Christopher Demos-Brown on what it’s like to write a Broadway play starring Kerry Washington

Christopher Demos-Brown is a Miami playwright whose new show, American Son, is now on Broadway. Photograph by Nick Garcia.

When Christopher Demos-Brown first saw his play American Son — and his name — splashed across a marquee at the famed Booth Theatre on Broadway, he became weak in the knees. The award-winning playwright and co-founder of Zoetic Stage, in residence at the Arsht Center, immediately asked a teenage tourist to snag his picture in front of the display.

“I kept asking him to take pictures because people were in the background,” Demos-Brown said. “I had to tell his parents, ‘I’m not crazy, I swear. I wrote the play!’”

Star Power of Kerry Washington

Since American Son opened in November, Demos-Brown has experienced one pinch-me moment after another, including working with Kerry Washington of Scandal fame, the star and co-producer of his play.

“She’s there in her sweatpants, with a pencil behind her ear, working like everyone else. Kerry the star leaves the room and it’s Kerry the stage actress,” he said.

While Demos-Brown has written more than a dozen full-length plays and screenplays, the 54-year-old is one of only three Miami playwrights to have a show make it to Broadway.

“I am the oldest emerging playwright in the country,” he joked. “I like to think that I’m a beacon of hope for people who are late-starters in life.”

Christopher Demos-Brown Kerry Washington scandal american son
Christopher Demos-Brown. Photograph by Nick Garcia.INDULGE

How it Plays Out

American Son is set in a Miami police station and follows an interracial couple as they deal with a crisis involving their son. Demos-Brown wrote the play in early 2016, with police shootings very much part of the national conversation and his personal conversations.

She’s there in her sweatpants, with a pencil behind her ear, working like everyone else. Kerry the star leaves the room and it’s Kerry the stage actress.’

“I took those conversations and developed characters out of them,” he said. “The play deliberately steps into a lot of minefields in the discussion of race. I hope it forces people to engage in conversations that we’re too uncomfortable to have.”

For the Miami native, most of his plays are either set in Miami or based on an incident that happened here. “This is a great community for writers, because so many interesting things happen here. Every issue that affects America has either affected us first, or we’re at the vanguard,” he said.

Backstage Routine

A notepad always within reach, Demos-Brown jots down his daily observations, and he said that being a civil litigator as his “day job” works in his favor. “I find that having less time to dedicate to writing plays actually makes it easier, because I’m forced to focus.”

Like many in showbiz, Demos-Brown has an opening-night routine: He smokes one cigarette and kisses the stage. The custom started after someone offered him a smoke when nerves got the best of him before his first play debuted in 2010.

“The opening went well,” he said, “so I’ve done it ever since.”

‘American Son’

American Son runs through January 27. Tickets: americansonplay.com.

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