It’s the 1950s, and Hollywood is at its prime with the production of iconic classic films like “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “All About Eve,” “Rebel Without a Cause” and more. From Marilyn Monroe to James Dean, stars are born and careers are made. But it’s not all “Sunset Boulevard,” sunshine and roses — especially for actors of color.
“Old Black and White Hollywood,” written by UH senior playwright ShaWanna Goffney, explores Hollywood’s tumultuous history. The play focuses on Eva Rose, a white actress desperate for bigger and better roles, and Doris Jean, a black actress working to perform parts other than unnamed housekeeper and background servant, during the Jim Crow era. Goffney’s play takes a hard look at classic American cinema with humor, heartache and through an unlikely friendship between the two women.
Learn more about Goffney’s path to playwriting and the inspiration for “Old Black and White Hollywood” in our Q&A below!
What kickstared your love of playwriting?
I was a working actress living in Los Angeles, but I wasn’t booking roles that represented me and my ability. So, I decided to try my hand at writing because I wanted to create my own narrative. As soon as I started writing, I fell in love with conceptualizing ideas, writing real everyday dialogue and creating characters that actors would love to play. It was love at first type! Playwriting came from me wanting to write my own parts. Then it grew into me wanting to create a voice for black women to help control our narrative.
What inspired “Old Black and White Hollywood”?
Months before the story idea, I’d wanted to tell a story about a no-name 1950s black actress. The idea haunted me. I had to tell “her” story. I was able to develop a home for the actress in Rob Shimko’s comedy playwriting class. I challenged myself to tell a Hollywood story set in the 1950s about a black actress trying to become successful in the middle of Jim Crow... and make it a comedy. It started out as a 10-minute play, but there was so much more to this story, so for my final I wrote the full version. Now, it premieres at UH on October 25.
How is this play and its themes significant?
The play is significant because it takes place in 1954, but it could easily take place today. The fact that the same obstacles that stood in front of my two leading ladies during that time would still stand in their way today is a scary reality. The story shows how little the world has evolved. We also see the evolution of comedy in this play, and to see how far comedy has come is amazing.
How do you hope audiences will react?
I think it’s important to support new works. There’s a new generation of writers who have different ways of telling stories, and I think we all should support their stories just as much as classical plays. I hope the audience has an open mind and likes how truthful I tell the stories of each character. I hope audiences enjoy the characters’ journey.