Tarell Alvin McCraney (born October 17, 1980) is an American playwright, screenwriter, and actor. He is the chair of playwriting at the Yale School of Drama and a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble.
He co-wrote the 2016 film Moonlight, based on his own play, for which he received an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. He also wrote the screenplay for the 2019 film High Flying Bird and 2019 television series David Makes Man.
Early life and education
A reading at Elliott Bay Books, Seattle, Washington
, co-presented with the Seattle Repertory Theatre, in association with Seattle Rep's staging of The Breach
, a play based on Hurricane Katrina
and its aftermath. At right, New Orleans Times-Picayune
columnist Chris Rose
, author of 1 Dead in Attic
. To his right are Tarell Alvin McCraney, Catherine Filloux
, and Joe Sutton
, co-authors of The Breach
McCraney was born in Liberty City, Florida. He attended the New World School of the Arts (NWSA) in Miami, Florida. While attending NWSA, he also applied to and was awarded an honorable mention by the National YoungArts Foundation (1999, Theater). As a teenager, he was a member of an improv troupe directed by Teo Castellanos.
He matriculated into The Theatre School at DePaul University and received his BFA in acting. In May 2007 he graduated from Yale School of Drama's playwriting program, receiving the Cole Porter Playwriting Award upon graduation. He also is an Honorary Warwick University Graduate.
As an actor, he has worked with directors such as Tina Landau of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Chicago, Illinois, David Cromer, and B. J. Jones, artistic director of the Northlight Theatre (where McCraney co-starred in the Chicago premiere of Joe Penhall's Blue/Orange), and developed a working relationship with Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne of the Bouffes du Nord, Paris. He is a member of the D Projects Theater Company in Miami.
From 2008 to 2010, he was the RSC/Warwick International Playwright in Residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company. In April 2010, McCraney became the 43rd member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble. In July 2017, he became the chair of playwriting at the Yale School of Drama.
- While at Yale, McCraney wrote the Brother/Sister trilogy of plays, which are set in the Louisiana projects and explore Yoruba mythology. The triptych of plays includes In the Red Brown Water, The Brothers Size, and Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet. While they are often produced with In the Red Brown Water coming first and then The Brothers Size and Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet together on a following night, the plays are not in chronological order, but rather are “in conversation” with one another.
- McCraney’s play Choir Boy premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2012, with its American premiere the following year produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club. The play follows young Pharus on his journey toward becoming the best choir leader in the history of the Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys and trying to find out where he fits in with the rest of his peers. The 2019 Broadway production of the play was nominated for four Tony Awards, including the Tony Award for Best Play, and won the Tony Award for Best Sound Design of a Play.
- McCraney co-wrote Ms. Blakk for President with director Tina Landau. The show was first performed by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago in 2019. Based on a true story, the play follows drag queen Joan Jett Blakk (played by McCraney himself in the play's first production) in Chicago at the height of the AIDS crisis as she announces her bid to run for President of the United States.
- McCraney writes and is an executive producer for the original scripted TV series, David Makes Man, for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network. As of April 2022, the show is awaiting renewal for its third season.
- Moonlight, co-written by McCraney and director Barry Jenkins, was based on McCraney’s earlier semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, which he shelved. The film follows Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes), a young Black man who grapples with his identity and sexuality while experiencing the everyday struggles of childhood, adolescence, and burgeoning adulthood in Miami. The film was critically acclaimed, and McCraney and Jenkins won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
- McCraney wrote the screenplay for the 2019 American sports drama, High Flying Bird, directed by Steven Soderbergh and released by Netflix. The film follows sports agent Ray Burke (André Holland) who finds himself caught between a league and its basketball players.
McCraney is openly gay.
The Brother/Sister Plays trilogy
- The Brothers Size (simultaneously premiered in New York at The Public Theater, in association with the Foundry Theatre, and in London at the Young Vic, where it was nominated for an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement at an Affiliated Theatre)
- In The Red and Brown Water (winner of the Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition, produced at the Alliance Theatre and the Young Vic)
- Marcus, or the Secret of Sweet
- Run, Mourner, Run (adapted from Randall Kenan's short story), both of which premiered at Yale Cabaret. He directed Hamlet for the RSC's Young Shakespeare program for GableStage in Miami.
In the summer of 2006, McCraney, Catherine Filloux and Joe Sutton wrote The Breach, a play on Katrina, the Gulf, and our nation, commissioned by Southern Rep in New Orleans, where it premiered in August 2007 to mark the second anniversary of the tragedy in New Orleans. The Breach also played at Seattle Rep in the winter of 2007.
Commissions for the Donmar Warehouse and Berkeley Rep.