William Electric Black Interviewed by Briana Bartenieff at Theater for the New City in celebration of his newly published five play anthology, GUNPLAYS: Five Plays on Inner City Violence and Guns, published by Rowman & Littlefield
William Electric Black aka Ian Ellis James – Seven Emmy Award winning writer (Sesame Street – Nickelodeon – PBS – Lancit Media – Winchester TV & Film – Pinna FM). has been a major part of the downtown theater scene for many years (Theater For The New City – La MaMa ETC.). He is a faculty member at NYU TISCH, Department of Visual and Dramatic Writing.
His work on gun violence prevention and awareness, starting with 5 and 6-year-olds has been getting major attention. https://www.npr.org/2022/06/07/1103391896/how-the-arts-can-help-children-think-about-gunviolence
Q: How does it feel getting five of your plays that you have produced at TNC finally published in a book format?
“I thought they were gonna publish one play. But they were like “no, we want the whole thing” It was crazy!”
Q: How did these Gun Plays come into existence?
“I remember I came in and I was like “Oh my god Crystal, I wanna do a play every year for 5 years. Of course gun violence, that was early on, I was trying to do something… When I first started, people were like “gun violence, what are you talking about? I’m like “uh no”, and crystal was great, [she said] “okay, go for it!” And we did the five plays and that’s how the gun plays came about.”
Q: Do you think the audiences are more accepting of the idea of gun violence now than 10 years ago?
“Totally, it’s freaking everywhere. When the news comes on I take pictures because it’s everywhere. This person got shot, that person got shot…people call me up for talks because everybody’s talking about it, it’s a health issue, finally, they deemed it a public health issue.”
Q: Do you believe that media, such as rap music and video games, has an impact on youth and gun violence? Do you think your more positive content, like your published book “Gun Plays” or your children’s book “A Gun is Not Fun,” also influences young people?
“We are not gonna get rid of the 400 + millions of guns… So, what’s the strategy? Is how to understand it, how to deal, how to speak up for myself and my community, so they can be advocates, they can have a voice, they can understand this is the world they live in. How do you survive in a world where there are guns?”
Q: Fondest memory at TNC?
“One of my fondest memories was when TNC was on Second Avenue. One of the first plays I ever got produced in New York was at Theater for the New City. It was “Billy Stars and Kid Jupiter: A sci-fi Jazzical.” I’ve been at Theater for the New City, a long time, the beginning of my career.”
Q: What are your plans now that your book is published?
“I’m thinking of doing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a play in late February/ March (2024) at TNC. I’m also working in Boston with these researchers on creating a program like Sesame Street from K-5th grade talking about Gun Violence.”
You can purchase William Electric Black’s new book GUNPLAYS: Five Plays on Inner City Violence and Guns at Target, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.