In a special limited engagement, Signature is presenting the Washington, DC, premiere of the multi-character show inspired by Johnson's award-winning book.
Directed by Rajendra Maharaj (365 Days at New York's Public Theater, and Marat Sade at the Classical Theatre of Harlem), Sweet Tea "collects life stories from black gay men of all ages who were born, raised, and continue to live in the Southern United States," according to Signature.
Performances play through Oct. 9 at Signature's intimate ARK Theatre. Opening night is Sept. 20.
Inspired by Johnson's personal journey, Sweet Tea "explores the perceptions, angst, triumphs and vulnerabilities of this minority within a minority…a population rarely acknowledged in writings about the South," according to Signature. "With this play, Johnson reinforces the spoken-word tradition while challenging stereotypes — and finding humor, humanity and hope within."
Johnson said in a statement, "I am overjoyed about bringing Sweet Tea to Signature and the DC/NOVA area. In many ways, opening the show at Signature is like a homecoming, because the impetus for writing the book came from a gathering sponsored by US Helping US, People Into Living, Inc., a black HIV/AIDS outreach group based in DC. It was at that gathering in 1995 that the tales by older black men encouraged me to collect the stories of as many black men of the South as I could so that there could be a living archive for generations to come. It's an honor for me to bring these stories back 'home' to where it all began." Johnson is Carlos Montezuma Professor of Performance Studies and African American Studies at Northwestern University and an artistic fellow at the Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media at Columbia College, Chicago, where he developed Sweet Tea into a play. A scholar/artist, Johnson has performed nationally and internationally and has published widely in the area of race, gender, sexuality and performance. His one-man show, Strange Fruit—A Performance About Identity Politics, toured around the country 1999-2004, and he has toured his staged reading, Pouring Tea: Black Gay Men of the South Tell Their Tales to over 80 college campuses around the country. He is the author of "Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity" published by Duke University Press (2003), which won several awards, including the Lilla A. Heston Award, the Errol Hill Book Award, and was a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. He is co-editor (with Mae G. Henderson) of "Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology" with Duke University Press (2005). His most recent book, "Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South—An Oral History" (2008), is published by the University of North Carolina Press and was named a Stonewall Book Award Honor Book, by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Round Table of the American Library Association. Johnson also recorded the audio version of the book in 2009.
In 2010, Johnson was awarded the Randy Majors Award for Outstanding Contributions to LGBT Scholarship in Communication by the LGBT Caucus of the National Communication Association, the Leslie Irene Coger Award for Distinguished Performance by the Performance Studies Division of the National Communication Association, the Black Theater Alliance Award for Best Solo Performance for his performance in Sweet Tea, and was inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame.
Sweet Tea is produced through special arrangement with Jane M. Saks.
For tickets and information about this and other productions at the Tony Award-honored Signature Theatre, visit www.signature-theatre.org.