Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Planet Connections Interview - Layon Gray of "Webeime"

By Byrne Harrison
Production photos by Sue Coflin

Layon Gray is a theatrical artist on the rise who is captivating audiences with each and every play he writes, produces and performs. 
Gray has spent more than two decades writing, directing and developing stage plays and films that reflect a wide array of African-American cultural movements, creating new paradigms for the stage and motion picture industry.

Since founding The Layon Gray Experience, Gray has guided the company’s growth from a privately held theatre company to one of the entertainment industry’s leading independent companies and a veritable box office force.

Focusing on creating conversational dialogue in his works, Gray continues to make his mark in traditional African-American theater.  A native of Louisiana, Gray quickly ascended as one of Los Angeles’ premiere playwrights earning more than 60 nomination and awards for his works since 2000.  Among the honors are 2010 NY AUDELCO Award (Achievement Award for Excellence); 2009 NAACP Award (Best Ensemble Award); 2009 Hollywood ADA Award (Best Ensemble Award); 2008 MATCHLIFE Artist of the Year; 2007 NAACP Award (Best Producer, Best Play); 2007 MITF Award (Best Play, Best Writer, Best Director, Best Producer); 2006 NAACP Award (Best Play); 2005 Hollywood ADA Award (Best Play); 2004 Hollywood ADA Award (Best Play, Best Writer, Best Director); and 2003 Los Angeles MADDY Award (Best Play, Best Writer, Best Director, Best Ensemble).

How did you first get involved in theatre?

Coming from a small town in Louisiana the thought of being in the arts was far from my mind. I was actually an all-state quarterback in high school/college, and then a touring production of “Grease” came through my city and I was bitten by the bug.  Quit the team changed my major to theater, and haven’t looked back.

Who are your biggest influences?

Interesting enough my favorite actor is Don Knotts. The way he can say a million words with his expressions fascinates me. I’m a huge Joe Pesci fan.   I long to direct Denzel Washington on stage.  His art form and approach is a master class to all actors.  

What is your show about?

Part Spoken word and part chore poem Webeime is the portrayal of one man’s coming to terms with the repercussions of the decisions that he has made in life before the inevitable happens. With little time on his side, he searches his soul for inner peace and his mind wanders back down the road that put him in his current predicament.

What inspired you to write and direct it?

The play is actually based on someone I knew when I was a kid. The nameless protagonist takes his audience on a journey down memory lane filled with childhood sexual and mental abuse, mental and physical isolation, and domestic violence and becoming a man who was shaped by his tragic past. The protagonist is nameless because he can be anyone -- any defenseless child in the world -- being abused and searching for the answer to the inevitable question, why me. All the shows I write are embraced by all races and nationalities because of the honest exploration of universal themes Webeime won best play, best ensemble, best producer and best choreography in 2007. This piece has played to sold-out audiences in Los Angeles, North Carolina at the National Black Theatre Festival, where theatres from around the country fought for the rights to produce the play. I settled on the prestigious Negro Ensemble Company of New York City in 2008. I thought it was time to take it back off the shelf. (Lol.)  Webeime is part sociodrama -- the psychotherapeutic technique that utilizes dramatization and role-playing to identify and remedy intergroup problems and conflicts, but mostly chore poem -- the blending of music, dance and poetry to communicate a powerful story. The cast consists of 8 young African American Males.

Who are your collaborators and how long have you been working with them?

The play is produced by a theatre company I created in 2007 called The Black Gents of Hollywood:  we are an all male ensemble dedicated to resurrect, redefine and restore positive images of African-American men.

Why was it important to you to be part of an eco-friendly theatre festival?

It’s important to save our planet and I think this festival brings major awareness.    Being eco-friendly is  not only helping the human race but also saving many animals from extinction.

Planet Connections donates a portion of the box office for each show to a charity.  What charity has your production chosen and why?

We chose Male Survivor.  The organization is committed to preventing, healing and eliminating all forms of sexual victimization of boys and men through support, treatment, research and education, advocacy, and activism. In the show Webeime the main character deals with all of these issues, and bringing it forward and talking about it may heal a lot of people.

What's next for you after Planet Connections?

Presently I have a play in its 3rd year about the Tuskegee Airmen running Off- Broadway entitled Black Angels Over Tuskegee.  Its won numerous awards around the country and is in early pre-production for a Broadway transfer.  For more info or tickets go to
If you could work with any famous actor, living or dead, who would it, be?

Sidney Poiter. Enuf said!

For more information about “Webeime,” visit or

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