About the author:
Playwright and actor Daniel Beaty definitely knows how to multitask. In 2006, he played more than 40 different characters in his one-man show, Emergence-SEE, which imagined the arrival of a slave ship in modern-day New York. Now Beaty is back in solo mode again with his newest work Through the Night, this time taking on an entire community of characters who experience life-changing epiphanies on the same night. With the show now in previews and an opening night set for September 26 at the Union Square Theatre, Beaty clued Broadway.com in to the challenges of playing so many roles at once. Take a journery Through the Night with a talented young playwright/performer as he explains why he hopes to inspire audiences through his work.
As an artist, my purpose is to inspire people to transform their pain into power. I endeavor to create characters full of contradictions—as we all are—who are at a crossroads. Will they be overcome by the challenges in their lives, or will they discover, or perhaps remember, that part of themselves that is greater than any difficult circumstance that arises? The essential question in my play Through the Night is: In the midst of the challenges we face as individuals, how do we make it through the night? How do we find the courage to keep going, and why should we?
I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, in a home that was rife with addiction and incarceration. I thought chaos was the norm. My father was a heroin addict and dealer who spent most of my childhood in and out of prison. My older brother ended up following in his footsteps by becoming addicted to crack cocaine and spending time in prison as well. My concept of who I could be in the world was greatly influenced by the men in my home.
Then, when I was in the third grade, my teacher Mavis Jackson played Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on videotape, and I saw a powerful image of another type of man. This man was standing in front of tens of thousands of people using words to literally change the world—to open hearts and minds. I said to my teacher, “I want to use words like that!” And my life, in one form or another has followed that path.
Right away, I began writing speeches and performing them all over the country. Eventually, I discovered the performing arts and found my home in dramatic form. I began to ask myself, how can I tell a story that has the potential to have a deep impact? That’s a big thought, isn’t it—that a play could change the world? But hey, it is the job of artists to dream! I am interested in big questions because the world is full of big problems.
In Through the Night, my characters are dealing with issues of education, entrepreneurship, addiction, incarceration, and sexuality. Heavy stuff—but the play also uses a great deal of humor. Often the humor comes out of truth of the characters' responses to their own fear or confusion.
When dealing with big issues, I believe it is important to create fully fleshed-out characters. Each of the characters I embody has a specific challenge that is urgent. They have obstacles that are making it difficult for them to overcome these challenges. A series of events causes them to either become greater than the challenges or face the reality of their humanity.
Performing fully dimensional characters is a delicious task as a solo performer. Each character has an arc, and each is at a different place in their arc simultaneously. One character might be in a moment of immense joy and freedom, and seconds later a character might be extremely anxious or in sorrow. The task is not only to keep the characters’ bodies and voices distinct, but I must convey a clear emotional journey for each of them. It can be a little chaotic internally, but when it works, the alchemy is truly magical. And besides, I’m used to chaos. I think most artists are. And through the power of art—of words—I’m also becoming used to magic, joy, and possibility.
As a little boy, my whole chaotic world shifted by witnessing the drama of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream.” Similarly, it is my hope—my dream—that my audience might experience even the slightest shift or opening by witnessing Through the Night. Because as my characters discover, and as I continually discover, no matter how dark a situation may seem, if we can just make it through the night, there is always a dawn.