Living History With Brenton Weyi

Editors' Note: Lighthousers are always up to incredible things, like writing and producing multi-genre musicals staged in museum halls. Check out our Q&A with Brenton Weyi, below, and learn more about his exciting upcoming projects.

Tell us about yourself. 

My name is Brenton Weyi. I always say I use the power of words to cultivate humanity. I’m a first-generation essayist, playwright, and award-winning creative polymath. I’ve traveled to nearly 70 nations and my work blends narrative, philosophy and history to examine the struggle and beauty of the human experience. My parents are both immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

My professional journey began in Thailand and Central Africa, where I used poetry and performance as a healing modality for victims of trauma and war. This later led to me becoming the lead Campaign Architect for a presidential campaign in Congo. I’ve had the pleasure of making invisible stories visible around the world.  I’m the current Truth Be Told storytelling GrandSlam Champion, a proud member of Playback Theatre West & Storytellers Acapella, a TEDx speaker and a current lead organizer of TEDxBoulder.  

I love creating moments of magic and wonder for people, and I love stories. 

How long have you been involved with the Lighthouse community? What do you enjoy about it?

I’ve been coming to Lighthouse for about seven years. I was first turned onto it by my friend and Lighthouse aficionado Brett Randell. Lighthouse is just such a supportive community with some really incredible writers. The events are always thoughtful and well-crafted, the classes wide-ranging and the welcome always warm. It’s a great place to learn about the craft and business of writing. It’s been awesome to see Lighthouse flourish over the years and am so excited to hear that you’re officially in SCFD tier II. 

Tell us about  your musical, My Country, My Country.

My Country, My Country is a multi-genre musical that centers around the nexus point of Congolese independence, following three central characters: 

· Patrice Lumumba of Congo: The wickedly smart, amazingly complex, first freely elected prime minister who was assassinated 6 months after being elected during Congolese independence from Belgium (an assassination led by the West); 

· King Baudouin of Belgium: "Le Roi Triste." The principled, self-effacing king at age 20 who wanted nothing more than to not be king and make peace in Congo by earning the love of the people.

· Joseph Mobutu: The charming best friend and chief of staff of Lumumba who would eventually become a dictator

 All three men, of similar age, walked parallel paths of ambition and principle to create a better future for Congo, handcuffed by colonial bondage for over a century...and all were their own undoing.  

I think this story matters so much in our current state of the world. A lot of people don’t know that the largest refugee population in CO is Congolese or that we couldn’t have created an atomic bomb without Congo’s uranium. But what’s more important is that this musical tells the origin story of how/why these issues of resources conflict and displacement even began, and how our country is so intrinsically tied into the stories of so many other unstable nations. There is genius that has grown in lands unknown, and I think bringing out those stories and giving context to the beauty of places that are so often reduced down to a single story is incredibly important. The piece does so in a way that’s human, and purposefully highly entertaining. It’s about relationships, finding our place in the world and complexity wanting to effect change.

Tell us about your upcoming project, Living History at the Museum of Nature and Science.

Living History has been brewing since late last year. Last year I was the first Coloradan to produce a large-scale multidisicplinary event for the company Groupmuse, which creates intimate classical music house concerts. They brought their larger offering, the "Massivemuse" to CO for the first time. The event was so successful, they immediately asked for another.

But I didn't want to just do another big event. I really wanted my imagination to run wild and to really stretch myself to create something unforgettable

So, on Oct 24th I will be creating another Massivemuse at the Museum of Nature and Science in the Botswana Hall. It's the first time that the Museum is a doing a concert in a Wildlife Hall.  It'll involve a classical musical performance, artifacts from the African continent, and a ~70min reading of my musical. What I’m so excited about is the scale of the event. We’ll have 12 incredible vocalist-actors, 7 musicians, and a wonderful creative team putting it together.. It should be a really, really special evening. 

For those who are curious, here is what one of these events looks like. 

You were part of three different Lighthouse intensive programs: Lit Fest 2018 and 2019, as well as the inaugural Writing in Color retreat. Walk us through the process of writing your script and how each program/instructor helped refine your musical.

The writing much time we got? Haha. Writing a musical is a strange endeavor because you’re simultaneously thinking about how the music, scenes and staging work together and which one of that triad is most effective for carrying certain aspects of a story. 

But like any writing endeavor, you have to let the story unfold itself. The first thing I considered was what I wanted to leave an audience with. Then I did a ton of research and picked out moments from this very riveting history that I had gripped me and (I hoped) would grip others. Then I start sketching out my plot points, writing lyrics and sketching out scenes. I had a sketch of Act I with a couple of songs composed by the time I got to LitFest 2018. 

Halley really helped me to dive deep on structure and this idea of the “unexpected expected,” which is the concept that an ending of an act or piece should surprise you, and yet you think to yourself “I saw that coming! How did I not put the pieces together?”

She also talked about how to sum up exposition,  relationship or a backstory in just one statement and how to infuse a character past into a scene without directly referring to it. In terms of structure, she was a stickler for story structure and scene structure. So it was in this time that I really got to map out the arc of where I wanted to take my audience and what necessary dramatic turns were needed to get them there. I also reworked a lot of my turns in individual scenes and the choices characters made. It was also wonderful to do some performing of my work at Litfest ‘18.

