The Fire This Time Festival – complete with 10-minute plays, full-length play readings and solo show excerpts – kicked off its seventh season on MLK Day with a panel discussion themed “So You Want To Direct?” The festival continues through Feb. 6, at The Kraine Theater.
Founded in 2009 by playwright Kelley Nicole Girod, the Obie Award-winning festival has been a vehicle for directing diversity on stage as it showcases emerging playwrights of African and African-American descent. The first season in February 2010 produced short one-act plays with more than 30 theatre artists and collaborators.
Presented by Horse Trade Theater Group, much of the work for the 2016 festival is world premiere and allows for reflection of 21st century perspectives. Seven playwrights were commissioned to write new 10-minute plays:
- Tanya Everett (Without Scars with Breast Friends)
- Keelay Gipson (The Lost at Planet Connections Theater Festivity; N/F at Downtown Urban Theater Festival)
- Jiréh Breon Holder (2012-13 Kenny Leon Fellow, Alliance Theatre)
- Roger Q. Mason (Onion Creek with Son of Semele Ensemble, Los Angeles)
- Stacey Rose (2015-16 Dramatists Guild Fellow)
- Korde Arrington Tuttle (Beautiful Mess in Around the Block: a 5D Project)
- Nia Ostrow Witherspoon (Global Arts Fund Grant for The Messiah Complex)
Bedford + Bowery stated: “It’s refreshing to see diversity not only present in the artists chosen, but in the work being made, as TFTT clearly demonstrates that theater and performance today is not only defined by the standard play, but so much more.”
In addition to the panel discussion, the event hosts an Open Mic Night (Jan. 28) and Inaugural Writers Group Presentations (Jan. 31). The latter focuses on excerpts of works in progress by Ngozi Anyanwu, Christine Jean Chambers, Edgar Chisholm, Danielle Davenport, Khalil Kain and Maia Matsushita. A musical reading, Hotel Harare – written by Daaimah Mubashshir and music by Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa – also is among the offerings.
Inspired of the James Baldwin-packaged essays The Fire Next Time, the festival website displays the following Baldwin quote: “There is something terribly radical about believing that one’s own experience and images are important enough to speak about, much less to write about and to perform.”
Among the team behind the festival are: producing artistic director Kevin R. Free (2012 New Black Fest Playwriting Fellow); associate artistic director Angelica Cheri (Papers and Plastics film); founding playwright and production consultant Derek McPhatter (Under the Spell Productions, Harlem Arts Alliance/Columbia University Dramatic Writing Fellow); founding playwright Germono Toussaint (A Mile In My Shoes, Inc.); and assistant producer Keila Fontanez-La Salle.
This is “The Fire This Time Festival – Year One.” by Fire This Time Festival on Vimeo, the home for high quality videos and the people who love them.
We Were There: Sojourners & Her Portmanteau
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Playwright, educator, opera singer, and Queen, Mfoniso Udofia has two plays running at New York Theatre Workshop. *pause* TWO PLAYS. In the SAME season!?!? *ends congratulatory gasp* Sojourners and Her Portmanteau are performed in repertory, as two chapters of Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle. Admittedly, before researching each show, I didn’t know the definition of either word; and in the spirit of keeping it consistent with the honesty, I didn’t like either play. I loved them.
Minimalism seems to be the name of the game these days. I sat down to a completely black stage, sans a multimedia display lodged on the ceiling at a 45-degree angle. Clutching my all white program and bobbing my head to the ‘70s pop rock pre-show music, I prepared my heart for the story of Sojourners, well at least that was the plan. The stage begins to rotate and we meet Abasiama (Chinasa Ogbuagu) and Ukpong (Hubert Point-Du Jour), Nigerian expatriates sojourning in Houston, Texas with the plan to start a family, earn their degrees, and go back to Nigeria until life happens.
Charming and handsome, Ukpong becomes defined by his leather jacket, shoulder work and shimmy which match the fascination and yearning for freedom that illuminates his eyes every time he talks of peace, protest, and Prince–all shaping his view of 1970s America, and consequently, the American Dream. But does leather compensate for grit? Is a movement or vibe really a panacea for disappointment, aimlessness, and a need to find yourself? Abasiama enters the play pregnant, purposed, and outfitted in pieces of Nigerian garb, grounded in duty showing a stark contrast to Ukpong who floats in desire. What’s lost in your household is found elsewhere, and this is when we start to see, and root for, Abasiama’s transformation from timid to tenacious.
