How Winning the Pulitzer Has Made James Ijames Bolder

·2 min read

The playwright James Ijames is no stranger to audacious choices. His adaptation of “Hamlet,” “Fat Ham,” sets the story at a backyard barbecue thrown by a Black family in the South — and reimagines the tragedy as a comedy.

Now that “Fat Ham” has won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, expect him to get even bolder.

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Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:

“I feel like I want to take more risks now,” Ijames said on Stagecraft, Variety‘s theater podcast. “I want to be more adventurous. It’s made me braver.”

He added, “I also feel like [winning the Pulitzer] pulls me into a community of people that I have admired for a really long time. That’s amazing, to look at that list of people I’ve read, and studied, and acted in their work, over my career. To have the opportunity to be in the same category with them is really lovely.”

“Fat Ham” is the one of three Shakespeare plays Ijames wants to rethink with a contemporary, queer, Black lens. He’s now at work on a version of “Othello” that’s just as surprising as his “Hamlet.”

“It’s an Othello character who’s a computer scientist who’s grappling with racism inside of artificial intelligence, and the Iago character is an AI,” he explained. “It starts to mess with his own conception of who he is and what he believes. But I’m trying work with an actual AI app to write parts of it. That’s the difficult part!”

Also on the new Stagecraft, Ijames discussed taking “Fat Ham” digital and then back again to analog and unpacked the shared leadership structure at Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater, where he is a co-artistic director. He also revealed his secret to being a prolific writer.

“I’m constantly writing,” he said. “I’m not someone that’s like, ‘Oh, I write from four to six every morning’ or ‘I write from eight to midnight.’ I’m someone who is perpetually writing on my phone, writing on my computer, writing on my notebook, pulling things together into a form. Sometimes I’ll just hear a line and put it in the notes and be like, ‘One day this line will be necessary.'”

He continued, “It’s a little bit my space of competition, if I’m really honest. It is where my ambition lies. How much story can I put into the world?”

To hear the full conversation, listen at the link above or download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on podcast platforms including Apple PodcastsSpotify and the Broadway Podcast NetworkNew episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.

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