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About KEENE | David Sterling Brown

Red Bull's informal benefit reading of Anchuli Felicia King's new play KEENE will premiere LIVE at 7:30 PM EDT on Monday, October 19. A recording of the livestream will be available until 7:00 PM EDT on Friday, October 23– then it disappears. GET DETAILS

In this “post-postracial” world that too often conveniently equates blackness with race—and, in so doing, perpetuates the false notion that white people are raceless beings—it is not always the case that whiteness is rendered visible and thus presented through theater as a racialized category that necessitates critical examination. Yet, with Keene, Anchuli Felicia King accomplishes this difficult task by creating a deeply engaging play that is color-conscious, as opposed to “post-racially” colorblind, especially with respect to whiteness.

Keene follows Tyler, a Black ivy-league graduate student, through a three-day Shakespeare conference that is overwhelmingly white; and the play also follows Tyler into his historically informed dreams, where aspects of nineteenth-century Black actor Ira Aldridge’s life appear in vivid detail, ultimately revealing life parallels of isolation and betrayal between Tyler and Aldridge, parallels that also resonate with the trajectory of Shakespeare’s tragic Black protagonist Othello. When Tyler dreams, so, too, does Kai, a Japanese musicologist who instantly falls in love with Tyler and his blackness and who is the only other non-white person at this Shakespeare conference. It is in this sea of whiteness that Tyler and Kai stand out, paradoxically becoming visible and invisible in distinct dramatic moments emphasizing the kind of uncomfortable hypervisibility that is a byproduct of the psychologically and emotionally harmful racism, exoticism, exceptionalism and tokenism one can experience in predominantly white spaces.

With its emphasis on anxious early career researchers, in addition to its glimpse into the past through Aldridge and the significant challenges he faced because of anti-Black racism, colonialism and prejudice, Keene offers a powerfully serious critique of several relevant and fundamentally important issues that deserve centering in the arts and public discourse. These issues include but are not limited to the: objectification of Black men; instability of whiteness as a racial construct; marginalization of international scholars; limits and failures of allyship; white scholars’, or white people’s, presumed ownership of Shakespeare vis-à-vis bardolatry; elitism and toxicity of academia; gatekeeping in academic publishing; competitiveness of graduate program cohorts; commodification of blackness; peer pressure and anxiety permeating academic conference environments; and the consequences of racialized self-doubt and the resulting self-sabotage.

Through this satirical and timely play that occasionally alludes to American pop music, King invites her audience to consider identity and belonging as she highlights some of the negative and even damaging aspects of a profession—academia—that undoubtedly extend beyond Shakespeare studies and the theater world, beyond Tyler’s and Kai’s dreams, and into the real worlds of those who experience Keene.

David Sterling Brown, PhD

Assistant Professor of English

Binghamton University

On Thursday, October 22, join an interactive discussion with some of the artists involved and scholar David Sterling Brown, moderated by dramaturg Anne G. Morgan.. Register Now


David Sterling Brown is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at SUNY Binghamton; his research and teaching interests include Shakespeare, early modern English literature, African-American literature, drama, race, gender, sexuality, mental health, and the family. In addition to being a member of Phi Beta Kappa and a 2016-2018 Duke University SITPA Scholar, he is a graduate of New York University’s English and American Literature program and he was the first Trinity College (CT) alumnus to hold the Ann Plato Fellowship. At Trinity, David served as a faculty member in the English Department where he designed and taught an interdisciplinary early modern English drama/African-American literature course titled “(Early) Modern Literature: Crossing the Color-Line,” which is also the name of his 2016 Radical Teacher article that explores how instructors can use their scholarly interests to transcend identity politics and construct a methodology and pedagogy that intricately connects the academic to the personal and experiential. David was also a 2013-2014 Consortium for Faculty Diversity Scholar; and in 2016 he received two U of A Summer Faculty Stipends for curricular innovation. For the 2016-2017 academic year, David received U of A and NEH-sponsored Folger Shakespeare Library grants that supported his collaborative efforts to teach Shakespeare to undergraduates and host a statewide “Diversifying Shakespeare” conference.

His scholarship is published or forthcoming in Shakespeare Studies, Radical Teacher, Early Modern Black Diaspora Studies, Titus Andronicus: The State of Play, White People in Shakespeare, Shakespeare and Digital Pedagogy, The Hare, David Bevington Remembered, The Sundial, Global Shakespeare and Social Justice and Hamlet: The State of Play. David—a Phi Beta Kappa member—previously served on the Shakespeare Association of America’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee and he currently serves on the Race Before Race (#RaceB4Race) conference series Executive Board.

For complete details about Red Bull Theater's livestreamed benefit reading on Monday, October 19, VISIT HERE.


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