Ellen Hunter ’04: Welcome to Women's Voices amplified the podcast from the Brown Women's Network, where we talk with Brunonian changemakers about making an impact in their communities and beyond. I'm Ellen Hunter and I graduated from Brown in 2004 with a Bachelor of Arts. In this episode, I'll be speaking with playwright, director, producer and award-winning actor Miranda ADEkoje.
Miranda ADEkoje ’04: I feel like my voice is the most authentic as it's been, because I'm not writing for the sake of being produced anymore. I'm not writing hoping someone will say, “Oh, this is good enough.” I'm just writing.
Hunter: Miranda ADEkoje received her undergraduate degree in 2004 in Literature and Cultures in English. Welcome to the podcast, Miranda.
ADEkoje: Hi, Ellen.
Hunter: Hi, Miranda. Let's dive in. Miranda, what are you up to? What are you working on right now? I'm curious about your play on Crispus Attucks.
ADEkoje: That's such a great question. I was commissioned to write a piece about Crispus Attucks for Revolutionary Spaces. Revolutionary Spaces is a Boston nonprofit organization that runs the Old South Meeting House in the Old State House, which are historical institutions right downtown, and they do reenactments and they have museums and things like that. And the Old South Meeting House had an exhibit about Crispus Attucks, and they needed like a 20-minute play, which they usually run over the summer, and all the tourists come and see it. And I was commissioned to do that. I was in the middle of writing the play when COVID happened and everything was canceled, but the commission had already gone through. So I continued to write the play. And we had panels about it and we discussed it, but it was never workshopped or produced. And actually just today, my producer called me and said we're going back up in October so I'm super excited. I am currently doing that.
And actually this week I am pitching to the National Park Service. They want to do a project called “Suffrage in Black and White” about suffrage in Boston. I'm one of three playwrights who were commissioned to do research on three moments of suffrage in Boston. And I've been researching about Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, who was a black activist. She was everything: club woman, activist, abolitionist, transcendentalist, and her circle. And so we are pitching those plays. So that's super exciting as well. So I've been doing a lot of historical based plays.
Hunter: So how busy are you?
ADEkoje: I'm incredibly busy. If I could just have all my twenties, all that waiting around I was doing like hoping for work. If I honestly had all this work, then. Oh, it's such a blessing. I'm so happy about it. And I have no time. I have no time to do anything but work. And it's fulfilling. And it is, it can be challenging at times.
Hunter: So obviously, we are close friends. We were roommates in college. But the reason I wanted to interview you, Miranda, is because I feel like you're all those things together that I never expected in one person like being an athlete and being a big sister and being a person of faith and being a person who's like a scholar and, you know, traveled internationally and did all these things. You know, I’m just wondering about your childhood and how you got to be so imaginative and so many things all at once.
ADEkoje: Yes, Ellen, we were roommates but I think the thing that you and I have in common is that we're big sisters. And there's something about being an older sibling that just, I think, endeared us because we understood that connection to our siblings, but also being the eldest. So I am the oldest of seven. My parents were, I'm going to say they were young when they had us. And I say that because whenever I was at school, when our parents would come to, you know, whatever parent teacher nights, all the kids would be like, “Your parents are so young.” And I would look at their parents and I'd be like, oh, they're old. But so my parents had us like when they were in their twenties and they adopted very much later in life. I was in my late twenties when they adopted my brother and sister. So we were really close knit. We were stair-stepped, pretty much the five of us. And I was always the child with a book. Like I always had a book. I was always a little a little writer. And where my brothers would be like horsing around and my sister would be doing whatever with them, bossing them around. I would always be somewhere quietly, like with a book or watching movies. You know, me and one of my brothers, like all of the movies I watched as a kid over and over, I would just pull him in and be like, “Oh, you gotta watch this. You gotta watch this.” So to this day, he likes to quote Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet, because I watched that at least 100 times. So that was always my thing. And then when I got into basketball, that was all-consuming and that took forever. So that gave me a great consistency in my life. You know, it gave me regimen and something to do and responsibility in a team. And that took up a lot of time as well. So it was between basketball and then my love for books and literature and movies that kind of consumed my childhood. And then obviously just being one of five, you know, you can't ever get too into yourself you know. You just can't because someone's right behind you knocking on the door being like “Get out of there” you know? So that was great. Actually, I think it kept me from getting too far into my own head.
