Interview: Drayton Hiers, The Flea’s Company Dramaturg on “Southern Promises”

Drayton Hiers, The Flea’s Company Dramaturg is now in his second year at The Flea. Drayton supports the development and production of new plays, manages the literary office, and runs the Serials Writers’ Room. We sat down with him to talk about “Southern Promises” to gain his insights as the dramaturg for The Flea’s upcoming production.

Let’s start with what you do for The Flea i.e. finding scripts that will show off our resident actors, The Bats, and advances The Flea-mission of “raising a joyful hell.” With those two objectives in mind, let’s talk about the script for Southern Promises and how it fits into the current COLOR BRAVE Season.

The plays that we’re producing this season all ask The Bats to go to vulnerable spaces in their spirituality, physicality, and psychology— and Southern Promises is no different. This script came to us at a time that Niegel, our Artistic Director and the playwright, Thomas Bradshaw both wanted to investigate how culture has changed in the last 10-years since the play was first produced.

How does the play specifically speak to the concept of being “color brave”?

At its core, Southern Promises is asking “How are we still living in a white supremacy society?” That is a brave and honest place to generate conversations about racism in America. 

How is this play about slavery and the African American experience different from other plays we’ve seen from other writers?

Thomas is challenging what we think life on a plantation or life as a slave actually was. We tend to hold these ideas about the characters and attitudes of both slaves and slave masters on a plantation. Thomas strips away these expectations and gets at the normalcy of life in the Antebellum South. He shows us the everyday banality of the institution of slavery which, in my opinion, makes it more terrifying.

How does Thomas’ style of writing impact themes that have been discussed frequently? 

Slavery and plantation life are popular subjects. We see most writers working to play up the evil. Thomas isn’t doing that. His writing treats slave masters as real people that happen to own slaves. These are people who treat people as property. By doing this the violence becomes causal and incidental.

What do you think audience members will leave the theater thinking or feeling?

After reading this script, the question that keeps percolating in my mind is, “How complicit am I?” and I hope that the audience will walk away pondering the same thing. The Flea’s audience is liberal, progressive and therefore they know racism is wrong. I think it’s my job to find stories that push our audience to question how they are complicit in these systems. I want the audience to leave with a different understanding of what it was like in that times. I also want them to think ‘those Bats are incredible’ and ‘that was a damn good show’.

Performances of Southern Promises, written by Thomas Bradshaw and Directed by Artistic Director Niegel Smith, begins March 11 – April 14.