We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
“When people first enter the space, people are just like, WOW!” says Tim Guillot.
We Fight We Die is a part-musical, part-drama depicting fictional graffiti artist Q. Guillot, the play’s author, started writing the script in 2009—now, it’s running at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint Gallery. Though Chris Klimek called We Fight We Die “goofy” in this week’s dead-tree edition review, the play’s set is much more weighty.
Guillot was inspired by graffiti along the Metro’s Red Line, which he viewed daily on his commute to Catholic University, and wanted to outsource the set’s painting to a street artist. “It’s almost like there was no other choice,” he says. He sent flyers to local street-art organizations like Words Beats & Life and used Twitter to spread the word. While there wasn’t “an overwhelming amount of feedback,” says Guillot. “We didn’t turn anyone interested away.”
The results brought in three artists responsible for much of the art on set: Tony Lawson, Ursula Miller, and Diabetik.
Lawson was heavily involved with graffiti in his younger years, but has expanded his medium and now designs tattoos and creates art for friends. When We Fight We Die director Alvin Ford Jr. approached him about doing work for the show, he was excited to do something different for a good cause. Lawson wasn’t able to spend time in the theater creating his piece due to his bartending job, but spent 18 hours working on a mural for the set. “I didn’t want it to detract from the play. It wasn’t about me, it was about the play,” says Lawson.
Miller only dabbled in graffiti in her college days, but has since become a graphic designer. She’s responsible for the majority of the artwork on the floor of the stage, and also illustrated a piece that looks like popcorn (it’s placed next to Diabetik’s candy corn graffiti). “It was an interesting thing to go back to that style. It was nice to revisit that,” says Miller, admitting she deviated from her own style to best represent We Fight We Die’s plot.
Diabetik was not available for comment, but she is known throughout the D.C. area for doing “sweet” pieces that depict candy.
The artists were given nearly free reign over the set design, and it was completed in a three-day span. “It was a midnight oil project,” says Miller, “which is what I think you have to do with graffiti art.”
Guillot claims that audience members “linger in the space to check out the detail”; the set art brings the plot of the play to life realistically, and ingratiates the audience. Employing real-life graffiti artists also speaks to its mainstreaming: “The art form is becoming well-known because there are so many people that have talent,” says Lawson.
The play runs at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint Gallery until Nov. 15.