Saint Petronia: Patron Saint of Playwrights — National Black Theatre , On The Road To Timbuktu , Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance , Petronia Paley — AAPEX

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Saint Petronia: Patron Saint of Playwrights

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If you're a playwright, you should get to know Petronia Paley. She is an indefatigable champion of playwrights who, if she likes your play, will find stages all across New York City to present your work. Last Friday night she did that for me at the Dr. Barbara Ann Teer's National Black Theatre in Harlem. My play "Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance" received its first "radio" reading of the full-length play that included music and dance at the NBT's black box theatre on the building's third floor. If you've never had your characters come to life before your eyes, you don't know what you're missing. It's life changing. When I went to bed that night, I knew without a doubt I was the luckiest person in the world because my play had just received a powerful performance by some of the most talented people in the New York theatre world at the legendary NBT in America's most mythic city: Harlem. To have your work performed by artists of this caliber is something that can only be achieved in a handful of cities in the world, but to have them do it gratis is a miracle, a miracle that can only be attributed to one person: Petronia Paley. Although I think of her as a saint (who likes her chardonnay COLD) I suspect there is a little of the Godfather in her too. How else can you explain the large cast she was able to wrangle up? Maybe one or more of them asked her for a favor and she granted it and then when it was her turn, she gave them an "offer they couldn't refuse." Either way, the playwright wins.

Or maybe it's Godmother. Knowing I didn't have a lot of money and lived out of town, how else can you explain her finding me a free room to crash in for the night (a thankful shout-out to Michael Manning for offering up his apt while he was away to a guy he never met)? Or meeting me and walking me around the city so I wouldn't get lost?

And the fact that she did all of this-- including chasing down actors she felt were right for the roles and holding rehearsals-- without expecting compensation? Are these not the actions of a saint?

As for the Patron Saint's Church of the Playwright, it can only be Dr. Barbara Ann Teer's National Black Theatre in Harlem. What they're doing up there is so worthy and inspiring. The black box theatre (accessible by an elevator) has a raised stage and tiered seating for about 100 people. It has space set aside in the rear for sound management and a sealed off lighting control booth behind the audience to handle the stage lights hung from the ceiling. In this instance, 15 actors sat in shadow in a row of chairs behind a line of six black metal music stands bathed in light. When it was an actor's time to perform, they would walk up to the stand and place their script upon it to read and when they were done, they'd return to their seats. The dance scenes were interpreted by dancers who danced in and out of the shadows in front of the stage. Just outside the entrance to the theatre separated by a curtain is a small lobby where they set up a table to sell refreshments and goodies to eat. When I arrived at the theatre that afternoon, the larger space across the lobby-- lit by natural lighting by a skylight surrounded by golden African bas-reliefs-- was getting good use as a place for the kids in the neighborhood to rehearse their songs for a future performance. Lots of great voices and energy! The NBT is something all of NYC can be proud of. I can never thank the NBT enough for its imprimatur on my work. As for its staff, I am forever in their debt for making me feel at home. To Shirley Faison, Jacque Jeffries and BJ, you are the greatest! May only good things come your way.


  1. Thank you so very much for the opportunity to be of service to you and the theatre community.
    Without the playwright, there is no work for anyone. Thank you! I believe your work must be seen by a very large and diverse audience. It is entertaining and compelling. I wish you the best on the next developmenatal stage. I'm looking forward to the journey. See you in the theatre.

  2. Thank you so very much for the opportunity to work on a play that has so much potential as well as being entertaining and compelling. You have given us a story of wich few know but will embrace and love. I look forward to seeing how you digest your discoveries from the reading and where you next travel.

  3. Thanks, Petronia. It was a real trip up there the last few days. You made it fun. Hope to continue the journey with you.