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Center Stage

Playwright Tarell McCraney steps into the spotlight.

Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member Tarell McCraney is quickly becoming one of America’s most celebrated playwrights.


You’ve endeavored to make Antony and Cleopatra free for high school students when the play visits the United States in 2014. Why is it important that young people see theater?
When I was young, there were various social artistic programs available for students from low-income families. Without these I wouldn’t have received the incredible theater education that I was afforded at a young age. Someone thought students should have access to the arts for free, and that access helped me create a path in art, life. It will always be important to me to provide that access. It’s the least I can do.

What, in particular, do you enjoy about working with the Steppenwolf Theatre?
I get to hang out with some of the coolest people making work that I love. Even when I do something that’s not that great, these people have my back. I sent an email telling them that I had written a pretty bad play and that I was going to spend lots of time hiding after it was reviewed. Funny thing is, Steppenwolf ensemble members—new, old and in between—sent me messages like ‘You’re one of us now!’ and ‘Don’t hide; [forget] those reviewers!’ It was sweet, hilarious and kind. Wouldn’t trade them for the world.

What do you like to do when you’re in Chicago?
I like to read and see movies and dance. If Hubbard Street [Dance Chicago] is on, I’m there. But I also like to go the library at DePaul, my alma mater, and read. I guess because that’s what I did throughout undergrad—I’m used to it. Plus, it’s such a beautiful campus.

You love dance. How does that influence your work?
Google ‘Petite Mort Ballet;’ maybe look up the season trailers for Sadler’s Wells [Theatre] or even the hometown wonder Hubbard Street. You’ll see theater, drama at its most raw and exposed. Watching dance is an exercise in sharpening the knowledge and understanding of what the body can do in space, almost unadorned. It’s thrilling and moves me—reminds me to honor simplicity in performing art.