Friday, February 25, 2011

AAPEX Interview: Garlia Jones

Garlia Jones, 
founder of NYC's Blackboard Reading Series

Garlia Jones, founder of NYC's Blackboard Reading Series, is also the author of STRANGER IN MY BODY, a provocative new play about sexual identity which opens on Wednesday, March 2 at the cell in NYC

I asked Garlia to tell us about herself, her work with playwrights and her play:

What role did theatre and the arts play in your childhood and upbringing?
My father has been an actor and Shakespeare scholar my entire life. Theatre and music were not uncommon in my family at all.  My father had a madrigal choir for nearly 20 years in Canada (we lived in Detroit) and he produced and starred in Othello more times than I can remember during my childhood.  So - theatre and the arts were natural and an essential part of my childhood.

Tell us about your own evolution as an artist.
Following my father, I knew that I wanted to be an artist.  I also knew that I wanted to be a teacher, as he has been for over 60 years (but that is another story).  I wanted to be an actor - but I had / have a stutter ... so I eventually gave that up.  I wanted to be an Opera Singer, but I guess I was a little too shy, so I stuck to playing my flute, and learning to dance.  I studied the Checetti method of Ballet and passed three exams with flying colors, but I knew I would never be a dancer.  Finally, in highschool, I immersed myself in theatre (in addition to flute, band and choir) and by the time I was in college, I knew I wanted to be a director.   I started a Black Theatre Group because of the lack of roles for Black Theatre students on the mainstage.  Black Curtain was a success and so enjoyable!  We accomplished so much as an organization and in the meantime, I was a writer, director and producer!  Everyone wanted me to be a director...  I wanted to be a director - but writing was something that I was really drawn to do.  So when I decided to pursue the MA in African American and African Diapsora Studies at Indiana University (Where I had also done my B.A.), I knew I wanted that degree before pursuing an MFA in Playwrighting.  That would get me back into the classroom - back to where I also really wanted to be - teaching - (and all without the Education degree)... at least that's what I thought...

When I was accepted to The New School - the final part of my "plan" was in place.  After my first year, I didn't have Black Curtain and had now grown a bit, so I knew I wanted to focus the energy towards Playwrights.  I wanted them to have a home - I wanted them to have a place they could hear their work - like poets (bc I had been deeply involved with Poets/Poetry during college)  Blackboard Reading Series is what was born out of my thoughts for this series.  I stumbled upon two women with a space (Nancy Manocherian and Kira Simring of the cell) and proposed the series to them - they were thrilled and gave it a name - Blackboard - for the Blackboard paint on the walls.

What is the mission of The Blackboard Reading Series?
Blackboard Reading Series is devoted to the work of Black Playwrights throughout the African Diaspora.

What inspired you to write STRANGER IN MY BODY?
During my last year of my MA at Indiana, I met a woman who was thinking of  beginning her transition.  During my 1st year at The New School for Drama, I met a woman that, at the time, resembled the woman I knew at Indiana and I literally said I wanted to write a play for this actor (Chaelon Costello - who plays ABIA).  The story came from there, but was not about the woman at Indiana.  She was the inspiration, but this is not a biography. The story has now evolved into it's own story, encompassing my hometown and these characters, that I have gotten to know over these past 4 years.

Interview by Jaz Dorsey, Dramaturg, The African American Playwrights Exchange.

* This reading of Stranger In My Body is produced by the cell, a Twenty First Century Salon (TM) in Chelsea and Not Blackboard Reading Series / Blackboard @ the cell*

To buy tickets, please click the post's title.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Black Gospel Play Association Stage Play Contest (Deadline 4/30)

Please click image to enlarge.
Please click post's title to visit BGPA website.
Please note that although there is a $500 cash prize, 
there is also a $45.00 registration fee.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

AAPEX Interview: Nicole C. Kearney

What role did theatre and the arts play in your childhood and upbringing?
As a child I lived on the east coast between New York and New Jersey. When in New York with my Great-grandmother (GG) Ruth, I always went to see Broadway shows. It was a requirement of hers to become well-rounded. At the time, I just thought it was something I was being made to do. As I got older, I really appreciated that my GG took time to make sure I had been exposed to such wonderfully cultural events such as Annie" and "Dreamgirls."

