Vincent Terrell Durham (he/him/his) is a playwright and author who first honed his storytelling skills as a stand-up comic in comedy clubs across the country. He was born and raised in Binghamton, New York to a family of vibrant storytellers themselves.
His powerful new play Polar Bears, Black Boys & Prairie Fringed Orchids is a 2020 Eugene O’Neill semifinalist and a 2019 National New Play Network finalist. The piece was also the cornerstone for the Juneteenth Theatre Justice Project. A night of simultaneous virtual readings of the play with PlayGround, IAMA, Theatre of Note in conjunction with The Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, Planet Earth Arts, American Conservatory Theater, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, TheatreWorks and many other theaters across the country.
Vincent confronts what it means to be Black in America with clarity, irony and humor. All of which can be found in his 2020 Great Plains Theatre Conference finalist play, The Fertile River as well as his 2020 Samuel French OOB finalist play, Masking Our Blackness. His voice as a proud gay man of color is fresh, compelling and his marksmanship for piercing the souls of theater audiences is unerring. He goes unflinchingly to the heart of the matter and pulls no punches. Vincent writes to pay honor to Alberta and Poogie Johnson’s nine children. Who happen to be the best storytellers a little Black boy could have ever spent time with.
Each morning I go on a five mile walk. Each morning I train myself to fight human curiosity. I try to walk without looking too long at a new car that catches my eye. I try to walk without looking too long at a nice house that I might aspire to own one day. I try to walk without looking too long at the flowers and the curb appeal of my neighbors’ yards. I try not to look away when a police cruiser drives by. I try to walk without being too big. I try to walk without being too black. I try to walk in a manner that brings no suspicion. I try to walk so I get back home. I try to walk so my mother doesn't receive that phone call. Each morning I train myself not to be human. It’s a painful process.
As a theater maker, I write about the pain of being Black in America. I explore the unachieved dream of not being judged by the color of your skin but the content of your character. In a dark theater, amongst red velvet seats, in the quiet is where I allow myself not to be small, not to make adjustments, not to comfort anyone’s fragility. I allow myself to be as black as I want to be. The theater and the script is where I’m my most authentic self. Most likely because I came to theater on my own terms. No one introduced me to the art of writing compelling characters, explosive dialogue and dramatic action. I learned those things from the black storytellers in my family; my mother, aunts, uncles and family friends. As an overweight gay nine year-old, the company of adults was my sanctuary from the unrelenting teasing of first cousins and the children of family friends. Unknowingly, family gatherings turned into my classroom. Their stories of southern poverty, childhood struggles, barroom fights, messy love relations and interactions with white America taught me how to develop rich characters, dramatic action, pacing and dialogue that rings true to the ear.
I’m a traditional storyteller and lean towards linear action. My style is influenced by writers across a realm of genres. August Wilson, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear and John Irving better show up in everything I write. I rely on humor to disarm my audiences and then deliver the knockout punch. If I don’t get laughs in the first act and tears in the second then I’ve failed.
I have two main goals as a writer. The first is legacy. I’m striving to create work that is worthy of a life on Broadway stages to regional stages to English classrooms. My second goal is to become as free walking in my neighborhood as I am in the darkness of the theater.