By the time I had gotten to LitFest 2019, my work was in a whole different stage. I had already done a reading at the Denver Art Museum as well as showcased a chunk of music at last year’s Massivemuse. So I felt like I understood my story a lot more, but my script had gotten a bit unruly since the history is so rich and complex. Donald taught me about how every scene in a play/musical is a negotiation, and what’s ultimately most gripping is trying to decide who has status at any given moment (and watching a power struggle) -- especially when objects are involved. 

We also did a lot of exercises around the power of the unsaid. Having characters trying to unravel a situation alongside an audience and reference events that the audience isn’t clued in on, and how that game of the detail breadcrumb trail can be really engaging for an audience.

The Inaugural Writing in Color retreat was such a game changer for me. First off, I was so honored to receive a fellowship in Dramatic Writing and to work with Manuel. (Ed. Note: Readers can help support fellowships like Brenton's here). Manuel was the first POC Dramatic Writing teacher I’d had since high school. He taught me about the power of destroying tropes and trusting your own vision -- which is I asked ultimately asked him to direct. It was in this time that I got to dive really deep into character. Like Donald, Manuel taught me about the power of the unsaid but more specifically focused on characters sharing secrets in front of an audience that an audience can’t hear, which I found to be such a compelling concept.

We talked a lot about defining the voice, story, aura and personnage of your character, and I really got to get into the minds of what my characters would think and why they would make the choices they make. The writing in Color retreat was also really profound because it just gave me a lot of permission. To be in a space with other people who have underrepresented voices was really beautiful and renewed my energy in believing in the importance of my story. And Manuel was so encouraging for me and help me process a lot of difficult experiences I had had over the years with people inadvertently patronizing the cultural nuances of my work that they perhaps didn’t understand. And it was amazing to be in small groups and have someone dive so thoroughly into my work and world. Finally, being able to be on a retreat and focus on nothing but writing, connecting and reflecting was time that absolutely invaluable to be. Invaluable.

You mention that there are many simultaneous elements to musical writing. Can you say more? 

If it takes a village to create a play, it takes a metropolis to create a musical. From working with other music collaborators for composition, a music director, director, transcribers, music copyists, producers to work on your audio files and so many others, there are so many moving parts to musical theater -- especially in this modern day. I think that whether it’s in my Lighthouse classes, work with the Denver Center, or whatever it may be, making a stage piece with music requires so much more than a non-music piece. And sometimes I feel a bit guilty because I have to ask for more resources or more space or more time than my colleagues, but such is this beast, and I so appreciate the grace that people give me. I’m eternally grateful for Gio Barabadze, Brodie Kinder, Gary Grundei, Glen Gomez-Meade, Lynde Rosario, and Doug Langworthy for the incredible amount of support they’ve given me in this work. It literally would not be possible without them.  

Why did you choose to work with Manuel? 

When I started to dig into the art of dramatic writing with Manuel, I just thought to myself: “This man just gets it.” He has a fantastic mind for storytelling and knows how to hold you (and your collaborators) accountable for your vision. He shows up with presence and he is wonderful at realizing the essence of the “the thing” you’re trying to communicate. Very grateful to work with him.

What do you do when you’re not writing or creating? 

I read voraciously (books are medicine for the soul). I also practice a lot of yoga and I love to cook and take walks through nature or our beautiful city. 

What’s next for you and your musical? 

For the musical, the path is continued development. This year, the DCPA launched a yearlong playwriting fellowship for four outstanding playwrights in Colorado and I was named one of their inaugural fellows. I’ve been so grateful to share such generative space with Jeffrey Neumann, Colette Mazunik and Jen Faletto. So next step is continuing to develop the piece throughout the remainder of my tenure and to do a reading of the full piece (eek!) late Spring 2020. 

I’m really excited to get it in front of a live audience again on 10/24. It’s been a while and you can’t replicate the information that you get from real people unfamiliar with your work. I’m so excited for this event. Our cast is unreal and the musicians are stunning. And I’ve been waiting a long time to get some of these new songs in front of people!

For me, I always have many irons in the fire. I’m excited to bring new cutting-edge creative events to Denver, to continue performing with Storytellers Acapella and Playback Theatre West. I also have some great institutional collaborations coming up and of course, much more writing! I want to collect my essays and poems into a longform manuscript and get back to submitting more of my writing after this period of musical intensity subsides. 

But ultimately, I’m grateful for all of the opportunities I get and just try to remind myself to live out my purpose every day: cultivate humanity. 


Brenton Weyi uses the power of the word and performance to help people cultivate humanity. He is a 1st generation American philosopher, essayist and award-winning creative polymath. Brenton's essays blend the narrative and historical in order to examine the struggle and beauty of the human experience. He also writes his own unique style of narrative poetry that borrows from Greek classical forms. His work has received numerous awards across several disciplines, and he has been featured in the LA Times, BBC and many more publications. His perspective has been informed by travel to over 60 nations, believing that life is philosophical, psychological, artistic, and so much more-- and it is in drawing connections that truth can be found. Learn more at his website.