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DC Black Theatre Festival Makes 2015 Return

Cameron James

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This summer budding actors and directors will have the chance hone their skills and theatre fans will be entertained in the nation’s capital during the DC Black Theatre Festival.

Starting June 19 attendees this year will be able to dive into all aspects of theater for when the festival takes over the District of Columbia for ten days.

The ten day festival is divided up into five categories consisting of workshops and stage performances.

Attendees will have the opportunity to see full length plays in three categories: Traditional, Urban and Gospel. This year only 100 plays were selected out of the 300 submissions and will introduce audiences to emerging playwrights and enjoy the works veterans such as August Wilson.

Onvbc 4e of this years anticipated performances will be from Vanessa Bell Calloway in Letters from Zora in her Own Words.

Washington DC is home to one of the largest deaf and hard of hearing populations in the United States. This year for the first time the festival will partner with these unique artist and writers to give hearing audiences an in depth look into deaf culture.

Acting workshops, for stage and film,will offer actors ranging  from beginning to professional the opportunity to better their skills with workshops ranging from auditioning tips to improv classes.

Workshops in stage makeup, set design and costumes will also be offered to those who want to make magic behind the scenes.

Competition will take place at the festival in the form of the Director’s Challenge.

Aimed to highlight the creative process of directing the Director’s Challenge five directors are randomly chosen and blindly given a script for play to cast and direct within ten days. Each play is no longer than 25 minutes and will certainly put budding directors to the test.

Serving as an incubator for dramatic works the New Works Reading Series will provide emerging and established playwrights the chance to see their work on stage and collaborate with other professionals and engage in audience discussions. This is one of the free festival events, but those interested in attending must register and reserve a seat.

DC Black Theatre Festival take place from June 19 until June 28 and tickets can be purchased here.

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Leads & Legends

Brian Stokes Mitchell Thanks Cherry Hill High School’s Ragtime Cast and Crew

Malia West

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Early January 2017, New Jersey’s Cherry Hill High School came under fire for their decision to censor their production of Ragtime. In response to parents and civil rights groups raising concerns, the school decided to censor the musical’s original lyrics. The main target of censorship, the show’s use of the word “nigger,” or as the non-Black community appropriately labels it, the “n-word.”

This, amongst other ethnic slurs, sits at the very soul of Ragtime. The musical, based on E.L. Doctorow’s novel, begins by depicting a world defined by segregation between white, Eastern European immigrant, and Black communities. Repercussions of that deliberate racial divide, namely a white man calling a Black man a “nigger,” then disrupt this world, further spiralling things out of control.

This show’s conflict is rooted in the repugnance of this word and Cherry Hill High School wanted to censor it. Censoring Ragtime of its racism and racial commentary is like making The Book of Mormon church-friendly. Many agreed, including 1,200 students, community members, artists, and original Broadway cast member Brian Stokes Mitchell.

Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald in Ragtime.

Image: Catherine Ashmore

“Our country has an ugly history with race,” Mitchell said of the controversy. “To take the ugly language out of Ragtime is to sanitize it and that does it a great disservice.”

Despite threats to cancel the musical if they could not censor it, the New Jersey high school agreed to continue the production with the original book and lyrics, by Terrence McNally, Lynn Ahrens, and Stephen Flaherty.

Mitchell visited the school on March 3rd to mentor the students, prior to their March 10th opening, in conjunction with the Camden County East NAACP. They discussed topics ranging from the power of language to the show’s racial themes. Mitchell, while agreeing to participate in a talkback with the cast after a show, also performed “Make Them Hear You,” his big number from the musical.

To top it all off, he thanked the school with a video on Facebook.

We have to give our own thanks to Broadway’s finest. Brian Stokes Mitchell constantly uses his platform to educate and uplift young artists. His integrity and kindness precede him and his selflessness is consistent. This saga ends with a Tony winner’s gratitude and Cherry Hill taking a bow.

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Behind The Scenes

Behind The Curtain: Eclipsed Will Air The Historic Broadway Journey On Centric TV

Andrew Shade

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Eclipsed is returning and this time it’s on television. Well, kind of.

