How Stephen McKinley Henderson hears the music in playwrights

When Stephen McKinley Henderson talks about playwrights, he’s talking about music.

Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:

“August Wilson is, of course, the blues,” he said in the new episode of Stagecraft, VarietyThe theater podcast. “But Stephen is a rock to me.”

The actor was talking about Stephen Adly Guirgis, whose play “Between Riverside and Crazy” has brought Henderson back to Broadway in a production that Common also stars in. “Stephen has some jazz threads in him, but the thought groups and the breath groups and the phrasing have some classic rock in them,” he continued. “That is my approach. Stephen has some long, very long, Coltrane-esque lines, but then he’s got some really catchy stuff like Dylan, stuff you just listen to and be like, ‘Oh yeah, there’s that wisdom.'”

Movies and poetry played a role in Henderson’s origins as a stage actor. In the new Stagecraft, she remembered going to the movies with his brother, who was deaf, and then acting out for him the parts that his brother didn’t understand. Also as a child, Henderson discovered poetry, and at Stagecraft he recited a line from “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” that really turned him into the power of storytelling.

“I saw the nature of telling stories that people needed to know, at the time they needed to know, and how that could change their path,” he said.

A leading interpreter of Wilson’s work (“Jitney,” “Fences”), Henderson has recently appeared in film and television projects including “Dune,” “Devs” and “Causeway.” At Stagecraft, he revealed what little he can about his upcoming projects, including the “Dune” sequel and “Beau Is Afraid,” also explaining how he met frequent stage collaborators like Wilson and Guirgis, and why working on new works it was what he’s wanted since he first appeared in a school production of “A Raisin in the Sun.”

“When I picked up that ‘Raisin in the Sun’ play and saw, on the first page, all the actors who had been in that play originally? I wanted to be on one of those pages in those books,” she said. “When they pick it up and it says ‘Original Cast.’ That was where I wanted to be.”

To hear the full conversation, listen at the link above or download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and the Broadway Podcast Network. New episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every two weeks.

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