Playwright, Lynn Nottage, (Lapacazo Sandoval photo)

A billion people a day pass judgments about incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, especially if those people wrinkling their proverbial noses are not Black or Brown. One way to get a quick and intensive understanding of how the industrial prison system in the country actually works is to watch Ava Duvernay’s “13th” ( Netflix). Thank you Queen Duvernay for having the courage and conviction to create “13th.” ( https://bit.ly/3CEKEs2 ).

If you’ve not seen the searing documentary all that I can suggest is before you watch it to buckle up because the truth is gut-wrenchingly painful. 

Stepping boldly into this issue is two-time Pulitzer Prize playwright, Lynn Nottage with her new play CLYDE’S and her commitment to do something for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to move their lives forward in a positive way.  

Allow me to set the stage, so to speak, to better help you understand why Nottage’s program to raise awareness about individuals who are formerly incarcerated and those impacted by the justice system is so important. 

CLYDE’S is directed by Nottage’s frequent collaborator, director Kate Whoriskey (Ruined, Sweat). The story unfolds at a truck stop sandwich shop that offers its formerly incarcerated kitchen staff a shot at redemption. Even as the shop’s callous owner, Clyde (played by Uzo Aduba), tries to keep them under her thumb, the staff members are given purpose and permission to dream by their shared quest to create the perfect sandwich. You’ll want a seat at the table for this humorous, moving, and urgent play. It’s an example of Nottage’s “genius for bringing politically charged themes to life by embodying them in ordinary characters living ordinary lives” (The Wall Street Journal).

What makes her new play so powerful is that she’s connected a series of social justice initiatives that are centered around CLYDE’S which is genius, and they have a clear mission which is to throw a bright spotlight on the issues faced by returning citizens and those impacted by the justice system, the initiatives include:

— Paid apprenticeship program with Second Stage Theater for justice system-impacted youth

— Weekly talkbacks and discussions hosted by advocates and service providers in the social justice field

— Art exhibit at the Hayes Theater featuring works by people impacted by the justice system

— Final dress rehearsal fundraiser for partnering organizations

— Virtual access to Clyde’s for four national organizations run by and for returning citizens and people who are incarcerated

— Job Fair aimed at connecting justice system-impacted individuals with job opportunities and training

— Subsidized tickets for formerly incarcerated individuals and their families

Queen Nottage is not playing and I am here for all of it. And she’s not alone, Nottage has the team at Second Stage Theater helping. 

“At its best, theater has the power to inspire change and that is what we are aiming to do with these special programs surrounding Lynn Nottage’s wonderful new play, Clyde’s,” said Khady Kamara, Executive Director of Second Stage Theater. “With deep thanks to our partners at Art for Justice Fund, Second Stage is proud to launch this robust slate of initiatives to raise awareness, provide paths to employment opportunities for those impacted by the justice system, and hopefully to generate change within ourselves, our staff, and the theater community as a whole.”

“All of us at Art for Justice are excited to support Second Stage Theater and Lynn Nottage around the upcoming production of Clyde’s. People returning home from prison face many challenges and Lynn’s play shines a needed light on the importance of ‘fair chance’ employment opportunities to empower people to rebuild their lives. Art creates empathy and I’m grateful Lynn’s work will help to transform the criminal legal system,” said Agnes Gund, Founder of Art for Justice Fund. 

Apprenticeship Program

With this production of CLYDE’S, Second Stage will host three apprentices – one each in production management, company management, and front of the house. They have worked with the Youth Justice Network to identify candidates.

Talkbacks and Discussions

Second Stage will host weekly talkbacks and post-show panel discussions to highlight the issues of the play. The Q&As will feature professionals working in the social justice field.

The following talkbacks have been scheduled:

November 11 – Prison Creative Arts Project

November 18 – Rehabilitation Through the Arts

December 2 – Fortune Society

December 9 – Art for Justice Fund

December 15 – Ameelio

December 16 – Youth Justice Network

December 21 – Project Renewal

January 6 – League of Women Voters/Hour Children

January 13 – Reentry @Lehman College

Art Exhibit

Second Stage will showcase artwork by incarcerated and returning citizens during the run of the show. This will include a virtual exhibit, organized by the Prison Creative Arts Project, which will be available on the web and highlighted at the Hayes during the run of the show through the screens in the theater. They will also work with the Youth Justice Network and Fortune Society to create an in-person exhibition at the theater.

Final Dress Rehearsal Fundraiser

Second Stage will use its final dress rehearsal on November 2 as a fundraiser for its partner groups, Rehabilitation Through the Arts, Fortune Society, and League of Women Voters.

CLYDE’S In Prisons

Second Stage is working to find ways to share this production and story with currently incarcerated individuals. As a first step, the Prison Creative Arts Project in Michigan is using CLYDE’S as part of their fall 2021 curriculum. Second Stage is working with the Art for Justice Fund to explore possibilities for a streaming presentation that could be seen by some of their other grantee partners who work with formerly incarcerated communities.

Job Fair

Second Stage will host a Job Fair that will focus on returning citizens, with the aim to connect them with job opportunities, training, and other career resources. Second Stage is working with Youth Justice Network and Hour Children to coordinate with fellow theaters, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses in Times Square that have “fair chance” hiring programs. Second Stage is also seeking partners to provide supportive services to job fair attendees including resume writing and interview prep. This Job Fair is currently scheduled to begin in January 2022.

Subsidized Tickets

In an effort to bring the inspiring story of Clyde’s to those impacted by the justice system, Second Stage is offering complimentary and deeply subsidized tickets via its partners in the Thursday Night talkback series.

Directed by Kate Whoriskey, CLYDE’S began their previews on November 

3, 2021 and it will open officially on Tuesday, November 23, 2021, at Second Stage’s Broadway home, The Hayes Theater (240 West 45th Street). The production stars Uzo Aduba, Ron Cephas Jones, Edmund Donovan, Reza Salazar, and Kara Young.

CLYDE’S is supported by Art for Justice Fund, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, and by Terry and Bob Lindsay, with additional support provided by American Express. World Premiere by the Guthrie Theater. Originally commissioned by Joe Dowling and produced by Joseph Haj, Artistic Directors.

Here’s what two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage had to say about her new play CLYDE’S and social justice initiatives.

NJ URBAN NEWS: The social justice initiative is impressive. What’s the motivation? 

LYNN NOTTAGE: There are many people who never figured out how to resurrect their lives and they have been in and out of the system since the time they were 16 years old. They were never able to figure out how to negotiate freedom because they have spent so much time incarnated. 

AMNS: Is this desire to help based on personal encounters?

LN: I grew up around people who were incarnated and who were beautiful human beings and because they made one mistake and in one case, it was three strikes you are out. And that mistake was smoking weed at a time when smoking weed was criminalized and the circumstances would have been real different today but that stain, that brand really defined the rest of their life.

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