Enter Moxie (Lakisha May), a colorful prostitute turned protector and friend. There is a mutual respect despite great differences between her and Abasiama, with their love for one another creating moments that make you believe in the beauty of humanity. Enter Disciple (Chinaza Uche), another warm and determined hearted immigrant who has come to the United States to study, rounding out the timely additions of love, support, and security when Abasiama needed them the most.
Through and through this is Abasiama’s story and she glows. Her kindness, her sisterhood, her strength, her worthiness, and the realization of her American Dream, guide her decisions—which is the catalyst behind the entire Ufot Cycle.
Her “portmanteau”, or red suitcase, makes a return as 30 years have passed. Abasiama now has two daughters, one raised in America and the other who has come from Nigeria to reconnect with her family.
This is a good moment to mention that each story is informed by the other, but can certainly stand alone on substance, content, and the amazing direction of Ed Sylvanus Iskandar. The staging is exciting and deliberate, while minimal, putting the full focus on the tension and growth to be expected of a family reunited after a substantial amount of time and distance.
Chinasa Ogbuagu returns to the stage, this time as the American-born daughter, Adiagha Ufot, Adepero Oduye as Iniabasi Ekpeyoung (Ukpong and Abasiama’s daughter), and Jenny Jules as the mother, Abasiama Ufot.
Seated on a couch in Adiagha’s small New York Apartment, no amount of preparation readies your mind and spirit to form the words to make up for 30 years of life, connection, and memories missed. We’re taken on a ride of resentment, hurt, love, and forgiveness, as the portmanteau is literally unpacked. We watch the teeter-tottering between offense and defense as one sister tries to assimilate into American culture, and the other attempts, albeit stubbornly, to fall in formation in honoring a family she shares blood with, but little time or tangible history.
It’s powerful to see a story of history and continuing a legacy despite lost time, faulty promises, and difficult choices explored with an all-woman cast as far too often the idea of legacy is framed in patriarchy. Jules admirably takes Abasiama through the fire to heal, to feel, and to fix her family. The narrative allows us to empathize and understand the struggle that comes with upholding family values versus cultivating a space to achieve personal dreams and happiness.
Her Portmanteau (and Sojourners) is written in a way that finds your soul, gently massaging it with humor, while leaving it with very real questions. I’ve never felt a greater need to binge read nine stories and simultaneously study the story of my own family tree. I left changed. I left wrapped in the strength of my mom and my mom’s- mom’s sacrifice. I left pensive and with seeds of future forgiveness planted. I left changed.
For capturing our hearts with wit and with truth. For putting Black women at the center of a poignant narrative. For unapologetically telling a story you haven’t seen told and telling it in the way you want it to be told.
We thank you Mfoniso. We thank you.
Have you seen the #duetplays? Sound off in the comments below![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price: Mfoniso Udofia’s Sojourners & Her Portmanteau
Last winter, we reported on Sojourners by playwright Mfoniso Udofia, a new play about a Nigerian family who has come to America with the goal of earning a college education, starting a family, and returning to Nigeria. But not without the twists and turns that come along with every plan that seems straightforward.
Thanks to New York Theatre Workshop, we get to relive this moment and continue the dialogue, decades later, with Her Portmanteau. Performed in repertory, these two chapters of Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle, chronicle the triumphs and losses of the tenacious matriarch of a Nigerian family.
Ed Sylvanus Iskandar directs the two-part story in association with The Playwrights Realm, who premiered Sojourners last winter in a limited engagement world premiere production. Her Portmanteau also received the 2016 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award grant.
As if that wasn’t enough to get excited about, we have an exclusive deal for our Broadway Black readers!
Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price!
Yes. That’s two shows for one price! The discount code BWYBLACK will take 50% off tickets to ANY performance(s) if purchased by May 15th!
Go ahead and grab your tickets. We have ours!
Sojourners and Her Portmanteau plays at NYTW until June 4th.
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