Tell us about your own evolution as an artist.
I've been writing since I was eight years old. My same GG gave me a Ziggy diary when I was 8. I was about to move to Europe and begin an exciting adventure. The diary was so I could capture it all. I kept a journal from the ages of 8 to about 22. I also started writing stories, beginning as a journalist, and then moving into freelance writing for magazines. I decided to try my hand at short stories, screenplays and finally stage plays. It was writing for the stage that became my passion. Seeing your words come to life in front of you and hearing the audience's reactions "real-time." There is no more awesome experience. My first play was written as an exercise. I was teaching myself. I joined a writer's group. After my first workshop experience, I was told my play had a lot of potential but needed lots of work. I kept at it. Then I sent it to a producer, Terrence Spivey, in New York. He informed me he would be unavailable. Four years later, in 2004, Terrence called and asked me if the play was ready for stage. He was now the Artistic Director at Karamu House in Cleveland, Ohio. In February 2005, my first play, "Shook Up: The Emmett Till Story," was on stage.  I was hooked. I've enjoyed a long-term producing relationship with Terrence and Karamu. I've also partnered with The Madame Walker Building in Indianapolis and the NAACP, Indianapolis branch to produce plays. Additionally, I've embarked on producing my own plays both inside and out of the fringe circuit. My last play, "And Ya Don't Stop, a hip hop play" was in the first annual Chicago Fringe Festival.

What is your mission as a playwright?
My creative expressions focus on those whose voices and images have been un- or under represented and/or marginalized by society. I'm a poetic, urban themed, socially concerned "documentary style" playwright. This documentary "style" of writing is different than the actual documentary theater as we know it.  I mix fiction with interview and other factual material in an attempt to arrive at deeper truth and authenticity. I continue to evolve my vision for theater that is relevant to our lives, poetic in its nature and committed to social change.

Tell us about your experiences with theatre in Chicago and how you find it as a theatre town.
Living three hours from Chicago, I have found it to be the theater mecca that is whispered about. There is something for everyone to see, from improv to naturalistic drama to revivals to new plays. In fact, Chicago's theater scene is built around new plays. The audience attends, ready to see something that will move them. They are open to anything new. This blend of audience willingness and the abundance of theaters creating good work makes Chicago "the town" to go to try doing and seeing new work. It has surpassed New York in many ways. Chicago has lower rents, eager actors and directors and a never-ending supply of playwrights. All these ingredients lead to new plays, new theater companies and a diverse and eclectic theater scene. This past fall, I became a participant in the Chicago theater scene when my hip hop play, "And Ya Don't Stop," was selected to be in the first annual Chicago Fringe Fest. It was a great experience. I found the process of finding affordable rehearsal/audition space, along with a director and actors to be fairly easy. It's my goal to begin producing and being produced in Chicago. I'm well on my way, as my play, "A Down Payment on Manhood: The Greensboro Four" play was produced last fall at eta Creative Arts, following the close of my hip hop play. This has opened the door to my building a relationship with eta that may see "And Ya Don' Stop" on stage at eta. Chicago is indeed my kind of town; a theater town open to all! It’s built on building relationships and continuing to be a presence! It's my hope to do that as well if I get selected for the 2011 2nd annual Chicago Fringe Fest.

 For more information about Nicole or her plays, please click the post's title.

Below is a video clip from Nicole's play "A Down Payment  on Manhood: the Greensboro Four.

Jaz Dorsey
AAPEX Dramaturg and Founder

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

AAPEX Presents EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME 2/21 (Nashville)

Please click program images to enlarge.
Artwork by Courtney McClellan

Saturday, February 12, 2011

AAPEX Interview: Saida Leekong

Saida Leekong

I was excited when Stella Adler acting instructor Benard Cummings took me up on my request to cast actors from among his students for the ensemble for our upcoming NYC reading of Alan Aymie's RAP at The Players Club on Gramercy Park.

