Celebration, Not Competition: Jocelyn Bioh on Her Best Play Nomination for Jaja's African Hair Braiding | Playbill

Tony Awards Celebration, Not Competition: Jocelyn Bioh on Her Best Play Nomination for Jaja's African Hair Braiding

She points out that now is the time for "new, fresh, innovative work" on Broadway.

Jocelyn Bioh Tricia Baron

This season, playwright Jocelyn Bioh had a Broadway hit with her play Jaja’s African Hair Braiding, which has just been nominated for a 2024 Tony Award for Best Play. Speaking to Bioh on April 30, hours after the announcement, the newly minted Tony nominee was refreshingly candid: "I'm already drinking champagne," she told Playbill. She deserved it: Jaja's received five Tony nominations, as well as an honorary Tony Award for wig/hair designer Nikiya Mathis.

Jaja's African Hair Braiding is set in a hair-braiding salon in Harlem, owned by a Senegalese immigrant named Jaja and staffed by women hailing from different countries in Africa. The play follows a day in the salon, as the women gossip and bicker, while taking care of customers and each other. The play was a hit financially and critically for the producers, Manhattan Theatre Club, earlier this season. So much so that the theatre has now teamed up with other venues around the country to present a tour of the show beginning this fall. 

The last time Bioh was on Broadway was as a cast member of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. She stepped away from acting so she could pursue her playwriting career, and that decision has paid dividends. Her other hit plays include School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play and Nollywood Dreams. Bioh is also working with composer Michael Thurber on a musical called Goddess

The other Best Play Tony nominees include Stereophonic by David AdjmiMother Play by Paula Vogel, Mary Jane by Amy Herzog, and Prayer for the French Republic by Joshua Harmon.

Below, Bioh talks about what this nomination means to her as a Black woman who has spent her writing career telling uplifting stories about Black women. 

Jocelyn Bioh and the Cast of Jaja's African Hair Braiding Michaelah Reynolds

Did you even imagine like, last summer when we were talking about this, you'd be here?
No, no, no. I think when I first spoke to you, you were the first person I spoke to, like, two weeks after I had given birth or something like that. So, no, my brain was on trying to take care of my little newborn, and throw together these rewrites for the play. So thinking about Tony nominations, or anything like that, was not even in my mind, truly. So this is a really surreal morning for me.

What does it represent to you to be nominated for this play that is all about Black womanhood?
I was talking to my family about this the other day, honestly. I've been really thinking hard about the difference between validation and recognition. This nomination, all of these nominations, the five nominations that we have, it's about recognition. It's about celebrating who we are, what we bring to the American theatre, and the kind of history we can make when you just give us an opportunity, and a platform, and a chance to create new, fresh, innovative work that has never been seen on Broadway before. That deserves recognition. And I'm just really honored that they decided to recognize the play in this way.

I remember last time we talked about the rareness of African diasporic stories on stage. And so to be nominated for this and for your Broadway playwriting debut—like you said, it's recognition, but it's also a really fruitful step forward.
Yes, it kind of also feels like there's a potential for something historic. A Black woman has never won Best Play before. Even just getting the nomination makes that dream feel we're one step closer to making that a reality. I'm just so honored. I really am.

What's the conversations going to be like between you and the other artists from the plays who are nominated?
I think celebration! Branden Jacobs-Jenkins [who was nominated for Best Revival of a Play Appropriate] is one of my best friends. We started out together. My first professional play as an actor was his first professional play as a writer. It was Neighbors at the Public Theater, like, 14 years ago. So we've kind of grown up together in this theatre thing. So to be also experiencing our first Tony nominations together is such a thrill. We all know what it's like to be in this business and work really hard to try to get something made, to try to get something put on the stage, and hope that people like it. This is really a celebration. It's not a competition. It's a celebration amongst artists for everything we've accomplished already. It's thrilling. I cannot wait to just call everyone I know who is also nominated, and just kind of scream and shout about it. It's going to be an exciting day. 

Speaking of Branden, I love that between you, him, David Adjmi—Off-Broadway and experimental theatre is on Broadway now.
Downtown is coming uptown!

Meet 2024's 1st Time Tony Nominees

Today’s Most Popular News:

Blocking belongs
on the stage,
not on websites.

Our website is made possible by
displaying online advertisements to our visitors.

Please consider supporting us by
whitelisting playbill.com with your ad blocker.
Thank you!