine Arts(MFA) for Playwriting from the Yale School of Drama at Yale University in 2019.

Career

He took a role in the play Jon at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.  He worked as an actor in Chicago, then moved to Los Angeles to further his career. There he began a collaboration with musician Isabella Summers that resulted in the play Xander Xyst, Dragon 1; the play was produced at ANT Fest 2017 in New York. He had a residency at the MacDowell Colony, where he wrote the play Daddy, in which a young black artist (Franklin) becomes involved with an older European art collector(Andre). Daddyserved as Harris’s writing sample when he applied to the Yale School of Drama, where he began studies in the fall of 2016.

While still at Yale, Harris wrote Slave Play. It was produced at Yale in October 2017, and won the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award and the Rosa Parks Playwriting Award at the 2018 American College Theater Festival. It was then produced off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop under the direction of Robert O’Hara in 2018, Harris’s first professional production as playwright. The play addresses sexuality and racial trauma in America. It begins with interracial sexual violence on a slave plantation in the American South and continues in present-day America at a sex therapy retreat for interracial couples. The couples include black participants who are no longer able to receive pleasure from their white partners. The white partners have a blind-spot about the role that race plays in their relationships. Critic Jesse Green summarized the play’s message, saying “that one race lives with history each day while another pretends not to.” Though critically acclaimed, the play drew ire from those who found the play’s content disrespectful of African-American’s history.

In 2018, Harris was awarded the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, which includes a residency at the off-Broadway Vineyard Theatre. In 2019, The New Group and the Vineyard Theatre co-produced a revised version of Harris’s earlier play, Daddy, starring Alan Cumming. Reviewer Christian Lewis called the play “a bold, experimental, political, and important work of theater that will not soon be forgotten.” New York Times reviewer Ben Brantley noted some excellent performances, but found the dialogue “endless and circular and repetitive” and the play too “cerebral.”

Harris is a co-author on the screenplay for the forthcoming film Zola, directed by Janicza Bravo. The film follows a road trip that results in sex-trafficking, and is based on a real-life Twitter thread. He also still acts.

June 2019, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, sparking the start of the modern LGBT rights movement, Queerty named him one of the Pride50 “trailblazing individuals who actively ensure society remains moving towards equality, acceptance and dignity for all queer people.

 

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