Welcome to the DGF Fellows Spotlight.
This series of interviews put the spotlight on individual DGF Fellows and invites you to take a behind-the-scenes look at our program.
The 2020-2021 class of fellows was asked a series of questions exploring where they’ve been, what they’re up to now, and what they hope for the future.
Please take your seats, unwrap your candies, and silence your cellphones as we put the spotlight on John-Michael Lyles!
What was your first experience with theater?
My first experience with theater was seeing the tour of The Lion King with my Mom many years ago. We sat way up high and shared a pair of binoculars and when Rafiki popped off, I was never the same.
When did you decide to become a writer? Is there a writer, show, or piece of writing that was particularly influential on your path?
I began writing music when I got my first guitar at age 12. It began as a form of therapy, a sort of musical journalling that never stopped. It was Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “Choir Boy” that opened my eyes to how Blackness, Queerness and musical storytelling could intersect on a proscenium. It was Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” that taught me how much epic, romantic and prophetic energy can be housed in a poem or lyric.
How do you describe your work overall? What sets your work apart?
Because I grew up in a Black household, I learned hands-on that survivors are sustained by anthems and that our resilience requires rhythm. My music is an acoustic antidote to abandonment and indifference. My storytelling seeks to illuminate pathways for those experiencing scarcity. Through southern-fried melodies, I create catharsis for the queerdos, poetry for the ostracized and bops for the apocalypse!
Can you tell us a little bit about the work you’ve been developing as a Fellow?
David Gomez and I are working towards a third draft of our musical Shoot for the Moon! It takes place in Harlem, 100 years ago. It explores a forbidden gay love affair between Mercy Wheatley, a Black prizefighter, and Federico García Lorca, a celebrated Spanish poet who is studying abroad. While they’re falling in love amidst the Harlem Renaissance, they’re forced to overcome cultural barriers, the cut throat boxing world, and Mercy’s impending wedding. It’s a sexy, sweaty and surreal musical that will leave you wondering: how hard would you fight for love?
What do you find most rewarding about your work as a writer?
I usually write from guitar, so when I finally get to that step where someone has arranged my song for a band or orchestra, 10/10 I’m gonna cry. The beauty of that expansion is one of my favorite things!
Do you have any upcoming work you’d like to share?
I’m looking forward to further developing Shoot for the Moon at the Rhinebeck Writer’s Retreat with David Gomez!
Thank you, John-Michael, for contributing to the blog! You can stay up to date on John-Michael’s work by following @jmlyles1 on Instagram and Twitter or visiting www.john-michaellyles.com