When conceiving his one-man show, Neptune, Timothy DuWhite wanted to create a space where Black folks could be seen, felt, and validated. He also wanted to create a space where they could thrive free of their insecurities.
“The majority of the show circles around the understanding that much of what we deem our own personal ‘issues’ or ‘insecurities’ are actually a byproduct of structural governmental and societal powers,” DuWhite tells CASSIUS. “So when I say distrust, I’m talking about the past traumas that force us as Black folk to be weary of people, or systems, or institutions that inhabit our day-to-day lives.”
DuWhite is the program director at NY Writers Coalition, which offers free and low-cost writing workshops to New Yorkers in underserved communities. He’s also an award-winning poet, performance artist, and organizer who—like Neptune‘s main character—is on a quest for freedom as a HIV-positive queer Black man.
Neptune premieres in New York City on Friday (July 13) and will run though July 28. Learn more about the show in our interview below, and buy your tickets here.
CASSIUS: In an interview with Afropunk, you explained that the show is a “modest attempt to journey to a place for those who feel like the idea of being truly loved by anyone is preposterous.” What made you choose Neptune as your destination?
Timothy DuWhite: I wanted to create a piece of art that Black folks can watch and feel their distrust is affirmed, but also challenged. The name Neptune came from two places. First, I knew I wanted this “place” that I referenced throughout the show to be otherworldly and intergalactic. I wanted folks to know that the plan is to completely leave behind all that we currently know. And secondly, before starting the process of writing this play, I began reconnecting with my father. My father wasn’t necessarily absent from my life, but we did spend the majority of my life not really talking—I didn’t even know where he was from. So during this time last year of us trying to intentionally talk and get to know each other, he finally revealed to me that he was from Neptune, New Jersey. And finding out that information felt so big to me. And it just let me know that “Neptune” was the name.
C.: What do you hope your audience feels during the show, and what do you hope they walk away with?
T.D.: During the show, I want folks to feel like they have the agency to respond and take part in the journey. I come from a spoken word background, so the more the crowd is willing to open up, and laugh out loud, or shout “Dat part!” when they agree with something, the better the experience. The main character, Wayne, is coming to the audience as this messy, emotional, hot-headed being that just wants to be witnessed and find community. I want the show to be a place where everyone can feel like they can unwind, not just view. After the show, what I’m really interested in is folks allowing themselves to daydream. My goal is that during the show people begin imagining their own Neptune, and by the time the show is over, they’re spilling out and wanting to share with everyone what Neptune would be for them.
C.: Let’s jump back a bit. How long have you been performing and writing, and what drew you to both?
T.D.: Funny enough, I was horribly dyslexic for much of my formative years, so I always had issues with reading and writing. Actually, [I] didn’t read my first book till the eighth grade. But even despite my struggles, for some reason, I was still draw to writing and language. Probably because my mother is also a poet. But I didn’t really start writing consistently and performing until my freshman year of college in ’08/’09. Throughout high school, I was a very serious track and field athlete. My original plan was to just do everything I could to get to the Olympics one day. But my freshman year I got hurt pretty bad and had to red-shirt a few seasons, so I suddenly had all this time on my hands. Then I was introduced to poetry slams, and for me it was perfect because I got to write and be super competitive at the same time.
C.: After transitioning from sports, would you say you became an artist or an activist first? And how do those roles intersect with one another for you in a production like Neptune?
T.D.: I guess I’ll say artist first, simply because I struggle with the term “activist.” I’ve seen it used so divisively throughout the years, to signify the importance of the work some people are doing, compared to others. In regards to the intersection of these two identities, I believe it’s the artist’s job to make whatever they’re talking about urgent. So if you’re talking about the mass murders of Black people in this country, we’re at the point where just reading off their names, and rifling off facts in a poem, isn’t enough, sadly. We have all grown so desensitized to it that it’s your job as an artist to teach people how to feel again, which isn’t easy, but it is the work. At least it is the work that I want to do.
“In a world that heralds adaptability and the capacity to fit wherever you are placed—what then happens to those of us who are ‘too difficult’ to make assimilate? ‘Neptune’ asks us all to imagine what a space created for those who are ‘too traumatized,’ ‘too hurt,’ ‘too fearful,’ or ‘too criminalized’ to be loved properly could look like. ‘Neptune’ is our main character Wayne’s (Black, queer, and poz) journey story, wherein we all are given the chance to wrestle with the question, ‘What makes me hard to love?’ Through the exploration of this question, Wayne’s desire to leave earth for a more promising terrain becomes possible.”