In elementary school, Lisa B. Thompson played with poetry. In high school, she began honing her literary craft. At UCLA, she studied English, integrating her love of the written word into a professional pursuit. She recalls one professor who assigned the students a 15-minutes free write. Thompson wrote a monologue from the perspective of a girl dealing with an abusive person. When asked if anyone wanted to share, Thompson stood up and performed. Thompson says that was the beginning. Years later, she crafted her first two plays while attending graduate school at Stanford. Her entire graduate education was dedicated to these two compositions. One of those, “Single Black Female,” has now been in theatrical circulation nationwide for 24 years across the country and even off-Broadway.
“I wanted to write about Black women that I knew in the world that I didn’t see anywhere,” says Thompson, the Patton Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies. She also serves as the College of Liberal Arts’ adviser to the dean for faculty mentoring and support.
Thompson has been selected to be Texas Performing Arts (TPA) resident artist for the 2023-24 season. TPA will support her as she finishes her current work, “The Black Feminist Guide to the Human Body,” which will premiere in April. The residency program has provided her with a choreographer and composer for the first time in her career. Several of her upcoming show’s songs are already on Apple Music and Spotify.
“I was wanting to think about what it means to go from a young Black girl to Black teenager and what it means to do that in a body which is precarious and often not protected in this society,” Thompson says.
“The Black Feminist Guide to the Human Body” focuses on the taboo about discussing aging and the anti-aging fixation.
“We share the tough challenges of aging. People do not share enough about the fantastic parts of aging — that’s the thing I want to share today,” Thompson says. “We’re all going to die. If we’re lucky, we get to age. That’s the one insult people can say to you that you hope you get: ‘You’re old.’ … ‘Yes, I am.’”
As the current resident artist, Thompson can hold workshops to critique her work. At one workshop, actors were hired to perform her current draft. Through mock runs, she is able to live-edit, swapping lines between characters, cutting others, and envisioning future movement and songs.
“Texas Performing Arts is doing something that’s really important. It’s a nationally recognized organization that, with (nonprofit arts group) Fusebox, is helping to elevate the profiles of awesome artists,” Thompson says. “We talk about the music scene all the time, (but) the theater scene here, and film, are really important — great people doing amazing work. And I think Texas Performing Arts is trying to make sure that’s happening with Fusebox, so I’m really grateful to them for doing that.”