Michael Oatman, Playwright
2011 EMERGING ARTIST AWARD FOR LITERATURE
As a young playwright, Michael
Oatman finds himself in pretty good company. Currently, he holds the
exceptional honor of being only the second Playwright in Residence in
Karamu House’s storied, nearly 100-year history. The first was Langston
Although he had
been writing for many years, it wasn’t until he enrolled in the M.F.A.
program at Cleveland State University that he began to pursue
playwriting seriously, at the instigation of Michael Geither, one of
his professors. “I entered the program as a bad novelist,” Oatmanl
quips. “But Mike asked me to submit something to the CSU Playwriting
Festival, and that was how I started.”
closely with the professor who directed his play, Oatman enjoyed the
whole collaborative experience of creating a theatrical production. “I
thought it was pretty cool that theater isn’t an artifact,” he says.
“It’s not dead once you write it. It’s living and growing and doing
different things independent of me.”
before graduating with his M.F.A. in Playwriting from CSU in 2008,
Oatman was asked by Karamu’s artistic director Terrence Spivey to
become playwright in residence, and that’s when his playwriting career
took its first great leap forward.
just a few years’ time, the Cleveland-born playwright, actor and
director has made his mark in his hometown and across the nation,
including productions and readings at the Stella Adler Conservatory in
New York City, the African American Playwrights Exchange in Washington,
D.C., the Shelterbelt Theatre (Omaha), the ETA Theatre (Chicago), and
The Church (Portand).
Oatman’s short play Warpaint was the 2009 Finalist for the Kennedy Center Best Short Play, and his play The Chittlin’ Thief was named Best Comedy of 2008 by The African American Playwrights Exchange.
audiences have seen Oatman's poetic yet provocative work at The
Cleveland Play House FusionFest, Cleveland Public Theatre, Karamu
House, Cleveland State University and the Ingenuity Festival. Profiles
of Michael Oatmal and his work—which includes Eclipse: The War Between Pac and Big, My Africa, A Solitary Voice and Drowning the Flame—have been featured in both The New York Times and American Theatre.
he writes predominantly about the experiences of and challenges
encountered by his generation of black men, who grew up during
President Reagan’s administration, Oatman doesn’t like to be
pigeonholed as a black playwright. People typically try to compare him
to August Wilson or Langston Hughes, for example. “Insert black
playwright here,” he sighs. “But that’s not really my aesthetic. My
stuff tends to be shorter, rarely beyond two hours, the dialogue is
spare, and there tends to be a mix of heightened language and rough,
street language.” He adds that two of his biggest playwriting
influences are David Mamet and Neil LaBute.
As a journalist in Cleveland Oatman wrote extensively for The Free Times. While a student at CSU, he spent several months in Africa, writing about the AIDS epidemic for The Botswana Gazette.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” he says. “I got an outside look at
my own country and the effect of American culture on other countries.
The trip just confirmed what a good friend of mine says, ‘If you want
to understand the picture, you have to step outside the frame.’”
the past few years, Oatman has also taught at schools across the
region, joined the Playwrights Unit at the Cleveland Play House and
been named one of Cleveland’s Most Interesting People 2010 by Cleveland Magazine. His play You Got Nerve received premiere in September 2011 at Karamu, where he was also slated to direct August Wilson’s play, Gem of the Ocean, later in the season.