I certainly didn't expect to find myself working with anyone from Clarkesville, Tennesse, a neighbor city of Nashville and home to the fabulous Roxy Theatre
But I am and her name is Saida Leekong - now there's a good ol' Tennessee name for you!

Saida is exotically beautiful, she must be talented to be studying at Stella Adler, and I can tell from our communications that she is clearly ambitious. It's always a treasure to be able to work with a young actor of this caliber.

 In addition to her studies at Stella Adler, Saida is also a cheerleader for the NY Jets.

Here's what Saida has to say for herself:

"Theatre and the Arts played a huge role in my childhood and upbringing. I can not recall a time that I was not involved the Arts. I have always been passionate about the arts; my mother was very influential on me and encouraged self-expression through the arts at a young age. She enrolled me in dance at 4 years old and from that time I dabbled in everything from gymnastics, art classes, even piano. However, my passion for acting stuck.

I began acting training at nine years old ( the youngest student at the time) at the Roxy Regional Theater under the direction of John McDonald. I was very serious about my " craft" ( as they say in the acting world)  From a  very young age I knew there was no other path for me. 

I live by the idea that growth as an actor and as a person are synonymous, which is the foundation of teaching at Stella Adler. I still consider myself a very young artist, so my evolution is daily. I think that all artists are continually growing and learning more about themselves through their craft. 

I have been truly blessed. Upon moving to New York I spent my first months here as a 2010 New York Jets Cheerleader. I am also a full time student at Stella Adler conservatory. In addition to my already full schedule I balance a career as a professional dancer and upcoming actress. I am excited to be starting my new year off with my first New York stage production at the prestigious Players Club.

I had a great upbringing in Clarksville, Tennessee and theater and the arts played a huge role in my childhood. The Roxy Regional Theater is a great treasure, that offers alot of opportunities to young and new actors. I also am a graduate of Clarksville High School which has an amazing four year theater program under the direction of Barbara WesnerThere are several outlets for the arts in Clarksville. others trained before me under McDonald and Wesner have also gone on to have careers in acting. 

God has blessed me to be able to follow my dreams and represent my hometown proudly and thank those who gave me and many others an opportunity."

Please join us on Monday, April 4th, at The Players Club in New York City for our reading of RAP, winner of the AAPEX Best New Play 2011 award. For reservations and further information, contact Jaz Dorsey, Dramaturg, The African American Playwrights Exchange, by email at

Along with Saida, the cast features James Brown-Orleans, Mr. Jimmy Gary, Terrence Epps, Lindel Sandlin, Jason Gray, Adriana Spizuvoco, David Hartstone, Aaron Wright and Mark Barlow.

To Contact Saida, please click post's title.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Gig: Acting in Nashville- Talent Agents

I have spent the past year helping people cast projects here in Nashville.

Fortunately, most of these were paying gigs, so I had legitimate cause to send out my notices to our talent agent community.

In the course of doing this, I have discovered three Nashville agents who express appreciation for the legitimate theatre in so far as they have sent their clients to these auditions.  And to non paying gigs as well.

They are  -
  Sharon Smith, Mark Block and Gina Vickery.

I know this because, in addition to meeting their actors, I have also had lovely conversations with all three of these guys. They get it. Actors who like to do stage and need representation that understands them should probably sign with one of these guys.

I'm very excited to be doing an internship with Sharon Smith
( As we have begun our relationship, Sharon has explained to me this:

She doesn't make money unless actors get jobs.

The question I have right now is - what can we actors do to see that those career making roles get cast out of Nashville?

Sharon has spent a significant portion of her life building a business which is devoted to getting actors work. But the glamorous world of the William Morris agent in LA is not the life of a talent agent in Nashville.  Out there it's stars:  here it's extra work and local commercials and whether or not your butt crack looks right for the dumb plumber role.

