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Dr. E Patrick Johnson in character in "Sweet Tea."
Northwestern Professor Dr. ? Patrick Johnson
has won acclaim for his books and plays.
When Dr. E. Patrick Johnson performs his one-man show "Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South" at this year's NBTF, it
will be a homecoming of sorts. The talented actor/professor/author/playwright is from Hickory, about 50 miles down
Interstate 40 from Winston-Salem. Surely, his success is making his hometown proud.
When he is not teaching classes as the Carlos Montezuma Professor of Performance Studies and African-American Studies at
Northwestern University, he is lecturing or performing his acclaimed plays around the globe.
In "Sweet Tea," presented by Chicago's Project&, Johnson shares the stories - some funny, some poignant, some a combination of
both - of dozens of Southern gay black men. The play sprung from his book "Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South - An Oral
Historyf in which he profiled 63 gents.
"I was just so amazed that no one had collected these stories," Johnson told The
Chronicle in 2013, when he performed an early iteration of the play called "Pouring
Tea" at Wake Forest University. "1 was thinking that if 1 had heard these stories
like this, 1 may not have struggled as much as 1 did in coming to terms with my
sexuality, because I thought 1 was the only one."
The book has sold upward of 10,000 copies, while the play based on it has been
performed hundreds of times. On stage, Johnson plays a slew of characters,
weaving together a complex, highly entertaining show that explores the complexities
of race and sexuality. The play has been an ever-evolving work-in-progress ever since
Johnson debuted it in 2010.
We've had various permutations of the show and it has really grown," Johnson
told the Windy City Times in May. "One of the ways that it has grown is that my
own story as a gay Black man has framed the play now, such that my story is sort
of the conceit of the show!'
Sugar, the signature ingredient for Southern tea, has also become a constant,
unseen tableau, Johnson said.
"In this version, sugar takes on a more symbolic role, connecting to all the
different ways that sugar is connected to African-Americans in this country, from
historically working on sugar cane plantations to sugar being a part of folklore,"
said Johnson, who is now working on the book "Honey Pot," a collection of
profiles of Southern black lesbians. "Also sugar being a euphemism for diabetes,
which also plagues African-American communities, to sugar being part of all of
the rituals that happen in the play. It's not sugar for sugar's sake, it is sugar with a
purpose - and of course some of the terms that are used to describe gay people
like 'sugar in the tank." ?
Black Gay Men
of the South
Forum Black Box
Theatre at Milton
I Rhodes Center
I Tues, Aug. 4 8 p.m.
I Wed, Aug. 5 3 p.m.
I Wed, Aug. 5 8 p.m.
I Thurs, Aug. 6 8 p.m.