Clayling Woods has a story to tell and she wants to share it with all who are willing to hear. The Detroit native is a playwright who loves creating stories for the theater which reflect the African American community. “We need true stories,” she told me during our interview. “That’s what my endeavor is: to tell stories– realistic stories.”
Clayling isn’t interested in creating the same ol’ storyline you’ve seen on television. Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder are the popular TV shows right now, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that there needs to be more stories which reflect the positive side of the African American community. The side that is far too often absent from our television screens.
A Different Perspective of the African American Community
The cheating husband, the alcoholic, the breakdown in marriage, and the thug life— these are all popular stories which are depicted in American film and television. It’s very rare you see a story which shows African Americans in positive relationships, in strong families, and leading successful lives.
“You can tell that story,” Clayling says, “but let’s do it to where you’re shedding a different light and different perspective on the African American community.”
Clayling believes, “There are so many different, prolific people in our community that someone can write a story about or do a sitcom about or do a drama about.” She says shows like Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder are unrealistic and do not paint an accurate picture of the African American community. “It’s just unrealistic to me. I am really baffled.”
“[In television] there always has to be something wrong with the families,” she says of the African American stories she sees in the media. “There are so many storylines and shows for Caucasian counterparts and we’re (African Americans) just not represented.”
“Hey! I can write.”
Clayling also believes there are many writers, particularly female writers, whose work is often overlooked. She wants to use her talent and voice to bring awareness to more talented Detroit writers.
“You will be amazed how many writers and female writers we have in the city of Detroit that are writing shows and theater and they’re just not being heard,” she says. “My endeavor is to push and shed light on what we do, especially for female writers. To just be taken seriously. ‘Hey, I can write!’ I want us to be taken seriously. I really do.”
A Thing of Fate
Getting her start in the theater industry in 2001, Clayling has played the comic relief role of “Odessa” in the hit play God Don’t Like Ugly, directed by Paul Roach. Other dramas she has performed in are:
A Fool for Love
Papa Don’t Make No Mess
Calling the Kettle Black
Don’t Call Me Pookie No More
Clayling says her start in the theater was “a thing of fate”. A friend had brought her to a rehearsal and Clayling was invited to sing background in the play. She toured almost two years with the group calling it the most “exciting time of my life”.
In 2013, she decided to be “on the other side” and write and produce plays. She created and founded Drama Entertainment, a Detroit-based entertainment group. Clayling is on a mission to change the way African Americans are depicted in the entertainment industry. She writes honest and true-to-life stories for the theater.
Clayling believes in bringing real life to the stage and telling stories of the community. She wrote a play called Glow Girls, a story about a young lady born before the Civil Rights Movement who wants to be a dancer. In 2012, she wrote the play Single Sisters and produced it in 2016, a play which was very popular in her community and as a result, the show sold out.
She attends the Detroit Repertory Theatre from time to time to get feedback on her scripts. “It’s a wonderful program,” Clayling said of the Detroit Repertory Theatre. “The first showcase I was invited to attend, I wanted to bring my whole ensemble (Drama Entertainment) to come to see the difference between what urban theater [as] opposed to Broadway, classically trained theater, and what improv is all about.”
Clayling’s current project The Lovers is scheduled for early 2018. She wrote the drama two years ago and is excited to bring her creation to the stage. It is also her directorial debut!
The Lovers is love-triangle about a three African Americans who attend college together, graduate, and go on to lead successful lives. In the midst of their success, the lead character falls in love with a woman who his best friend just so happens to fall in love with, too.
“There are different layers to the story,” Clayling said. “It’s a genuine, love story in how true love prevails. Part of this story has a little bit of true events that have occurred in my life.”
Clayling also stressed her play is a positive reflection of African Americans. “It is a very endearing love story, and it shows how our Black people go to college. They graduate. They’re professional. They’re honest. They’re not doing anything manipulative.”
On the main character of the story Claying says:
“He is a politician. He’s not sleeping with anybody. He’s not corrupt or anything like that. He genuinely wants to change the community that he’s in. He has a powerful monologue in the beginning of the show, and he talks about how he wants to change the community. His love interest says, ‘You have many ideas. You used to spew a lot of ideas in college but now you are an idea.'”
Putting God First & Passionate About the Community
Clayling believes in putting God first and making Him center of her art. She strives hard to keep her faith first and also encourage her team. “Everything I make goes back into the show. I’m not out to be famous. I’m not out to be wealthy, even though I’d love to be able to take care of my mom and just build this vision that I have and help the community. I would love to do that.”
Her vision: to obtain a grant to establish a theater camp for young people. She would like to work with Detroit youth to introduce them to the urban theater and teach them about theater. She is very passionate about making an impact in the community and working with children.
“I want to change what the perception of urban theater is,” Clayling explains. “Urban theater has a tendency to regurgitate the same storylines over and over. Everybody’s story is different…just telling different storylines within your neighborhood, within your church, within your workplace. That’s what Drama Entertainment is about— bringing real life to the stage.”
You can learn more about The Lovers and how to purchase tickets by clicking here.
Special thanks to Clayling Woods for sharing her story with Good Life Detroit!
All photographs are courtesy of Clayling Woods and Drama Entertainment.