AAPEX Truly Blessed — Alan Woods , Aurin Squire , Bob Ost , Greg Stallworth , Jaz Dorsey , Karen Evans , Owa , Peter Lawson Jones , Roweena MacKay , Sheila Speller — AAPEX

Friday, June 29, 2007

AAPEX Truly Blessed

AAPEX, which was started on January 1st of this year, today exists as a network of around 120 artists across the US. This number is up from 90 a few weeks ago as a result of my trips to Washington DC and Cincinnati, where I met and added to the list serv not so much playwrights as directors, actors and dramaturgs who have an interest in what we are doing. AAPEX is all about people and here are some of the people in whom we are truly blessed.

  • GREG STALLWORTH Greg is going to serve as the first vice president of AAPEX and is working with me to develop a reading & script development series in Cincinnati. Greg produced and directed the first AAPEX reading in Cincinnati on June 23. While attendance was small, the reading was very productive and received some attention from the Cincinnati press. For those of you who are not familiar with Cincy, it is a beautiful town with some beautiful theaters - but not a lot of black theater, so AAPEX has the opportunity to make a serious contribution on this front. Among other things, check out The Arts Consortium of Cincinnati at http://www.accdreams.org/ Consortium creative director Piper Davis was a member of the cast in our first reading and is an actress to look out for! Also making a significant contribution to the event was actor David Livers, who covered several of the male roles in the script brilliantly. The reading was followed by a production of Stallworth's seriously funny play EVE IN PARIDISE which was directed by the wonderful Terri Robinson who also pulled double duty in the title role of Eve. EVE IN PARADISE explores the dangers of internet dating.
  • PETER LAWSON JONES Peter is the author of THE FAMILY LINE which was the subjet of the Cincinnati reading. A truly fascinating fellow, Peter is on the board of Karamu Playhouse and is also the County Commisioner of Cuyahoga County, Ohio. The mayor of Cincinnati recognized Peter and AAPEX with a proclamation making June 23, 2007 Peter Lawson Jones day. ALAN WOODS Alan is the head of the Theater Archives at Ohio State and is responsible for setting up the AAPEX archives there. He attended the reading in Cincinnati and his presence was one factor in the event's success. So far about 10 AAPEX writers have contacted Alan and made arrangements to include their scripts in the archives. If you would like more information on the archives please let me know.
  • BOB OST Bob is the founder and president of Theater Resources Unlimited in New York City and thanks to Bob and TRU, AAPEX now has a nonprofit umbrella is NYC.
  • OWA A NYC playwright, Owa is the muse for OWAFEST - A CELEBRATION OF AFRICAN AMERICAN ABSURDISM which is now in development in NYC.
  • ROWEENA MACKAY A recent graduate of Yale, Roweena is serving as the dramaturg for OWAFEST. Acording to the writers involved, she is marvelous.
  • SHEILA SPELLER Artistic Driector of Orielle Creative comapny in NYC, Shiela is also helping with the development of OWASFEST. She is on her way today for a meeting with the Apollo Theater in Harlem to see if we can interest them in this and future AAPEX projects.
  • AURIN SQUIRE A NYC member of AAPEX, Aurin is also a journalist and is working on a piece about the trials and tribulations of the African American playwright which deals with many of the issues that have come up in my communications with everyone.
  • And last but certainly not least KAREN EVANS and THE BLACK WOMEN PLYAWRIGHTS GROUP This is an organization which merits everyone's attention and support. Founded by Karen Evans 18 years ago, BWPG has just made it through their 18th annual event which took place at Washington, DC's beautiful Studio Theater. The evening was hosted by the incredible Sheryll Lee Ralph and played to packed houses both nights. The evenings were astounding and especailly powerful because there were no sets or costumes - so the audience left takling about the plays! Imagine that. AAPEX members Louise Gray and Stanice Anderson had pieces in the event. Gray's piece HOW JLO GOT HER BUTT had the audiene in stiches and Anderson' piece WALKING ON WATER WHEN THE GROUND AIN'T ENOUGH moved us to tears. Other members of BWPG who are also members of AAPEX are Lois Wiley and Joy Jones - and while, living in DC, these ladies may take this for granted, both the AAPEX members and most of the other women in attendance hold or have held significant potitions in the Federal Govenment, the DC metropolitan goverment, the DC board of education and the various DC area universities. Evans and her organization are a force to be seriously reckoned with and positioned to effect important changes in the way African American playwrights are viewed both in this country and internationally as we move into the future.
  • AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT SUGGETION I continue to be distressed at the absence of caucasians in the audiences of black theater. They don't know what they are missing & they really need to hear what these playwrights are saying. The difference between sitting in a largely white audience versus a largely black audience is the difference between going to Sunday School and going to a revival. So the next time you head out to see a play by an African American playwright, grab one of your friends who isn't African American and take them with you. Perhaps that will help change the attititude of major regional artistic directors and boards that plays by Africn American writers are a "Febrauary" thing. Speaking of which, a great time to come to Nashville will be this month for Barry Scott;s production of Jean Genet's THE BLACKS. Theater - it isn't just a New York thing anymore.

