In August of 2011 I participated in an artist residency where, among other cool people, I met a painter named Alex Moore. She was then Executive Director of the non-profit Breaking Ground, an organization that raises money to fund community-based development programs in Cameroon.
She told me about the different programs they funded, and the one that really caught my ear was a young women’s soccer initiative that was getting girls out of their homes (from where, traditionally, they aren’t allowed to leave without being accompanied by a male) and onto the soccer field. I grew more and more interested in the soccer program, and eventually decided I wanted to write a play about it.
In January of 2012 I initiated a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first leg of this journey; the research phase. The campaign was a success, and in February 2012 I flew to Cameroon for two-and-a-half weeks, meeting and interviewing as many people as I could, watching as many soccer matches as I could, and taking in as much of Cameroonian life as I could. I stayed with a Muslim family that I grew to care for and still keep in touch with. The last night I was there, I cooked a big dinner for everyone I’d met. In short, the trip to Cameroon changed me and the way I view the world—perhaps as much as the soccer program changes the girls who participate in it.
I came back to the U.S. and started writing. I knew I needed to have some workshops of this play, even in its early stages, because it was so physical. I wanted the play to feel like a soccer match and a theatrical work, rolled into one. Thanks to the Puffin Foundation, I held two closed-door mini-workshops and was able to pay the participants (not a huge amount, but they definitely got paid)! Helmed by director Tamilla Woodard, those workshops allowed me to open up the play and make some meaningful discoveries.
Earlier in 2016, Yellow Card Red Card underwent a week-long workshop at New Dramatists which culminated in an ‘open rehearsal’ to which the public was invited. This time, I, Tamilla, and five actors staged parts of the movement-rich play with the help of choreographer Joya Powell and soccer ‘coach’ Tony Naumovski.
The next stop for the play was a week-long run of a workshop production at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, Dec 6-10, 2016. We were very lucky to have Joya with us again as our choreographer (we discovered that 65% of this play is movement, on top of the dialogue!), and this time Irungu Mutu helped get our actors up to speed sport-wise with an intensive two-day soccer tutorial.
We continued our journey with a production at the Ice Factory Festival at the New Ohio Theatre in New York City, August 2-5, 2017. Incidentally, the New Ohio Theatre is where Tamilla and I first met years ago and began talking about collaborating on Yellow Card Red Card. We got a nice review shortly after we opened, and another nice review shortly after we closed.
We’re currently actively looking for the play’s next home.