Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making Of The Broadway Show Eclipsed
On June 19, the Tony-nominated play Eclipsed played its final performance on Broadway. Written by Danai Gurira, who fans of The Walking Dead know as the beloved sword-wielding character Michonne, and starring Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, Saycon Sengbloh, Zainab Jah, Pascale Armand and Akosua Busia, Eclipsed tells the story of five extraordinary Liberian women, “wives” of a rebel officer who are brought together during the country’s second civil war. Fusing art and activism, Gurira and her play made all kinds of history on Broadway this season. Read on for secrets behind the making of Eclipsed.
Eclipsed was the first play on Broadway with an entirely Black and female cast and creative team (specifically, writer and director).
2016 Broadway Season
Eclipsed happened to be the only new play written by a woman on Broadway this season.
Prior to debuting on Broadway, Eclipsed premiered at Washington, D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in 2009.
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Today marks 2 years since the Chibok School Girls abduction. We are honored to welcome one of the survivors to @eclipsedbway tomorrow night. #Repost @danaigurira: "They burnt all their books before they took them. We can never forget, or give up. #BringBackOurGirls #2YearsOn"
Broadway performances of Eclipsed were dedicated to the abducted Chibok school girls of Northern Nigeria.
10,000 Girls Initiative
“Theatre has the power to unleash dreams, ignite conversations, and inspire change.” That’s why those behind Eclipsed formed the 10,000 Girls initiative with a mission to give free tickets of the play to 10,000 underserved young women from the tristate area between the ages of 16 and 24. This movement was created to “shape the lives of the young women who will lead us into the future.”
Eclipsed was workshopped at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey.
Academy Award Winner Lupita Nyong’o
Lupita Nyong’o was still in college when she initially understudied the character of “The Girl” at Yale Repertory Theatre in 2009. She reprised the same role on Broadway (her Broadway debut) and earned a Tony nomination for best actress in a leading role.
The Promise Lupita Made to Herself
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Nyong’o talked about the promise she made to herself regarding Eclipsed: “…the first role I was assigned when I got to Yale was as an understudy in Eclipsed. One of the things I had been coming to terms with in choosing which school I would go to was the fact that I would be doing a lot of Eurocentric work. Then I arrive from Kenya and I get this incredible, groundbreaking Liberian play. It was manna from heaven! I made a promise to myself: I have to do this play one day.”
Danai Gurira’s Work
Eclipsed is the second play written by Danai Gurira. Her first was In the Continuum, about Black women living with HIV and AIDS. She co-wrote the play with Nikkole Salter.
Gurira was inspired to write Eclipsed after having seen a photo in a 2003 New York Times article of a freedom fighter in Liberia, a woman named Black Diamond.
In preparation, in 2007, Gurira traveled to Liberia and interviewed over 30 women, some of whom had been raped, others whose children were kidnapped and forced into trafficking. Gurira’s travels were funded by a Theatre Communications Group grant.
Say Her Name
The names of some of the characters in Eclipsed come from real-life women Gurira met in Liberia – Helena, Maima, Rita and Bessie. A fifth character, the role of which was played by Nyong’o, was unnamed.
Connection to Lynn Nottage’s Play Ruined
According to Eclipsed director Liesl Tommy, Broadway players couldn’t initially see a market for the play because of its resemblance to Lynn Nottage’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Ruined, about women in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. “There are so many plays about the exact same thing, which is upper-middle-class white people carrying on about their apartments and their real estate, which is done over and over and over again,” said Tommy in an interview with NBC Blk. “[I don’t believe] that intelligent New York audiences cannot imagine seeing two shows about women in Africa during conflict.”
Eclipsed garnered Gurira her first Tony Award nomination. Though she did not win, Eclipsed won for best costume design of a play. That distinction went to designer Clint Ramos.
Prior to Eclipsed’s opening on March 6, Lupita Nyong’o posted a picture of 12 hand-written facts about Liberia, the play and her involvement in it.