Jaz Dorsey

4 comments:

  1. Jazz,

    Great to hear that AAPEX is headed in the right
    direction. I am so proud of the progress you have made
    in such a short time. It is really exciting!! Just
    a note, I was at a notorious 24 hr. cafe here in
    Nashville last night, and was working with a friend on
    a project. One of the candidates running for city
    council member was in the cafe, and came over to us to
    canvass a vote. My friend lives in her neighborhood,
    and they are acquainted, yet this woman who is running
    for political office did not even introduce herself to
    me. Ok, I get the whites ignore blacks underlying
    message. I get that, and I'm not too worried, however
    it does tie in with your lament over Caucasians
    attending Black Theatre events.

    If Black Theatre Companies don't get involved with
    whites and their focus', they will never know why your
    contributions to their community and America are
    significant. Here is a council woman candidate,
    running for office and there is no awareness of "the
    Caucasian". She has no idea the contributions I make
    to the Black Theatre Community, and I did not take the
    opportunity to hand her my resume. Jazz, you and I
    have discussed this topic several times, but your
    email reminded me of last nights happenings.

    This could be a more significant experience in the
    south, but I believe this rings true all across the
    country. I am sure that in this organization there is
    more diversity, and community involvement.
    I know we are light years away as a country from a
    natural respect for the "Black Man/Woman", but there
    are people like myself and Jazz that are working every
    day to make contributions to the improvement of the
    perception. I am reminded daily of the betterment of
    our society because of the contributions Blacks have
    made, and I embrace it and respect it.

    Please members, develop relationships with the white
    community and GET INVOLVED!! That is the best way to
    share your experiences that can translate to white
    audience members in your theatre. Also get into
    groups and associations that have developers, planners
    and real-estate agents as members. Volunteer for
    whatever task or project they need. The wealth of
    information in the developer community is VITAL TO THE
    PERPETUATION of Black Theatre. Developers are always
    looking for projects to build. If you know no
    developers, they will not know what needs to meet, as
    they create their projects. If you have a problem
    with capitalism, leave your hangups at home as you
    develop your network. Capitalism may have hangups,
    but all builders and developers are out to make money.
    It is up to you to show them how you can contribute
    to their bottom line.

    BTW, I will not be voting for this council woman
    candidate.

    Congrats again,

    MT

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  2. Sean O'LearyJune 29, 2007 at 6:11 PM

    My experience in seeking productions for my new play, VALU-MART, reinforces many of the oints made by MT and Jaz and also raises new aspects of the very real gap between Black and White theatre. I’m a white playwright with three plays that have received productions in small professional
    theatres around the country. Yet, when I began submitting VALU-MART, a play that’s won multiple awards, but whose two lead characters are black, I encountered resistance from theatres that previously have been receptive to my work.

    Although the artistic directors of these theatres are white, I am sure
    the issue wasn’t that they didn’t want to do plays with black
    characters. The problem seemed to be that VALU-MART is a NEW play with black characters, which means it hasn’t been produced, reviewed, and approved by those who confer credibility on plays. So, artistic directors are left to come to
    their own conclusions not just about VALU-MART’s artistic merit, but more importantly, about how the black characters will be received by audiences and reviewers.

    The part about judging how the black characters will be received turns out to be a big deal because, frankly, these artistic directors lack confidence in their ability to make that judgment accurately. And, in the absence of
    reassurance by reviewers and audiences in other cities, they fear they may stumble blindly into a situation where they’re accused of doing play that’s “racially insensitive” or worse.

    In one respect, I’m glad that people who decide which plays will be produced are sensitive to racial issues. But, if the way they act on that sensitivity is by avoiding new plays with black characters altogether, the
    opportunities for all playwrights who create black characters are
    reduced and the gap between white and black theatre is widened. And, on a more fundamental level, isn’t it awful that the social gap in general between whites and blacks is so great that we can’t even guess how folks on the other side will react?

    Ironically, for all the concern among white artistic directors about VALU-MART’s racial lements, its first production will be done by one of this group’s members, Eugenia Sweeney’s Collards & Caviar
    Productions in Nashville. I hope that Eugenia’s production along with VALU-MART’s recent selection by the University of Alabama at Birmingham as the winner of the
    Ruby Lloyd Apsey Award for plays confronting racial issues will
    reassure otherwise hesitant artistic directors at “white” theaters. But, whether it does or not, the entire experience has been dismaying and bewildering and I hope we'll all take MT's advice.

    Sean O'Leary

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  3. I agree Sean. My QUILTING THE SUN, as you know, has won trophies galore and yet it took 17 years to get produced. I thought being a white playwright with a black script was a double whammy...Yet, remaining undaunted, if we are
    true to the material---and if we know it is about the material and not us, it will be seen. And you also know that the play got a key to the city of Greenville SC in February by the Mayor...That is only because the black and white communities WORKED TOGETHER to tell this important story.it is
    about the story, not the playwright, and this keeps us going on. but it took years, social action, and the right consciousness

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  4. Sean,

    I've been a fan of your wrighting every since I saw POUND at the Gimini here in Pittsburgh. I also enjoyed reading VALUE-MART. Congratulations on the awards!
    Still waiting for you to move to Pittsburgh!

    Peace,

    Mark Clayton Southers
    Founder & Producing Artistic Director
    Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company

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