Hunter: So I saw one of your plays that you wrote during COVID, I believe. So it was created for a pandemic world to be shot on Zoom. And I was wondering if you could talk about that play. Did everything just shut down when the pandemic started? How did you get into doing that play? And another piece of it that I wonder if you could reflect on is is there anything about this pandemic as an artist that's like drawn out another piece of you or that helped build on your creative work?
ADEkoje: The play was called Caping. When Covid happened, all theaters went dark. And so a lot of theaters were like, “okay, how can we continue to create work in this desert?” And we don't know when it's going to end. And we you know, we don't know how this is going to pan out. So one thing that I got involved in with the Huntington was audio plays. And I wrote an audio play for their Dream Boston series. And that was awesome because they sent recording equipment to actors and we had a recording session via Zoom. And it was a way to kind of get back into radio and the art of audio plays, which I really enjoyed. So that was kind of my foray into COVID work. And then I was commissioned by New Rep Theater in Watertown for their Showstopper virtual series. So they had these two plays that they commissioned that had to be virtually done. You know, we knew that they were going to be on Zoom. I like writing for the medium. And I think it's because I'm also a screenwriter. And this was the first time that the theater world was actually kind of commissioning for screenwriting because, and I call it screenwriting because everything was done through the screen, through Zoom. And as a screenwriter, I think I was able to tap into the things that make screenwriting fun and engaging. So I was able to do an intimate monologue, really, that I couldn't have done on a stage. And I really wanted to push the boundaries because I was like, this is a unique opportunity, like, let's do it. And it ended up coming out really well.
So Caping was about a producer who was doing an on-set production during COVID and is required to get a COVID test, her and her crew. And the drama is about the obstacles she faces in having her crew get COVID tested. There are, you know, financial obstacles, there are transportation obstacles. And the client who is supposed to represent, you know, a nonprofit like “for the people” kind of group is holding her to this contract to get her crew tested. And it's about that. It's about being a working professional, a Black professional, a female working professional who's trying to maintain her professionalism, but also really struggling to get this thing done. And then she has this contract over her head that the client keeps saying, “Well, you signed, you signed, you signed.” And the pressure of that was something I found really interesting.
And then to top that off, you have this chorus of Instagram commentators who are talking about, you know, putting their two cents in. And I felt like it was a great little view into our world these days with like social media and the pressures and how social media can feel like a group of friends or it can feel like going before the Coliseum, like, are you getting the thumbs up or the thumbs down? And I just felt like those are inherently dramatic and it worked really well. And I think what I loved about it is that it spoke to my experience, but also all of my Black female friends who are in professional circles, like some much more corporate than I am. I love the feedback they had for me because it was basically about professionalism itself can be a strain and stressful. And that's our experience. So it's so wonderful to write something that I could share with my colleagues. And it was very artistic and highly artistic, but it also spoke to their world. So it was just wonderful, a wonderful experience.
It was a great thing to do when we're all holed up inside to be able to have this, like really exciting art. Another benefit of the pandemic has been folks who, like my friends in London — so I trained in London — my friends can tune in to my work. And that's never really happened, you know, because everything is virtual. So that's something that I think I've gained from working during COVID, writing for screen more and actually seeing my writing on screen, that happened because of COVID. So, yeah, I've had a lot of fortunate turns in this difficult time and I'm really thankful for those.
Hunter: Did you always want to go to screens or do you feel like yourself more naturally as a playwright?
ADEkoje: Well, I feel like I'm a playwright, but it's hard to get a play up. It really is. Like I've had plays that I've been sitting on for like 15 years, and they've received workshops and they received readings. But to get a production? I don't even know what the secret sauce is for that. While I feel like playwriting has really strengthened my storytelling and my ability to tell a story and do character development, it's awesome, there's something about screen that has proven easier for me. But COVID has forced our theaters to look locally, it forced them to look at the writers who are local, like I've never been so busy in my adult life.
