Actress, comedian and theater maker, Obehi Janice accidentally wrote a TV pilot. She’s been working on a play, “Ole White Sugah Daddy,” since 2016 and now, the piece is being adapted for television. “I didn't know that I was writing a very TV-friendly piece of literature when I wrote the play,” Janice explains. It’s too early for a premiere date, but the work is under development with Big Beach, an indie outfit that brought us last year’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” “The Farewell” and the popular 2006 film “Little Miss Sunshine.”
In “Ole White Sugah Daddy,” Lynne Adesuwa Imafidon (Janice), is at a crossroads. Imafidon is struggling at work and in her personal life. The 32-year-old Nigerian American coder developed a new anti-gentrification app called “Neighbor” — a combination of NextDoor, Facebook and Citizen — but can’t seem to secure unicorn funding. The MIT grad is super smart and good at her job, but “her center is off,” Janice says. Later, Imafidon encounters an angel investor, a white man who takes an interest in her. “The play takes off from there,” says director and collaborator Caitlin Sullivan. There will be a virtual benefit reading of the play hosted by Aye-Defy on Friday, July 24.
The idea for “Ole White Sugah Daddy” was borne out of Janice’s experiences living in Boston and her interest in technology and gentrification. She was “dealing with so much subtle racism…these little tiny violences [that were happening], both verbally and physically,” she explains. Janice felt like she hit a block as a theater actress, writer and comedian and wrestled with feeling hyper-visible and invisible at the same time. She met women in the tech world who also grappled with racial isolation. These occurrences in tandem with deep research helped shape the story, which is ultimately her “take on being a token personally and professionally,” she explains.
The Lowell, Massachusetts native currently resides in East Los Angeles. Moving to L.A. was always a goal of hers, but the way that it happened was unplanned. “I was minding my business in Brooklyn and was hired to write for "Castle Rock "on Hulu. So that's what brought me out to Los Angeles,” says Janice. She looks forward to the TV adaptation because it allows her “to dig deeper into some other themes, like love, identity, imposter syndrome and Boston as a feeling…an activated space …a city that has deep history.”
In the play, the main character lives in Dorchester and works in Cambridge. The highlighting of Dorchester is part of the reason that Sullivan, a Dorchester native, is so excited about the piece. She was introduced to Janice a little over a year ago through a mutual friend who thought they might work well together. When Sullivan read the script with its mention of Franklin Park and Dot. Ave, she was thrilled that the play highlighted the Boston she grew up in. Since then, Sullivan, who now lives in New York, and Janice have developed a deep kinship. The two have been collaborating virtually for a while and a lot of the edits, Janice says, “come from their weekly conversations.”
Janice has been preparing for this moment for a long time. The young creative is a voracious reader and researcher who eagerly rattles off Black directors, authors and poets whose work she admires such as Stella Meghie, Janicza Bravo, Brittney Cooper, adrienne maree brown and Rita Dove. “Black women's output in art is extremely important to me,” Janice explains.
Janice is part of The Kilroys, a radical collective of diverse playwrights, directors and producers in LA and NYC whose motto is “we make trouble and plays.” The group mobilizes others in the field and leverages their power to support one another.
For the last 10 years, Janice — an award-winning writer, actress and comedian — has been working in theater. She was part of the 2018-2019 Emerging Writers Group at The Public Theater, a Luminary Artist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and a past recipient of a TCG Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowship. Her plays include “Selah,” “African Tea” as well as the one-woman shows “Fufu & Oreos” and “Casanova.” She is the voice of Heather Culbreth, a character on “Dicktown” on FXX’s Cake. Up next is a musical and “Obehi Janice: Casanova,” a continuation of the “Casanova” piece she performed at the MFA here in Boston in 2018.
For now, though, she and the talented cast of “Ole White Sugah Daddy” are busy prepping for Friday evening. “I consider our reading on Friday [as this] really nice gem of a moment. I'm in between a development process that is affirming my love for the stage while also really growing my appreciation for the screen,” Janice says. Sullivan hopes that the reading “makes people hunger for a full production of it.”
The moment isn’t as big as watching it onstage but still, Janice says, “I think it’s special.”
A reading of “Ole White Sugah Daddy” will take place on Friday, July 24 at 8 p.m. Proceeds from the event will benefit Black Girls Code and The Kilroys.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece misstated the name of the play and where the main character lives in "Ole White Sugah Daddy." We regret the error.