Sharon would much rather be sending her actors to call backs for Spielberg, but whenever one of her clients takes off from here to LA, they dump Sharon for someone in LA, and the bottom line is that that may be their biggest mistake.

Actors, if you want your agent to empower you, you need to empower your agent. We are not living in the dark ages of Broadway and Hollywood. Those energies are awesome and they do define what America has brought to the world history of the acting industries, but that energy is now erupting into cyberspace. Talent is not a geographical phenomenon. It never was, but it really isn't now.

And there's no way that Nashville is going to settle for any kind of "Second City" status.

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre

Jaz Dorsey
Director of Education

Monday, February 7, 2011

AAPEX up to now (Nashville and beyond)

On Januray 1, 2007, I got a wild hair and sent out an email announcing the founding of The African American Playwrights Exchange. I don't know what I expected; honestly, I thought to myself; "A year from now, I will have heard from 20 wannabes and two students." By Wednesday, January 3 - a mere 3 days later - I had already heard from 30 playwrights. Among the first was Terrence Spivey, Artistic Director of Karamu House in Cleveland. Terrence sent a few more Karamu folks my way - Karamu's resident playwright, Mike Oatman, Karamu board member Peter Lawson Jones, Nicole Kearney of Indianapolis and Gregory Carr of St Louis. The first New Yorkers to join up were Dr. Henry Miller - recognized as one of the foremost African American theatre scholars - and the enigmatic Owa, absurdist extraordinare. By June, the number had grown to 70 writers and by the beginning of 2008 I had heard from about 150 writers nation wide. It is no coincidence that the impetus for this organization came out of Nashville, Tennessee. Since the 1950's, Nashville has been perceived as the capitol of country music, which, with the exception of Charley Pride, has been, without a doubt, the most Caucasian branch of the entertainment industry in the US. Most folks probably think that Nashville's moniker, Music City USA, comes out of this country music era. It does not. Music City is what Queen Victoria called Nashville after she heard The Fisk Jubilee Singers from Fisk University, which was founded in 1866. Fisk counts among it's alumni W.E.B.DuBois, Ida B. Wells, former DC Mayor Marion Berry, Lilian Hardin Armstrong ( second wife of Louis Armstrong) and Beyonce's father, Matthew Knowles. Nashville's African American history is something I am just beginning to explore, but as a member of Nashville's amazing theatre community, I know this - Nashville may have more African American theatre companies than any other city in the United States. This became very clear in 2006, when four of Nashville's black theatre companies accidentally booked their shows back to back in Nashville's "home-base" theatre, The Darkhorse. Once Mary McCallum, Shawn Whitsell, Eugenia Sweeney and Candy Robbins saw this, they teamed up to found the SHADES OF BLACK THEATRE FESTIVAL, which celebrated its fourth year in 2010. Always looking for a dramaturgical challenge, I offered to do some voluntary script scouting for Eugenia Sweeney's company COLLARDS AND CAVIAR. Another email out into Cyberspace returned a very interesting response - every single reply I got included the words "Thank you for taking in interest in new works by African American playwrights. " It was literally this, pretty much word for word, every time. Sensing that there was a niche that needed to be filled, on January 1, 2007, I sent out another arrow in to Cyberspace and, as per the beginning of this piece, three days later I found that I had started an organization. The most interesting thing to happen next was what was to happen in NYC. In August 2007 AAPEX presented a reading of pieces by Owa and George Broome, directed by dramaturg Roweena McKay at a dance studio somewhere in the West 30's. The next thing I knew, March 2008, we had produced a staged reading of Hershell Norwood's BILLIE'S BLUES at The Players Club in New York City. With no money. The next thing to happen was another Players Club event - thanks to our awesome friend, Player's Club member Liliane Klein - a reading of Nathan Ross Freeman's HANNAH ELIAS directed by Passion and starring Leilani Bryant, from the Broadway cast of THE COLOR PURPLE, as the cosmic Enchantress, Hannah Elias. Thanks to my Pastor, Doug Sanders, who got me there and came with me to see what all this "new play reading" business was about, I was in the audience which sat through a 2 & 1/2 hour play reading in 99% heat with no air conditioning TRANSFIXED! Afterwards there was not one word said about the heat. On the opposite end of the temperature spectrum, in Feb. 2010 I went up for the SECOND New York reading of Merrill Jones' MRS. STREETER at The Dramatists' Guild: Everyone dug their way through the snow to get there, and I got stuck in the city for three days because even Greyhound wouldn't send a bus out on those roads. But the reading was packed, weather not withstanding. Meanwhile, down in Miami, AAPEX member - founding member - Dave Copeland was creating the AAPEX blog, which has become an encyclopedia of African American playwrights and theatre companies. www.africanamerican playwrightsexcha nge.blogspot. com HANNAH ELIAS also played a huge role back here in Nashville, when we presented excerpts from the play as part of our first Black History Month at Vanderbilt. That and MADAM, the Madam C J Walker musical by Adriana Rogers which seems to be getting produced in Atlanta for Black History Month 2011. That brings us back to Nashville and OUR actors. And for that, you'll just have to Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre!

