"I do dig, and I dig deep," Suzan-Lori Parks on White Noise

The Bridge Theatre in London produced White Noise in October 2021. Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and director Polly Findlay spoke about the play, its writing in 2016, and many changes leading up to the UK premiere of the piece. The full conversation is available on YouTube. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Suzan-Lori Parks (SLP): Hey everybody! SLP, Suzan-Lori Parks and here with the fabulous director—

Polly Findlay (PF): I’m Polly.

SLP: And this fall we’re going to do White Noise at The Bridge Theatre.

White Noise is a play about us trying to work it out—right. And so it’s really important to for all of us to get together. To get in the room when we make it, you know. To get in the room when we watch it as people and audience. Just get together and try to sort this world that we are living in right now, full of a lot of beautiful things and full of racial difficulty, disharmony, discord.

I’m really glad this is one of the first plays that people might be seeing [coming out of the pandemic], because this is what I make theatre for. I don’t just do theatre to, like, “Tra-la-la,” you know? There’s a place for that and that’s cool too, but my writing teacher, one of the things he taught me was to be fearless in your embrace of difficulties of the Black American experience, and to be fearless in your embrace of the joy of the Black American experience. And the Black American experience involves many Black people, but it also, as we say on the corner, involves white folks.

And for all of us to be getting in a room you and me as playwright and director, getting in a room and wrangling with this shit, working it out—our wonderful cast, these wonderful characters, four friends, two white folks, two Black folks, good friends who and some shit goes down: How do they deal with that?

PF: One of the things that struck me most about the play is the way you write about the act of making theatre. You’ve made this incredibly generous invitation—that you’ve extended to me, a white director—to be a part of bringing this play to life. There’s an invitation you’ve baked into the process, a conversation the play is encouraging everybody in the audience to have, and that feels to me to be creatively and emotionally and formally really, really thrilling. I’m so grateful for the chance to go on that journey with you.

SLP: I’ve been excited to go on that journey with you as well. You and your directing are fearless and specific—two things I love!

PF: I’m aware that you wrote this play in 2016 and you just revised it recently, in 2021. Do you feel the gesture you’re making in 2021 is essentially the same as you made in 2016? Or do you feel that the nature of the play is going to do something fundamentally different now?

SLP: The play was full of rage in 2016. I used to call it my angry play. When The Bridge said they wanted to do it, I told my agent, “Oh they want to do my angry play!” I was thrilled. And now it’s angrier. It’s an angrier play. And yet, it’s more compassionate. And yet, it’s more—ripping your heart open, more, as we say in the States, more “balls to the wall.” More urgent, it’s—it’s better. I really go there, and I think the gesture is similar as in the 2016 version, but it’s [she punches her hand with her fist.] Everybody is pushed in the play. To take a good look at their shit and to somehow figure out a way to work through it.

PF: In the earlier version of the play, the characters have a history of bowling together. The bowling alley location has shifted to a gun range. Could you talk a little bit about it?

SLP: Oh, let’s talk about the gun range! Yeah. I wanted to make that change before our first production in New York—the play always had guns in it from the very beginning, but I didn’t have them in the forefront because—I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know if I was ready to go there with it. It doesn’t fundamentally change the story of the play—the story beats—but it does somehow. It changes the tone; it ratchets it up. Bowling is delightful, kind of comical, but also beautiful and rhythmic activity which I did a lot of in my childhood. Shooting is—well it feels different, for the first thing.

I kept telling the audiences in New York: Are you ready to have the conversation? Are you willing to have the conversation? And some were, some weren’t. I would watch people in the audience, and some would be leaning in, and some were leaning back, leaning back, leaning back. I wasn’t writing anything to shock them—I’m not that kind of writer, but I do dig, and I dig deep, and I open my heart and I invite others to open theirs.