According to the press realease:

BET International releases a multi-part documentary series chronicling the ascent and realization of ‘Eclipsed’; a Broadway play all written, directed and acted by women of African descent.

  • Danai Gurira (Zimbabwe), playwright
  • Liesl Tommy, (South Africa), director
  • Lupita Nyong’o (Kenya), actress
  • Akosia Busia, (Ghana), actress
  • Zainab Jah (Sierra Leone), actress
  • Saycon Sengbloh, (Liberia), actress
  • Pascale Armand, (Haiti), actress

A winner of nine accolades including a Tony Award, the play tackles the survival stories of five women near the end of the second Liberian civil war. Written by actress, Danai Gurira who was inspired by a New York Times article about Black Diamond, a female freedom fighter and the female peace activists.

Broken into three episodes, each part delves into a central theme; Context, Cultivation, and Community. The series documents the fearless women using art to combat social injustice and give voice to the voiceless. With a strong production team including Stephen Byrd, Alia Jones Harvey and Michaela Angela Davis the documentary uses cinema-verite style to complement the rehearsal/show footage and ancillary interviews.

Ava L. Hall, executive producer and Vice President, Programming & Brand Advancement, BET International commented:

“It was really important to us to capture and to some extent immortalise the extraordinary stories of these women in Liberia and also the women who fought to bring it to fruition on the other side of the Atlantic, in New York on Broadway. This is a tale of how sisterhood, support and humanity travels globally to create a vision which breaks boundaries, sets new standards and while sobering, inspires a generation to find value and strength in their stories.”

This ground breaking play took its place firmly on Broadway and this documentary will take a place firmly in your heart and mind. Celebrating the intersection of Black and women’s history months airing on March 1, 2017 at 8pm EST on Centric

This is not one you’ll want to miss. You’ll even see a guest appearance from a photoshoot Broadway Black did before the Tony Awards. Live tweet with us tonight! @BroadwayBlack

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Across The Pond

Rosa Parks Will Have Her Story Told With New Musical

Kristen Martin

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A Rosa Parks Musical in the Works? Wow. Now that is a sight to see. It almost sounds too good to be true on account of all the colorless productions to date. But, in a positive light, we are moving closer to coloring in the lines that confine diversity in creative spaces.

It is an honor to announce that the triumphant story of Rosa Parks (the mother of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement), is now in early workshop stages. The musical production, Rosa, will appear in the UK under the direction of Matt Ryan and Tom Brady (Musical Director), written by Victoria Gimby (book and lyrics), and with music by Stuart Matthew Price, and Simbi Akande as “Rosa.” The production will begin with Rosa’s life as a seamstress and will continue on to show how she repelled with refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger. The play will highlight the segregated bus rules in the 1950s Montgomery, Alabama era just before the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

With Rosa Parks’ passing (2005), and the heat of the nation’s top headlines, I think this production is necessary. Rosa Parks encompasses fortitude and resembles the fearlessness that we need in our current state. As she sought to achieve nothing short of equality, we remember her legacy and continue the fight for justice on and off stage. We look forward to an unforgettable, true, and victorious display of the Civil Rights Movement. 

For more information on Rosa, click here.

Note: It is important that we acknowledge every major player on the creative team (director, book and lyrics, music) is white. It will be interesting to see how that impacts authenticity and nuance.

 

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Get You a Fave That Can Do Both: Broadway Stars Get Political

Malia West

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                                                        Photo by Christopher Boudewyns for Broadway Black

 

These past weeks have been a phenomenal expression of talent and tenacity. From Audra McDonald and Cynthia Erivo snatching souls on Twitter, to Broadway for Black Lives Matter taking us to church, to the best DNC that has graced our country, we’ve been blessed.

Now, we all love a strong belt and a clean 8-count, but when an artist flexes their mental chops for the movement, that’s when they strike gold.

Ben Vereen and Broadway’s finest took the stage at the Democratic National Convention to pay homage to the lives taken in Orlando’s Pulse shooting. Their rendition of “What the World Needs Now is Love,” brought the crowd to their feet and put compassion at the forefront of politics if only for a moment. But ,Vereen was not there to simply lend his voice in song.