Jaz Dorsey

Friday, February 4, 2011


February 24 – February 27, 2011

A festival of concert play reading celebrating Black History Month
Curated and directed by George Ferencz
First Floor Theatre
Kleitos Agoniste by Owa
The story of Kleitos the Black, childhood friend and later trusted general to Alexander the Great.
Directed by George Ferencz
For more information, please click the post's title.

Unique Play Concept 2/9-20th (NYC)

Gary Garrison, founder of The Loop and Roland Tec co-wrote a 70-min. play in which all the characters on stage are meeting each other for the first time. In a bold act of theatrical chutzpah, Artistic New Directions -- a New York Theatre Compnay -- has commandeered five separate theatre companies in town to rehearse the play separately.

Five different companies, then, are rehearsing the five-character play in five separate locations; they've never met. On any given night of performance, one actor from each company will be called to perform the play with unknown scene partners whom they meet on stage (as in the story of the play) in front of the audience. In essence, the result is: 25 unique opening nights.

The play is called The Rubber Room and involves a bunch of NYC public school teachers caught in one of these "Reassignment Centers" while they wait for a hearing on the disciplinary charges that caused them to be swiftly yanked from their classrooms. Come check it out. Performances are twice nightly (plus some weekend afternoons) on every consecutive day between Feb 9 and Feb 20.

Please click the post's title to go to the Artistic New Directions web page.

The Loop Online is a tremendous resource for playwrights. You can find its link on the right side of this blog. Membership is free.

AAPEX Invites you... (Nashville)

AAPEX invites you to see some VERY talented actors on the stage of the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center/Vanderbilt University on Monday, Feb 21  at 7:30 pm when we present EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME: A Literary Cabaret.  America as seen through the lives of four legendary performers - Hattie McDaniel, Paul Robeson, Lorraine Hansberry and Billie Holiday, with excerpts from 2 new plays by AAPEX award winner Hershell Norwood.

"My talent was the weapon, the power, the way for me to fight. It was the one way I might hope to affect a man's thinking."
Sammy Davis, jr

Our amazing cast includes 

Helen "Olaketi" Shute-Pettaway & Dr. Dara Talibah

Kenneth Dozier & Shawn Whitsell

Max Desire & Shelena Walden

Vilia Steele & Courtney McClellan

Molly Breen & Special Guest Musician Mr. Bob Teague

Some things just can't be ignored. Talent is one of them.

For reservations, call Jaz Dorsey at             615-915-0891      

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre.

For more information or to reserve a seat, contact

Dramaturg/Director of Education
The African American Playwrights Exchange
Nashville, Tennessee

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ladies with the Blues opening 2/4 (Portland,OR)

Please click image to enlarge.
Please click post's title to go to ETHOS/IFCC website.