By the Queen playwright, Brown/Trinity Rep acting grad, will make Broadway directorial debut this year 

Whitney White, the writer behind By the Queen, is one of the American Theater’s most promising breakout talents. We’re so excited to work with her again on By the Queen before she makes her Broadway debut in the fall! 

“I’ve known Whitney White for over a decade now, and I’ve worked with her in many different capacities:  I’ve directed her as an actor, I’ve worked on my plays with her as director, and I’ve watched her writing blossom on stages around the country,” Trinity Rep’s Artistic Director Curt Columbus said. “Whitney White is simply one of the most exciting theater artists working in America today.  It is a joy to collaborate with her in any capacity, and her work is always filled with intelligence, surprise, and humor.” 

Whitney White (far right) in 2014’s Oliver! Photo by Mark Turek.

Whitney graduated from the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA Program in Acting in 2015, where she appeared in Trinity Rep’s production of Oliver!  and, after graduating, A Christmas Carol (2015). At BTR, she developed not only as a performer, but found new passions for directing and writing. In an interview with the website The Talks, Whitney credited faculty member Brian Mertes and his directing class for changing her perspective.  

Three years after graduating, Trinity Rep would enlist Whitney to direct their production of Othello. Whitney said she fell in love with Shakespeare’s works. Despite his plays being over 400 years old, Whitney found them just as relevant today. 

“I am a Black woman from Chicago, and I always saw my experience reflected in Shakespeare’s world,” Whitney said in an interview with American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.). “However, often I would see these great plays live, and these productions wouldn’t represent my experience or even a world I recognized. Yet, when I read Shakespeare, I totally hear my world. I hear my friends and family, and I see the world that I live in. So I wondered how I could unite all these worlds that I love: music, Shakespeare, really high-quality performative art, and entertainment.” 

Whitney combined Shakespeare’s words and modern culture through her own work. As a playwright, Whitney has been commissioned by American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) for five projects, each focusing on a woman in Shakespeare’s work, collectively known as Reach for It. The first, Macbeth in Stride, examined Black female power through Lady Macbeth, played by White, and was staged as a rock concert.  

“I was an MFA student at Brown/Trinity Rep, and we had to create solo performances,” Whitney said regarding the genesis of the project. “I was wondering what to do, and I made a Venn diagram of everything I was passionate about at the time. The first circle was pure rock and roll: bands that sing and play everything live, no robots singing at you. Then the next circle was Shakespeare—specifically Macbeth. I had worked on Macbeth on my own; I never got to act in it. And I thought Lady Macbeth, in particular, was fierce.” 

The next projects in the series will focus on Cleopatra from Antony and Cleopatra, Juliet from Romeo and Juliet, and Iago’s wife Emilia from Othello. The fifth and final project’s focus has not yet been revealed. Per an interview with American Theatre Magazine, Whitney wanted to explore how ambitious women are punished in Shakespeare’s world, and often don’t make it to the end of the play.  

Jude Sandy as Othello and Rebecca Gibel as Desdemona in 2018’s Othello, directed by Whitney White. Photo by Mark Turek.

“All the ladies I love in these Shakespeare plays, they don’t live to see Act Five. And I was like, “How come all my ladies die by the end of the play?” I started analyzing several texts: Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, Macbeth, Ophelia in Hamlet. In my opinion, if you are too ambitious in Shakespeare’s world…if you’re ambitious for power or ambitious for love, you might not live to see Act Five. I started analyzing these texts with different musical genres: Macbeth sounds like Tina Turner and The Doors to me, and Romeo and Juliet kind of sounds like Blondie and disco, and Cleopatra feels like Prince, like “Purple and Gold,” you know?” 

As a director, Whitney won an Obie Award for directing What to Send Up When It Goes Down at A.R.T. In the spring, she will direct U.K. premiere of The Secret Life of Bees, and this fall she’ll make her Broadway debut as the director of the world premiere of Jaja’s African Hair Braiding, penned by Jocelyn Bioh. The new play is set at a Harlem salon staffed by a lively group of West African immigrant hair braiders. Other recent directing credits include the world premiere of The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington by Pulitzer Prize-winner James Ijames at Steppenwolf Theater and Off-Broadway productions of On Sugarland, for all the women who thought they were Mad, and Our Dear Dead Drug Lord.  

Whitney has also had some big news in her personal life: she recently gave birth to her first child, Max. Needless to say, Whitney is keeping herself busy! 

Trinity Rep company member Charlie Thurston was directed by Whitney in Othello and was also in the cast of Macbeth in Stride. He described Whitney as “a generational talent, no exaggeration.” 

“She’s an exceptional writer, director, composer, actor, and singer,” Charlie said. “Watching her compose music on the fly while working on Macbeth in Stride was genuinely like a daily magic show.  How can one person contain so much talent?!  And to top it all off, she’s also deeply kind and humble and impossibly charming.  I’m so excited Trinity Rep and its audience get to experience more of her work.”