“Tender Napalm” is a play in which a young couple face an unspecified disaster and the catastrophe inspires them to wind their love back to its beginnings through a fantastical, erotic world of serpent slayings, monkey wars, alien abductions and a shipwrecked paradise. Explosive, poetic and brutal, the play re-examines and re-defines the language of love…and how that love struggles to survive in the face of catastrophe.
Director David Norwood recently discussed his experiences putting on this play in NYC with an entirely African-American cast via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your love for theater and directing?
David Norwood (DN): I grew up wanting to be a film director but found my love for theater when I began attending Oakland School for the Arts where my formal training began when I was 14. My passion for directing came out of me always having ideas to put on a show or make a movie. I’d round up all of my friends, take my aunt’s video camera and we’d make short films. Theatrical directing was a natural transition from there.
MM: What inspired “Tender Napalm” and how did you get involved with the project?
DN: Philip Ridley was initially inspired to write “Tender Napalm” as an exercise in writing a play that was stripped of everything and focused solely on the text and the actor, which I loved. I learned of the play back in 2013 when a colleague of mine was working on a production of the play, but I didn’t become involved with the play until 2017.
MM: Why did you decide to produce this version with an African-American cast?
DN: This past season of Off-Broadway theatre has been an exciting year for African-American plays that pushed the boundaries of the kinds of stories that people of color get to tell with works like Slave Play, BLKS, Behind the Sheet and Fairview. I thought this play would be an interesting addition to the current conversations around black stories in the American theatre, as this play delves greatly into the psyche of a couple that is dealing with a major tragedy in their lives.
MM: What were the challenges of staging this production?
DN: The play is an intensely intimate, physical piece of theater, that requires actors who are willing to push themselves to the max and lay their emotions bare on stage. It is a 75 minute non-stop emotional roller coaster, so the biggest challenge has been making sure that the actors have the stamina to keep up with the needs of the play.
MM: What is your favorite scene in the play and why?
DN: There is a scene toward the end of the play where the two leads have a huge battle for ownership of an island that has become a symbol for their relationship. The brilliance of the scene is that they have this battle through single word, back and forth interactions. The scene reinforces one of the play’s main points about how words can have just as powerful of an impact on someone versus a physical manifestation of one’s feelings.
MM: What are your ultimate career goals?
DN: I would love to do more work internationally and continue to push the boundaries of what theater can be, while also creating more opportunities and spaces for artists of color and women as well.
MM: What projects are coming up for you soon?
DN: Aside from Tender Napalm, I am currently developing a new production of a classic musical that I am not allowed to go into further detail about just yet, as well as a few plays that are currently looking for theaters for 2020.
MM: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about?
DN: Come out and experience Tender Napalm this Summer down at HERE Arts Center!