Playwright Lynn Nottage talks about winning ‘MJ The Musical’ Tony Award and why she creates art about working-class black families

This season, playwright Lynn Nottage has two shows running simultaneously: the play Clyde’s, which depicts formerly incarcerated workers at a diner (it’s running in select cities until the fall) and MJ The Musical, her first play off Broadway on the 1992 Dangerous World of Michael Jackson. Round.

Any other playwright would tell you they’re overwhelmed juggling two huge projects like this. Nottage, however, said business was business as usual.

“I think I can relate to Michael {Jackson} in the way he just worked – his work ethic was second to none,” she shared with Essence. “He was an uncompromising musician and a perfectionist, and the musical speaks a lot about how that pursuit of perfection really weighed on him. And some of that is recognizable.

Nottage, much like the subject of her Tony-award-winning production, had prepared for the level of effort required to direct two hit works at once, among other projects.

“I feel like in some ways my whole life has been set up for this,” Nottage said. “I was talking very recently with a lighting designer friend, who comes from an immigrant family, and he said that he watched his parents work seven days a week just to survive. And that was just their discipline in order to feed the family and support the next generation. And he was saying he felt like some of that was just embedded in his DNA because that was what was molded for him. I also think my parents modeled that for me. My mother worked incredibly hard, my grandmother worked, you know. And I thought, ‘That’s just what we do.’

Nottage credited this ingrained work ethic has also helped her win opportunities in the theatrical circuit that black women have rarely received.

“Doing theater is very difficult,” Nottage begins. “Doing theater when you are a black woman is doubly difficult. Early in my career, I was often told that there was no audience for my black women-centric stories. The literary managers or the artistic directors often told me that they, that is to say the white people, needed a way to access this work, which was a code because they needed only a white person is centered in the room to enjoy. I mean, I can run through the list of indignities I’ve suffered to get here. For anyone in theater, we all know that we really are survivors.

Looking ahead, Nottage said she hopes her motivation will inspire the next generation of creators to nurture their unapologetic artistic voice.

“There’s beauty in motion,” Nottage said. “Moving forward, progressing, creating art… these are all aspects of life that make it valuable. Never stop creating.