In partnership with ARTSPEAKS, Vereen advocated for arts education funding at both the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention. Vereen sat down with Huffington Post to expound on his stance, “I’m not saying everybody’s got to be a song and dance man or an artist, or whatever aspect that we separate ourselves from,” he said. “We need our creative thinking people in politics, in corporations to think on the up, rather than the down.”

Vereen’s outspokenness sparks a discussion on the ability of artists to be political thinkers as well. We know this to be true! We stanned as six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald took Bill O’Rielly on the dragging of his life and educated him on the historic tumultuousness of slavery. Tracie Thoms, of Rent and the upcoming Falsettos revival, is known for her outspokenness on issues regarding social justice. She is one of many that contributes to the education and expansion of the black community, simply by being aware and ensuring those around her are as well.

This past Monday, marked the first ever Broadway for Black Lives Matter. This event, for and by Broadway, invited the biggest names in the business to have an honest and productive conversation on bringing change to the social and political climate in America.

The Broadway for Black Lives Matter Collective conceived an event that changed the lives of everyone in attendance. With the help of Amber ImanAdrienne Warren, Britton Smith, and dozens of top Broadway talent, we found strength in numbers and power in politics. Norm Lewis, a panelist and longtime Broadway veteran, called for the investment of black money in black banks, the annual revaluation of police, and noted the loss of respect in the justice system. He spoke with the eloquence and passion of a young Cornel West. His tenacity does not stand alone.

The voices of Broadway are talented, to say the least; they have healed us, inspired us, and now they are encouraging us to be our best and brightest selves. The mind of artists is poignant, we are capable of rond de jambes and revolutions. Don’t count out the kid in the back with a paintbrush or song; the first thing to wow you may be their art, but it won’t be the last.

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Coming Soon

Debbie Allen Continues To Invest In Youth With High School Musical Theatre Program

Marcus Scott

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On Aug. 3, two weeks after celebrating her 32nd wedding anniversary with husband Norm Nixon, director-choreographer Debbie Allen announced that she will be at the helm of a brand new musical theatre initiative for high school students on her Twitter account.

 

According to her post, Allen’s latest enterprise is a pre-college musical theater program called “RISE” and is available only to high school students between the ages of 14 and 18. Beginning in the fall with only 15 available spots, auditions are by appointment only on Saturday, September 10, 2016. Very little else is known about the project.

 

For decades, youth education has been a passion of the legendary artist, who is also an influential dancer, actress and producer. In fact, in June, Allen directed and choreographed some of the most talented high school seniors from across the country for a one night only performance at the Kennedy Center. Out of more than 12,000 applications, the YoungArts Foundation and a White House commission selected only 20 Presidential Scholars in the Arts, with each student becoming the recipient of a presidential medal and cash awards of up to $10,000. In a weeklong workshop, Allen sought to whip these various multidisciplinary artists into triple-threat shape.

 

Allen, a three-time Primetime Emmy Award winner and Golden Globe recipient, has remained quite busy of late. Not only has she been directing various episodes for season 13 of “Grey’s Anatomy” while also serving as an executive producer, she is also campaigning for presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton and Freeze Frame, a multimedia production that promotes non-violence by providing snapshots of gang violence, the daily struggles of impoverished inner city families, drugs and interactions with local law enforcement in Los Angeles.

 

For more information, call (310) 202-1711.

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Events and Happenings

The Best Protest Songs & Civil Rights Anthems On & Off-Broadway

Marcus Scott

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Unless you were under a rock, we hope you were tuned into the livestream video broadcast of the unforgettable and star-studded Broadway For Black Lives Matter benefit concert that took place Monday night, Aug. 1, in the Roone Arledge Auditorium at Columbia University’s Alfred Lerner Hall. The night guaranteed a bountiful feast of headlines and hashtags. Undoubtedly, this was due to introductions from Tony-winning Broadway royalty Cynthia Ervio, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald, Jeanine Tesori and Alex Sharp, for instance, or performances from the 2016 cast of the Encores! Off-Center concert series revival of Elizabeth Swados’ Runaways, nine-time Grammy Award nominee Ledisi, Tony Award winner Billy Porter, and four-time Grammy Award winner India.Arie and Broadway Inspirational Voices (with original arrangements by Tony nominee Michael McElroy). However, the big take away from the night was the show’s themes of inclusion, cross cultural pollination and intersectionality.