Hunter: Did you feel like you were taking a risk? Because Caping was the one where you like, as you're mentioning, where you critique a little bit the world of theater for the gatekeeping and the networking and the impact of that on the ability, particularly for Black artists or for artists who come in different sorts of ways, to break through. So it's kind of interesting because you're critiquing and at the same time, your profile and the work that you're doing is gaining.
ADEkoje: Yeah, that's actually been a theme this year. The critique. And surprisingly, folks are moved by it and it speaks to them. So Caping was critiquing the production world and the world of like TV, entertainment and all that, which is part of my thing. And then I wrote the virtual play I wrote for Huntington called Virtual Attendance, actually was critiquing the Huntington. So the Huntington commissioned us to write these audio plays. And then my play was about Boston in about 2027 where I live, which is Roxbury, and all the gentrification that's happening there. And it's two transplants who are white women speaking about this gym that they're going to, this virtual gym. But the gym used to be a Black theater, the small Black theater that's actually in Roxbury now called Hibernian Hall. And they talk about it like, “Oh, my gosh. Remember that little theater that was here, you know?” And they have no idea the history that's there. And in the end, they talk about how the only theater that's left in Boston is the Huntington. And it was my direct kind of criticism of the Huntington and the fact that their programming isn't as diverse as I would like and I don't feel like it reflects all the rich voices of the city. And yet, because of how big it is and how much money it has, it could very well be the only theatrical house that makes it out of COVID. So the curator, an exhibitionist for the Gallery 360 at Northeastern heard that play and loved it. And actually it was a criticism of Northeastern as well, talking about how Northeastern is buying up Boston, basically, and she loved it. And then she asked me to co-curate an exhibit at the Gallery 360 at Northeastern with her called Dream Boston but it was the visual art component of the same prompt. Imagine Boston in the near future. You know, what do you imagine it to be? So, yeah, I don't know. I have a little rough edge, and that is what I've been putting in my work. And it's actually been working. People find it funny. I mean, I like humor, dark humor, and things, too. So I try to be funny and light with these issues. And it seems to be what my sweet spot is, because I continue to get work based on what I'm writing. So that's cool, because I feel like my voice is the most authentic as it's been, because I'm not writing for the sake of being produced anymore. I'm not writing hoping someone will say, “Oh, this is good enough.” I'm just writing.
Hunter: I feel like there's some connection to my work with like the broader movement that's happening now. Because, you know, we talk about systemic issues. There's this article that we've used. It's called A Loving Chastisement of America. But, you know, now I'm in the corporate space and people like, “All right, we want to have honest conversations and we want to talk about systemic structural issues.” So like, all right, if that's what we're doing, there is a way to be patriotic and be critical. There's a way to look at, you know, a company that I worked in and also like assess what's there that's not great. The more authentic we are, the more there’s space for us to like say stuff and open up and address some of these things. And I hope that's progress, you know?
ADEkoje: Yeah, that's all you can hope. Also, I just had to decolonize my own mind. You know, we're pushing 40. And I didn't realize how much my mind was influenced by ideas of white supremacy and, you know, colonist ideas around everything. You know, the canons that we learned, the classes I took at Brown about English and what the canon is. It's all through one lens. And I didn't know that. You know, I'm a gold star girl and it's all about what do I need to do to do well. Okay, I need to kind of be able to talk about the narratives you're teaching me? I can do that. And for the first time, I'm like, wait a minute. Those narratives are, you know, are lopsided. So there's a little insecurity there, just feeling like, can I talk about this? But it's like, well, no, my experience is the thing I have. I don't have to explain that. I don't have to have all the answers.
Hunter: Yeah. What lessons did you learn at Brown that you still carry with you today?
