Artists Space

Adrienne Kennedy

Two people in white face paint and fanciful dresses crowd around a crudely constructed wooden desk that sits off-kilter. One sits at the desk and applies makeup while the other stands to their left, gazing beyond the image.
Adrienne Kennedy, Funnyhouse of a Negro, 1964 (East End Theater, New York, directed by Michael Kahn, produced by Barr, WIlder, and Albee). Pictured: Ellen Holly and Cynthia Belgrave. Photo: Frederick Eberstadt. [Two people in white face paint and fanciful dresses crowd around a crudely constructed wooden desk that sits off-kilter. One sits at the desk and applies makeup while the other stands to their left, gazing beyond the image.]

February 6 –

A series of live performances, readings, talks, and an archival presentation celebrating the work of the highly influential and internationally renowned playwright Adrienne Kennedy. A multi-format program of public events provides the locus of this project on Kennedy’s work, and Artists Space will host staged readings of three of Kennedy’s plays, including one new monologue written by Kennedy for the occasion.

This project is curated by Hilton Als in collaboration with Artists Space.

Adrienne Kennedy was born in 1931 in Pittsburgh, PA and eventually moved to New York, where she became an essential part of the avant-garde arts scene, founding the Women’s Theatre Council in 1971 and presenting work at venues such as La Mama and the Open Theater. Since her earliest plays written in the 1950s, Kennedy championed but also differentiated her work from the experimental and revolutionary theater agendas outlined by figures of the Black Arts Movement like Amiri Baraka and Nikki Giovanni, who argued for a theater and literature produced specifically for a Black audience and directly reflecting the lives of Black people. Subverting expectations, Kennedy’s plays move beyond ideology and action. Instead, she locates and transmits the political in metaphorical and psycho-physical space via her willful protagonists, often women of color. Kennedy notes that her plays are "states of mind," written while images "fiercely pound in [her] head." Borrowing freely from the languages of symbolism, absurdism, expressionism and surrealism, Kennedy’s plays defy modernism’s fixed categories by blending and juxtaposing contradictory genres, styles, and tones.

Through her vivid and daring work, Kennedy has emerged as one of the defining voices in theater of the past 70 years, along the way taking on collaborations and correspondences with figures as various as Cecil Taylor, The Beatles, Harold Pinter, Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka, Ruby Dee, and Edward Albee.