 

This could be more evident in many of the night’s performances. Whether it was the rhythmic spoken word of Daniel J. Watts addressing “Columbusing” and cultural appropriation, or the poetry of Daniel Beaty, which challenged social justice warriors to rise up while name-checking victims of police brutality—Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice and the thousands who have now become “future ancestors”—, speakers had one thing in mind: To bring spark a fire and conjure incentive to keep protesting and progressing.

 

However revolutions can’t be won alone and as Frank Roberts, a professor at New York University emphasized, “Black Lives Matter is an intersectional movement.” It is also an artistic moment and one of the most powerful arts is song. Be it anthems like Crystal Monee Hall’s rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Ledisi’s interpretation of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Billy Porter’s startling cover of Tony Bennet’s “Take The Moment” or India.Arie’s own “Breathe,” audiences noticed that protests come in many sounds and colors. American musical theatre also has its fair share of protest songs and civil rights anthems, they just may not be as well known, so here’s a list of the best that graced stages on Broadway and off.

 

“The Scottsboro Boys” (The Scottsboro Boys, 2010)

Kander & Ebb have an arsenal of protest songs, but they are probably not as scathing as the eponymous musical number in The Scottsboro Boys that ends the show on a rather anticlimax note. Nudged to do a cakewalk by The Interlocutor, the host of a minstrel show, the men wipe off their make-up in defiance and walk off stage. What’s even more remarkable is the inclusion of a young lady (until now thought to be a mute character) is revealed to be Rosa Parks. When asked to move to the back of the bus to make room for a white passenger, she refuses promptly. You know what happens next. A close second would be: “Go Back Home.”

 

“Listen!” (from The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, 2000)

A musical womanist exposé on racism and sexism, Kirsten Childs’s breakthrough The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, an ode to self-acceptance and independence, is encapsulated in the blistering defiance of the 11 o’clock number, “Listen!” Through accommodating and pleasing everyone, the smiling and docile Viveca Stanton speaks up.

“I’m Here” (from The Color Purple, 2005)

Five years after LaChanze originated the role of Viveca Stanton at off-Broadway’s Playwright’s Horizons, she originated the role of Celie in the Broadway production of The Color Purple and took home a Tony award for Best Actress (Her musical catalogue is enviable!). Naturally, Cythnia Erivo had some big shoes to fill in the Broadway revival, especially on the 11 o’clock number, “I’m Here.” The song captures a black woman, considered ugly and insignificant, feeling a deep love for herself for the first time.

 

“Back To Before” (Ragtime, 1998)

While Audra McDonald made history with the original Broadway production of Ragtime, becoming a three-time Tony Award winner by age 28 (she would win three more), the musical is also remembered for its astonishing score, particularly Marin Mazie’s second act number “Back To Before.” The song is about a bourgeoisie white woman coming to terms with the times and choosing to change with it, understanding that she cannot sit idle while others—in this case, segregated black people—are suffering.

 

 

“I Am What I Am” (La Cage aux Folles, 1983)

Jerry Herman is one of the most underrated songwriters for this reason: “I Am What I Am,” Albin’s act-one finale. Written by two openly gay men, La Cage aux Folles is revolutionary in many ways, but with this protest song meets torch ballad, a gay man declares that he is proud of who he is and refuses to change for anyone, even his partner. Keep in mind, the first AIDS/HIV cases in the U.S. were reported as early as 1981.

 

 

“Keys/It’s Alright” (Passing Strange, 2008)

Stew’s Tony-winning Künstlerroman rock ‘n roll masterpiece about a young African American’s artistic journey of self-discovery has a salvo of protest songs and gut-wrenching anthems, but none of them match the sonic blast of “Keys/It’s Alright.” About a black man finding friends and a home away from home, the song serves as an anthem for lost souls looking for community.