ADEkoje: I mean, I think the ability to question the establishment came from Brown, even the curriculum, right? The ability to create your own curriculum. And I didn't know it. I didn't think about it at the time. But the agency that gives you as a student, as a person to say, I'm not good at this, but I'm really strong at this. So I can, in a very adult fashion, create a curriculum around what I'm good at as an undergrad and then do whatever in the world. That was pretty much the blueprint for my career. I never did the job that you just have to do for 10 years so that you can get on the ladder. I never did that. And there are some frustrations around my career and the path that it was going, but the reason I think I have the confidence to say this isn't going to work for me, I just know myself, is because I had done that four years ago when I said, “No, I know what I'm not good at and I know I'm not going to you know, I'm going to focus on literature and culture in English. I'm not going to go into this, you know, technical, scientific side.” That's just not how God created my mind to work, you know.
Hunter: Well, can you talk more about some of the things that Brown that you did gravitate towards?
ADEkoje: Well, I was an athlete, so a lot of time was taken up in the gym. So that's the time commitment that shaded a lot of my time in Brown. And the relationships I made obviously were I mean, my girlfriends from Brown are my girlfriends today. You know, that became my professional and personal tribe. And that's amazing. I just think a lot of the things I learned in terms of how to learn and how to question and how to work came from Brown but I didn't know it at the time. I think that's all starting to settle and has settled in the last like five years, like, “Oh, yeah, I'm you know, I'm a critical thinker, you know.” [laughs] And for me, it was tough to kind of assess that because I couldn't put a value on it. But it is valuable. You know, it's a valuable way to exist in the world. Yeah, that's definitely something that I treasure from my time at Brown.
Hunter: Yeah. Well, speaking of something to offer, what advice would you give a current student who's interested in writing, directing, and producing? Where should they start?
ADEkoje: Oh, wow. Well, I'm really into apprenticeships. So I would say for someone who knows that that's what they want to do, definitely find boutique-level production houses that you can work for, that you can PA, production assist, and then you just learn and you just watch how people do things. As a production producer, a project manager, a lot of my job is about being organized, having my own systems, like making sure everyone's on the same page and you get more responsibility and you realize that actually these systems are really, really helpful. So there's that. And if you want to write and if you want to actually create the art, you just got to create the art and find ways to get it made. Though what's great about nowadays is that now you have your phones and it's a lot easier than it was 10 years ago to like cut together a movie. So if you're passionate, I really feel like the opportunities meet you but you have to just work hard and sometimes do things that you may not want to do just to learn an aspect of a business. I would say learn all the aspects that you can. Even if you don't want to direct, watch a director to see what they're doing, like so know how you could be helpful to them or what they're looking for out of a script and things like that.
Hunter: Yeah. Is there anything else you want to talk about, Miranda?
ADEkoje: Yeah. Well, you mentioned me being a person of faith. What question would you have about that?
Hunter: What do you think people misunderstand about that?
ADEkoje: Oh, that's a great question. This moment in time, although so full of promise and so self-reflective, is also quite polarizing. Cancel culture is real and there isn't very much opportunity for discussion or for understanding. And I think something that people misunderstand, especially about either people of faith or in my case as a Christian, is that what keeps you in the game, keeps you in the walk is the fact that you're a lot of times going to be agreeing to disagree and you can still live that way. I think that that's something that sometimes people don't understand. That faith isn't just a it's not a pill that you take, and then suddenly you're just cut off from certain discussions and thoughts. It's almost a struggle every day. It's something that you're wrestling with. It's real. It's alive. It's like anything else. It's something that you constantly question and that spreads into my work. But most of all, it just spread into my development as a person.
Hunter: That’s totally you. Yeah, this is an honor. You’ve always been that authentic learner like questioner and person of faith and extremely tolerant of other people. But like, how you held all that has really has been inspiring for me.
ADEkoje: It was such an honor to be asked, such an honor to be asked.
Hunter: Thanks for listening to the Women's Voices Amplified podcast. For more episodes like this, be sure to listen and subscribe. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, Amazon Podcasts, Stitcher and SoundCloud. The views expressed in this podcast do not necessarily represent those of Brown University.
The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent those of Brown University.