My Obsessions: Idris Goodwin

Art is ... everywhere.

A photo of a man in a grey wool coat and a button up with the following text behind him: Gardening; "Italian" food, jazz, neoclassical piano, and Otto Marseus van Schreck

Image courtesy of Mercedes Zapata.

Image courtesy of Mercedes Zapata.

by Nadya Kelly (MA 2023)

Idris Goodwin [10]’s (MFA 2004) artistic medium is time.

When he writes stories, he thinks of them as time-based experiences, considering how he can move not just his characters, but also his audience from the beginning to the end of a narrative, whether that be through a five-minute spoken word piece or an hour-and-a-half long play. Though primarily a playwright, the Detroit native—also known for his work as a breakbeat poet who infuses elements of hip-hop into his verse—experiments with various mediums with one ultimate goal: to explore the many ways in which a story can unfold.

Poster for Ali Summit, written by Idris Goodwin, directed by Robert Barry Fleming.

Poster for Ali Summit, written by Idris Goodwin, directed by Robert Barry Fleming.

While discovering his voice as an artist, Goodwin performed spoken word pieces in his community and wrote hip-hop music. He remains inspired by these forms in his career as a playwright, the evidence of which can be found in his breakbeat plays, books, and historical dramas for young audiences, such as And in This Corner: Cassius Clay [11], How We Got On, and Hype Man: A Break Beat Play; and his interactive virtual reality production Ali Summit [12]. Currently, Goodwin has no shortage of projects. He serves as a board member for the ​​Children's Theatre Foundation of America, just signed on to create an adaptation of the young adult novel The Forgotten Girl [13] for the stage, and recently founded Free Play Society, a nonprofit that uses dramas to spark conversations about racism and other social issues. Here are a few of Goodwin’s current obsessions.

Zhigeist by Elzhi

Lately I’ve been listening a lot to an album that came out by an artist from Detroit named Elzhi [14]. He collaborated with this really amazing producer named Georgia Muldrew, and they made an album together called Zhigeist which is a play off Elzhi’s name. So, I’ve been playing the hell out of that album because it’s got a lot of soul, and it’s really been giving me a lot of juice. Elzhi is a master lyricist. He’s got that smoothness and that flow, but it’s rooted in reality. It’s not esoteric; it’s accessible, but it’s still smooth. I’m from Detroit, and he just sounds like Detroit. I have a similar approach to my work, and I feel a kinship in terms of that approach.

Zhigeist by Elzhi and Georgia Anne Muldrow

Zhigeist by Elzhi and Georgia Anne Muldrow

Abbott Elementary

It’s a TV show about generations of schoolteachers in a public elementary school in Philadelphia, and it’s kind of shot like The Office. Philly's got a lot of heart and a lot of optimism. It’s really been giving me a lot of life right now, as they say, and it just reminds me of my own adventures in public schools. It’s been able to be really sweet, funny, and also really clever.

Podcasts and Audio Storytelling

I like to consume a lot of media when I’m not making media. There’s a forum called Pinna, and it’s essentially a podcast platform for work for kids. I’ve been listening to this show called Flip and Mozi’s Guide to How to be an Earthling. Each episode is a musical, and the premise is that there are two aliens that go to Earth to explore and discover. The level of conceptual ambition is really impressive. With podcasts, you don’t have the advantage of the visuals, but that can also be an advantage. People are listening more intently, so you can have more impact, possibly, with sound effects. Also, because people's focus is purely on the ear, you don’t have to focus or think about, Well, what are they seeing right now? Also, how do you hold people's attention? How do you deal with the fact that they can turn it off at any point if they want to? All of these present different challenges and opportunities, and I love that.

I Have a Story: Plays From an Extraordinary Year. Edited by Jenny Millinger and Julia Hogan Laurenson.

I Have a Story: Plays From an Extraordinary Year. Edited by Jenny Millinger and Julia Hogan Laurenson.

His Children

My kids have been a constant source of excitement and inspiration as of late. They are nine and two, respectively, and they love the arts. My older son is a storyteller and loves music, and my younger son is obsessed with music and stories as well. He also has been creating comics and little short films and stuff like that, and he and I actually wrote a play together that was published in an anthology called I Have a Story, which is a collection of plays written by adults and kids reflecting on 2020.