 

“Being Good Isn’t Enough” (Hallelujah, Baby!; 1966)

Hallelujah, Baby!, the show that made Leslie Uggams an A-list theater diva, is best remembered for the act-one finale, “Being Good…” which was re-recorded by another diva, Barbara Streisand. Following an ambitious young black woman who seeks stardom, through song, she decides to work twice as hard as everyone else to make her dreams come true. Sound familiar?

 

“Seasons of Love” (Rent, 1996)

The refrain “Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes” in Jonathan Larson’s Rent asks the listeners what the appropriate way to calculate the value of a year in human life is. Given the subject matter and the fact that it is sung by artists in the show, “Seasons of Love” rings closer to home in a post-BLM world.

 

“Defying Gravity” (Wicked, 2003)

The biggest song in Broadway’s biggest musical, “Defying Gravity” finds the singer realizing she must do what’s best for her and that she must not let anyone hold her down.

“We Gotta Get out of This Place” (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, 2014)

By the time Beautiful: The Carole King Musical made it to Broadway, “We Got To Get Out Of This Place” was already registered in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list. Nevertheless, while the song is about the Vietnam War, it feels very appropriate for what has been happening Flint, MI; Baton Rouge, LA; Baltimore, MD; and Ferguson, MO.

 

“Zombie” (Fela!, 2010)

Typical of jukebox musicals, touchstones like Fela Kuti’s 1976 Afrobeat smash “Zombie” were well known to black music listeners before it came to Broadway. In Fela!, the rough-and-rowdy revue inspired by the musician, the song—which described and attacked the methods of the Nigerian military—feels somewhat adjacent to methods taken in police criminalization cases.

 

“What’s Going On?” (Motown: The Musical, 2013)

In Motown, Marvin Gaye’s seminal smash hit “What’s Going On?” gets performed after a medley of The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” and Edwin Starr’s “War,” creating a kind of catharsis that reminds us that work still needs to be done.

 

“My Shot” (Hamilton, 2015)

One must admit, the first twenty minutes of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton are perhaps unparalleled by any other musical and that’s because of the relentless wordplay of “My Shot.” In the song, the protagonist electrifies other young revolutionaries with his rhetoric, but also speaks about his disillusionment with the U.K. while dreaming of laying down his lives for a better future. This is basically the musical theatre equivalent of the Black Lives Matter anthem.

 

“Run and Tell That” (Hairspray, 2002)

From “Welcome to the 60’s” and “Big, Blonde and Beautiful” in act one to “Without Love,” “I Know Where I’ve Been,” “You Can’t Stop the Beat” in the second act, the musical score of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s Hairspray is chock-full of protest songs and civil rights anthems galore. But none are as multifaceted as “Run and Tell That.” The R&B number is a black pride hymn, and speaks to the veracities related with being marginalized by a white society.

 

“Hair” (Hair, 1968)

Sharing the same name as the musical, very few songs are as catchy or as memorable as “Hair”—yeah, that includes favorites like “Aquarius,” “Easy To Be Hard,” “Good Morning Starshine” and even “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In).” All of the show’s themes come together—race, class, nudity and sexual freedom, pacifism and environmentalism—and all of it through is the texture, length, color and style of hair. It’s an intersectional anthem and one that embraces natural hair!

 

“The Song of Purple Summer” (from Spring Awakening, 2006)

The kids are not all right in Spring Awakening, but “the seeds are already being planted” for an emerging liberal minded, progressive generation and the puritanical viewpoints of adults will one day be a thing of the past.

 

“Everybody Rejoice/A Brand New Day” (The Wiz, 1975)

There are so many great songs in Charlie Smalls’ The Wiz and it’s hard to choose which one, given the emotional complexity in songs like “Believe in Yourself” and “Home,” or the just keep swimming feeling of “Ease on Down the Road.” But “Everybody Rejoice/A Brand New Day” is a celebration song, a dance of freedom underscored by African rhythms and gospel horns. Freedom never sounded so exhilarating.

 

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