There’s no denying the creativity, ingenuity, and will to survive that Detroit breeds. The city’s spirit of resilience is evident in our music, culture, and civil rights history.
Local playwright Dominique Morisseau puts those stories center stage in her work. Her play Skeleton Crew, which tells the story of automotive plant workers facing foreclosure, will make its Broadway debut at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on Dec. 21.
Skeleton Crew is the final play in a trilogy by Morrisseau called the Detroit Projects, which highlights three pivotal moments in the city’s history. Detroit ‘67, the first play, deals with the 1967 Detroit rebellion. The second play, Paradise Blue, focuses on the city’s Black Bottom neighborhood in the 1940s.
Skeleton Crew's Broadway run will star renowned actress Phylicia Rashad and feature music composed by Morrisseau’s husband J. Keys, who is also a native Detroiter.
The fame and recognition have never gotten to Morisseau's head, and she always remembers where she came from. She grew up on the west side of Detroit at Six Mile and Livernois and graduated from Cass Tech.
“This is what we know and this is what we come from. It’s a lot of people not from our city with no love for our city that are writing our story,” Morisseau tells Metro Times. “I decided to be one of the many homegrown storytellers who’s telling the truth about the city that birthed and nurtured my talent.”
Sis is highly decorated as a master of her craft. She has received a Spirit of Detroit Award, NBFT August Wilson Playwriting Award, the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama, was named Variety’s Woman of Impact in 2017, and is a MacArthur Genius Grant Fellow.
She has another play on Broadway, Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of the Temptations about the legendary Motown group. That one was nominated for 12 Tony Awards.
“I want to make sure that we remember this is Black music from Black musicians out of a Black city. These are Black men who were making music at a time when the country was divided,” she says about Ain’t Too Proud. “Their music and their pain and struggle helped bring this nation together through sound.”
Skeleton Crew debuted in Detroit in 2015 and has toured around the country including an off-Broadway run in New York ever since. It was even highly reviewed by the New York Times. Though all of the plays in The Detroit Projects touch on the city’s legacy, Morisseau says Skeleton Crew is personal for her.
“The play is set in 2008 when the big foreclosure crisis happened. The auto industry was in trouble and that’s what built my family. I wanted to create an anthem for the working class folks in the D that keep this country driving forward,” she says. “This was my way of paying homage to my family and to remind the country who’s doing the labor that they take for granted.”
Giving back to her hometown goes beyond just playwriting. Even though she and her husband don’t currently live in Detroit, they have big plans to open up an artist residency on Grand Boulevard, just up the street from the Motown Museum.
“We are cultivating the space for artists who live in Detroit so they can go there and work on art whether they’re a poet, musician, or painter,” she says. “The goal is for it to be in operation by 2023. We are working with the city’s Arts, Culture, and Entrepreneurship Department on that. I want to turn that whole block into a Black arts district.”
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