Playwright Sonya Hemphill is excited to see her hit play “Sensuality,” which toured the country in the 1990s, back on its feet and getting its first production in about five years.
The play, a coming-of-age piece about main character Casey (played here by Kareema Wambuii) discovering her sexuality, has its D.C.-area premiere Saturday at 7 p.m. (one performance only) at TheArc (1901 Mississippi Ave. S.E.) as part of the D.C. Black Theatre Festival, which runs through June 29. Tickets are $15. They’re available at cloudstheater.com or at dcblacktheaterfestival.com.
Hemphill says the piece, which she wrote and is directing, has lasted because it’s a “universal love story.”
“People come to see it and they realize it’s a story about love,” she says. “They can come thinking being gay is the wrongest thing in the world, but after they see the play, they go, ‘OK, I get it now, it’s just human beings being in love.’”
Hemphill formed her Clouds in My Coffee Theater in the early ‘90s and has worked in theater off and on for many years. For about three years from 2005-2008 she ran a dinner theater in Orlando, Fla., which she says was therapeutic and helped her recover from the loss of her mother who died in 2002.
Hemphill is a native New Yorker and has been in the D.C. area for six years. She came here to be near her sister and three nephews. She lives with her girlfriend of one year, Nickie, in La Plata, Md.
Hemphill enjoys kayaking, swimming and reading in her free time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I have been out since I was 19 and the hardest person to tell was my mom, so I got a dozen books from the library on being the parent of a gay child and said, “Read these!”
Who’s your LGBT hero?
Audre Lorde. She came out at a time when being a lesbian was not popular, she had the courage to write about her experience and encouraged others to do the same. My first lesbian book was “ZAMI” by Audre Lorde and I implore everyone to read it, especially if you are feeling isolated about your sexuality.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
I love frequenting different places every week so I often grab a Groupon deal and head out the door to a new spot.
Describe your dream wedding.
I’m torn between the beach or a cruise ship. I love cruises and my friends have labeled me a cruise whore as I have been on nine so far, so the ship will probably win.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Tough question because I look at most issues as human issues.
What historical outcome would you change?
I would change the outcome of the very first war. I think that if mankind had learned from the very first war on how to handle massive conflicts, there would be less killing and more peace overall. It’s a far-fetched idea but I’m an artist, I dream in color and always hope for the best in people.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
I had the pleasure of being on an Olivia cruise in February with my honey where Maya Angelou was the guest speaker. She wasn’t feeling well so she visited us via Skype but she was such a formidable woman that it seemed as though she was actually in the room with us. There were over 1,900 lesbians on the ship and she told us that we were her daughters and that she embraced and loved us. It was a crowning moment and her words will stay with me till the end.
On what do you insist?
Cleanliness and certain etiquettes like please and thank you. My mother was a New Yorker and my father was from the South, so I am an interesting blend. My father taught me all the nice things to say and my mother insisted that I say them with edge.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
“Be sure to see my play, SENSUALITY on June 21st at the THEARC at 7pm! Visit www.cloudstheater.com for tickets and details.”
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Where is Waldo?” I am constantly traveling. Fortunately my love enjoys travel too and we go often. Traveling alone was fun but exploring the world with her by my side is awesome.
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
I would be concerned about it getting into the hands of parents who want to “convert” their children. At first my mother wanted to “change me back,” but as she began to come to my plays, she began to respect my talent and my character and she became my biggest fan.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
Faith, I am a huge fan of the evidence of things not seen. I believe that prayer, meditation and visualization can bring forth enormous peace to oneself and the world.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
My advice for any leader is to be honest, transparent and inclusive. The best thing that a great leader can do is to have compassion for others.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
The opportunity to sit and talk and laugh with my mother again.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That some heterosexuals think we want them because we are gay.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“Desert Hearts.” All ‘90s lesbians will understand when I say my favorite line is, “We should go out, get some air, drink a Coke.”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
The American Ninja Warrior half mil prize. It encourages me to squeeze out 10 extra situps! My goal is to get fit, compete and climb Mt. Midoriyama, and then buy a few bacon donuts as a reward.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
I wouldn’t change a thing. I had kissed a girl at 18 so my life was complete!
I actually love Washington. I view it as a clean New York. There’s culture, great food, wonderful monuments and museums and easy to get away to the quiet and beauty of the Maryland suburbs.