Life conjures art

Sharon BridgforthCreate the life you want as an artist, says playwright Sharon Bridgforth. Then focus on the work. She will deliver a public lecture on Feb. 24 in Farkas Hall at Harvard.

By Samantha Neville ‘19

Playwright Sharon Bridgforth, who was born in Chicago, grew up in Los Angeles and is a self-described child of the Great Migration, took the bus to school and other places she needed to go as a girl, and read while she did so.

“I was very inspired by books, so I think it was natural for me to want to write,” Bridgforth said. “When I was a teenager, I had so many emotions that I didn’t know what to do with, and in retrospect I can see that part of it was because I was gay, and I didn’t know that. I didn’t have a way to understand that.”

Writing helped.

Sharon Bridgforth
Playwright Sharon Bridgforth
As a Learning From Performers visiting artist, Bridgforth will talk about her evolution as a writer and artist during a lecture 4 p.m. Feb. 24 at Farkas Hall. The event is free and open to the public. While she’s at Harvard this week, she will also teach a master class to the cast and creative team of a Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club production in April of love conjure/blues, a theatrical adaptation of her novel of the same name. 

Before she worked as a writer and theater artist, Bridgforth was a community organizer, a director of the call-in radio show, an intervention counselor for Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services, and a family planning counselor for Planned Parenthood.

“I approach the art like a community organizer, like somebody that is using art as a vehicle for social justice,” said Bridgforth, who won both a Doris Duke Artist Award (in theater) and a Creative Capital Award last year.

It comes as no surprise that Bridgforth emphasizes the hard work that has gone into her success.

“It has been extremely difficult,” Bridgforth said. “It’s been a lot of work. It has also been an absolute joy and privilege.”

love conjure/bluesCentral to her success, she said, was finding a group of people she could practice her art with. Because her work is part of a theatrical jazz aesthetic, ensemble is elemental to creating jazz-like improvisation and polyrhythm in theater. In love conjure/blues, she uses theatrical jazz on the page to explore gender and her own history as a product of the Great Migration.

“With all of my work my intention is to use African-American tradition ­– acquired experience and culture – to celebrate our history and our lives and to bring people from very, very different backgrounds together for hopefully transformative experience where we connect and see each other a little more fully,” Bridgforth said.

Her advice to student artists is simple.

“Focus on the work, build [an] artistic family and know that you are creating a life,” she said. “Create the life that you want to live. And the art and the life are not separate.”