Arthur French III — “Third’s World”

Arthur French lll. Photographer: Antonia March

Arthur French III’s first play, “Teens Today,” written when he was a teenager over thirty years ago, won the Annual Young Playwright’s Festival Award at the American Community Theater, founded by the legendary Maxville Glanville. It was an auspicious beginning for a career as a playwright. His plays have also been produced at the Samuel French One Act Play Festival and the Strawberry One Act Play Festival.

A co-founder of the Martha J. Thomas Playwriting Workshop and founder and facilitator of the Fusion Gumbo Writer’s Workshop, Arthur is also committed to teaching and mentoring playwrights. His influence has been phenomenal. I first worked with Arthur in “Third’s World,” a One-Act Play Festival showcasing his plays. The festival was produced by his father who also directed the play “Workday,” that I performed in. I found Arthur to be such a generous and open playwright. Watching how he worked with the different casts and personalities was a lesson in collaboration and teamwork. The following quotes are a testament to the impact he has had on other writers and actors:

Lisa McCree, actress and playwright: “I have found him to be extremely talented and a prolific writer who does not hesitate to take a risk in a creative way. His stories are rich and engaging. Being part of Fusion Gumbo has been an honor being in the company of professional writers who truly take their work to heart, all in the space Arthur created.”

Fernando Mañon, playwright and poet: “Arthur French III has been an enthusiastic and prolific writer who has always given me the impetus to write plays about subjects that may be seen as too odd or controversial for the stage. The courage he exudes to bare his hurt, feelings and thoughts have provided me with the opportunity to do the same and put them on the page. His flair for writing has allowed me to push forward even when I have felt that I no longer wanted to write. He has been a gift.”

Staxx Cordero, actress and playwright: “Arthur French III is phenomenal, an inspiration for actors and writers. Forever entertained by his work.”

Jim Willis, actor and playwright: “Arthur is the most prolific playwright I know and I told him he has had the greatest influence on me as a writer.”

These are edited excerpts from our conversation in a Harlem restaurant.

Roger: You were introduced to theater when you were a child. What is your earliest memory?
Arthur: Went to see “Rosalie Pritchard” and “Perry’s Mission,” two one-acts. I was 3 or 4. It was at the Negro Ensemble Company. I have a vivid memory of my Dad on stage slumped over a table with his nose in a shot glass, lights flickering and a shooting. Wondered why Dad was slumped over (laughs).

Roger: Did you attend specialized schools that focused on the arts?
Arthur: Queens School of the Theatrical Arts. It was a private school. Attended 4th to 8th grade. My parents kept me off the streets. Drugs were around and Mom and Dad made sure we had activities. Antonia, my sister, also went there.

Roger: Exactly how old were you when you wrote your first play?
Arthur: 16. “Teens Today.” Got an award from the Annual Playwright’s Festival. It was about peer pressure.

Arthur French III kneeling in front of the cast of “Harlem Nocturnal Emissions.” Photographer: Justin Michael Woods.

Roger: Your Dad, Arthur French, was an acclaimed actor and director. What was it like growing up in the French household?
Arthur: Whole lot of fun. When he was rehearsing we knew to leave him alone. At first it bothered us. As I got older and got involved in theater I understood. Dad would ask us questions about shows he was in.

Roger: You are such a prolific playwright. Talk about your writing process.
Arthur: I write in spurts. Read a newspaper, see something on the train, hear music. Usually I don’t put a time to complete it. Recently, I tried that and finished a full length about a homeless man meeting a woman who’s a poet and he hides that he’s homeless and then I get inspired by another idea and I get away from dealing with a timeframe.

Roger: You were a co founder of the Martha J. Thomas Playwriting Workshop and founder of the Fusion Gumbo Writer’s Workshop. What attracts you to the workshop process?
Arthur: If you have a good group of people and a safe space, no egos, work can get better. So I like that concept. Learned from Leslie Lee, Steve Carter and Henry Miller in their playwriting workshops.

“If you have a good group of people
and a safe space, no egos,
work can get better. “

Roger: Your sister, Antonia, writes for television. Do you have an interest in collaborating with her?
Arthur: We always talk about it. Would love to do it. As for what decade I don’t know (laughs).

Roger: What has been your most difficult challenge working in theater?
Arthur: The politics and agendas. I feel it’s about money. Theater is free form. Why do we see certain playwrights always get their work done. The net should be much wider. Shouldn’t be just one playwright or one group.

Arthur French III behind his father. Photographer: Sirlouis Jones

Roger: (After reading the four playwright’s comments) Any response?
Arthur: Wow! (pause)….. I mean I’m blown away….taken aback. (pause)….. Few years ago I didn’t think about my work like that. I appreciate that. When you’re writing it’s just you. I’m humbled by it….Surprised and moved. Nice to hear.

Roger: What would you like your legacy to be?
Arthur: Don’t worry about legacy. That’s up to people to say when you’re not here. My father used to say, “My children are my legacy.” G&S

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