Award-Winning Theatrical Team Lynn Nottage, Kate Whoriskey Discuss Their Successes

The team of two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Lynn Nottage and director Kate Whoriskey is one of the great collaborations in theater today. They are currently represented on Broadway with Clyde's at the Hayes Theatre. Since 2003, with Intimate Apparel, they have worked on six plays, including some of the best in recent history. But their union had a rather unorthodox beginning.

As Nottage told Newsweek, "Kate and I have had a long collaboration that began with Intimate Apparel. We were introduced by a dramaturg named Jerry Patch who effectively set us up on a blind date saying, 'I think the two of you will get along really well.' Here we are 14 to 15 years later, still in a creative conversation."

What is unorthodox about this, Whoriskey told Newsweek, that when this happened, there was only half a script: "About 15 or 20 years ago, I don't know exactly when, I was working in a theater that she was also working. And a producer there thought that she and I would get along, and they just thought that for whatever reason we would be a great combination. And so he said. 'I have half of her play.' And I said, 'I think I need to wait till whole play is written.' And he said 'Honestly, this is great; because you're gonna read the first half and you're gonna fall in love with it.'

"And that's something people say a lot, and I was not someone who was going to believe it.

"But it was really an extraordinary read, and he was right. It was something that I had to direct. And I remember, I was having surgery at the time and was reading scripts on computers all the time. And so I actually had [this script] in my hand, and I remember the physical feeling of having this thing that's so precious, that I could actually lose it as I was running through the streets of New York, because it was just a wonderful script."

That was followed by Fabulation, for which Nottage won an Obie Award in playwriting, and then Ruined, one of the great plays of the past 25 years—and beyond—and for which she won her first Pulitzer.

"That was that was a really very special play to work on," Whoriskey told Newsweek, but it also came about in a roundabout way. "The thought," she said, "was that we're going to do Mother Courage set in the Congo. And then we took a trip to Uganda [to do research]. And I think the more time we spent, the more we realized that we didn't need or want the structure of Mother Courage, that that was not really serving us. And so that led to an original play, which was Ruined.

"We left to do something very different and something that was really centered on the experiences of African women." Nottage told Newsweek. "We started by interviewing Congolese women who are fleeing conflict, but when I went back. I subsequently did a much broader range of interviews with women from Somalia, Sudan and northern Uganda."

And it's important to note that at this point, there was still no play. From committing to a play that was only half written, Whoriskey had signed on for a play that was not written at all, and she was completely involved.

Nottage told Newsweek, "[Kate] did the first step of the journey with me, and I subsequently went back to Africa to complete my research, but she was there from the very inception. We had gone to East Africa with the intent of doing a modern adaptation of Mother Courage, and we left is to do something very different and something that was really centered on the experiences of African women."

According to Nottage, Whoriskey's involvement and connections helped get the play on the boards.

"One of the very fortunate things is that Kate at the time was an artistic fellow, I believe, at the Goodman Theatre. They asked her what she wanted to do, and she said Ruined. And I think, in large part the play happened because of that relationship. And also, I had a relationship with Manhattan Theatre Club, and they decided to co-produce the play, which actually has a rather large cast, 14 characters, and may have been prohibitively expensive if we didn't have those two theaters."

Nottage and Whoriskey have also done extensive research for their most recent collaborations.

"Sweat [which won Nottage a second Pulitzer] was a play where we went multiple times to Reading, Pennsylvania, and did a lot of research there. This play [Clyde's] also takes place in Reading so we already knew the environment. So there was less research on Clyde's. Originally it was going to be a play taking two characters from Sweat, Chris and Jason, and visiting them eight years later. But we ultimately have Jason being the only character from Sweat.

"I spent a lot of time in a Reading, Pennsylvania," Nottage told Newsweek. "I think it's just a very challenging place. And I'll say, having spent a lot of time there, that I've have come to really enjoy my time. I forged relationships, and they're all these really truly interesting pockets in that city. It has a history that when you dive in is quite fascinating."

According to Whoriskey, "[Clyde's] basically tells the story of how four people who are formerly incarcerated, acknowledge their traumas and build a community and through the community, are able to open themselves to new possibilities.

"Really it's about second chances. It's about people healing from incarceration. What's fun and sweet about it is the community is made up of people who are quite different from each other.... The combination of those four people doesn't seem to imply that they'll make a community, but that's what happens. And you watch these four disparate people who in many ways should not like each other do really respect and love each other.

While Nottage's plays often feature political, even hot-button issues, she never really betrays any bias in them. In Sweat, which shows the effects of management-worker relations on friends, the management rep is given equal time with the workers. And Clyde, the boss, and Jason, perhaps a white supremacist, each have their moments to shine, or at least defend their positions.

For Nottage, even Clyde is not, as some have written, the devil incarnate, she "is whoever that person is or thing that prevents one from fully actualizing."

She told Newsweek, "I think my job as a dramatist, is to build to build empathy and to allow the audience members to enter many different perspectives. I write plays because I'm interested in dialogue. I'm interested in watching people have conversations. I'm interested in the conversation between the characters and the audience in the fact that the audience really is the final collaborator."

Over the years, Nottage and Whoriskey have forged a special working relationship.

"I think the joy about working with Lynn," Whoriskey told Newsweek, "is that we just know each other so well. She's incredibly precise with her language.... It is very, very, very rare that an actor paraphrasing [her words] is better than what she's written. Our room is pretty open. I think people kind of recognize that. The most important thing and so that no ego should be should be topping the success of the play."

Clyde's Cast Broadway
Playwright Lynn Nottage and director Kate Whoriskey have formed a special relationship in the theater resulting in a series of successful plays including "Clyde's," now running on Broadway. Above, the cast of Clyde's is on a quest for the perfect sandwich Joan Marcus