Harris, who interviewed Rihanna earlier this year for T Magazine, took to his Twitter to address the critiques, where he tweeted that Rihanna, “a patron saint of the play I wrote,” and her music played a key role in the play’s conception. He also noted that she was texting him during the play and he responded.
“The patron saint of the play I wrote is literally a pop star, fashion icon, and Demi-goddess named Rihanna,” Harris wrote in a quote tweet of another post that criticized special treatment of the singer. “Her words are all over it. She’s a 9th character in the play. When Dionysus is coming, you hold the curtain.”
Rihanna’s influence on the play, is overt and integral. Audio from her hit 2016 song “Work” opens and closes the play and plays a key role in the storyline throughout, while a lyric from the song is featured prominently as part of the set.
Harris also used criticism of Rihanna’s attendance and behavior as a way to open up a dialogue about respectability politics inherent in traditional theater etiquette and the issue of accessibility in the theater world. Slave Play, which parses out the complexities of race, gender and sexuality in three contemporary interracial relationships, has put accessibility at the forefront of the production, offering 10,000 tickets at $39 and introducing a digital lottery and in-person rush system; at just six previews so far, the play has filled a nearly 99% capacity.
Harris also organized a night for a showing of Slave Play with an all-black audience, something he felt was important “after years of being the only black person in an audience of white faces…it felt like a corrective might be in order to show the potentialities of the space.”