Saturday, October 27, 2007

National Musical Theater Network

On Wednesday, October I had the pleasure of meeting with Tim Jerome, founder/president of the National Musical Theater Network. NMTN has been producing a festival of new musical theater works in NYC for a number of years, but Mr. Jerome's ambition is to take this festival nationwide. Anyone interested in knowing more or possibly working with NMTN to make this happen, please contact me. And visit his websites at:

Jaz Dorsey

Fisk University shutting its doors?

According to last night's Nashville TV news, Fisk University is looking at having to close it's doors. Over the past 10 months of reading more about African American history and theater history, I can hardly get through a chapter or an essay without discovering another significant American artist or scholar who went to Fisk or taught there at some point in their academic career. As one of our associates remarked, Fisk is a BEACON. And of course, after our very sucessful reading of Lois Wiley's play and Professor Felder Fentress' interest in the work of AAPEX writers, Fisk is important to us as theater artists. On Monday I plan to talk with the development department there and find out what the full story is, but if you would be interested in staying informed about the situation, please let me know. Fisk is reaching out for support and it would certainly behoove us all to do what we can.

Jaz Dorsey
PS: We had a great reading of THE CHITTLIN THIEF in DC and there have been several requests to see the script.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

AAPEX playwright TERRENCE SPIVEY nominated for 2008 Governor's Award for the Arts in Ohio

Terrence Spivey has been nominated for a 2008 Governor's Award for the Arts in Ohio. The Governor's Awards Selection Committee, comprised of Ohio Arts Council Board Members, will meet in mid-November to decide award recipients in each category. Award winners will be announced in early December. Click here for more information.

Congratulations, Terrence!

Miami playwright TARELL ALVIN McCRANEY honored in NYC

Miami playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose scripts are being produced at regional theaters all over the United States this season, was awarded a major honor for emerging writers Wednesday at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York. McCraney, who grew up in Liberty City, was named one of 10 recipients of the 2007 Whiting Writers' Award, which comes with $50,000 to help support his work.

Past winners include playwright Sarah Ruhl and novelist Jonathan Franzen. This year's recipients include novelists, poets, nonfiction writers and one other playwright, Sheila Callaghan.

Receiving the Whiting Award isn't the only high-profile event for McCraney in Manhattan this week: On Monday, the Yale Drama grad's play The Brothers Size began its world premiere run at the Public Theater, where it will officially open Nov. 6, running through Dec. 23. In a statement, artistic director Oskar Eustis expressed the kind of enthusiasm that is getting McCraney so many productions and winning him awards: ``Tarell Alvin McCraney is one of the most exciting and distinctive young playwrights to have emerged in many years. We are proud to offer his work to the world and delighted to be continuing an association we expect will last for many years to come.''
--Christine Arnold, The Miami Herald

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Guardian Unlimited: Attitudes towards black playwrights must stop being so skin-deep

Attitudes towards black playwrights must stop being so skin-deep.
Are minority ethnic writers being encouraged to produce solely issue-based, state-of-the- nation plays?
Andrew Haydon
October 16, 2007

Next week, a play called Joe Guy opens at the Soho Theatre. It is billed as "a sensational story of identity, the corrupting power of celebrity, and the tensions between African and Caribbean communities" and is written by one of Britain's leading playwrights, Roy Williams. Who happens to be black. But what if he wasn't? Would we feel comfortable seeing a white writer take on such subjects?

British theatre has long boasted an admirable commitment to representing black and minority ethnic communities on stage. But over the past few years, a frustration has been building. On one hand libertarian commentators have begun to question this notion of playing "identity politics" with the arts, arguing that it is effectively racist to restrict writing plays about particular communities solely to members of that community. On another flank, there is increasing disquiet at the perception that black and minority ethnic writers are only being encouraged to write one sort of play - namely, naturalistic, issue-based, state-of-the-nation work.

It seems as if they are required to trade heavily on "authenticity" at the expense of more potentially speculative or metaphorical approaches. Non-white writers seem to be required by theatres to produce what, at times, amounts to emotional pornography - moreover, "authentic", "urban" or "exotic" emotional pornography. In their desire to commission new exciting work that is relevant to local communities, theatres often appear to apply an absurdly literal-minded approach to both representation and relevance.

Of course there is nothing wrong with a writer from a particular community wanting to write a play which is set within that community, and exploring the issues within it. Some spectacularly good plays have sprung from just such an approach. Roy Williams is an excellent example. His 2003 play Fallout remains, to my mind, one of the best plays written this decade. It is almost Shakespearean in its scope, and to simply describe it as a play about black-on-black gun crime is as stupidly reductive as describing Hamlet as a play about Dane-on-Dane violence.

At the other end of the spectrum are plays like Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti's Behzti, which achieved a spectacular level of national fame after it was effectively rioted off the stage and subsequently shut down. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good play. Had it not been the cause of a riot, it would have sunk without trace, unseen and unremembered. The grim irony of the Behzti case is that Birmingham Rep, which commissioned the play, were seeking to put on a play that was "relevant" to the city's Sikh community by asking a Sikh writer to write a play about some Sikhs. Rarely has outreach work been so disastrously alienating.

The dual questions of authenticity and representation are difficult ones, but they need to be seriously addressed. Of course it is important for every community living in Britain to have an equal right to see itself portrayed on stage, and not just as an exercise in box-ticking and social cohesion. At the same time, it is crucial to remember that theatre's great strengths are not solely mimetic, realist or naturalistic, journalistic or documentary.

There is also a dire need for theatres to put more trust in writers' abilities - irrespective of colour or creed - to think beyond their own experiences and create astonishing works of imagination, while continuing to explore less narrow, literary models of play-making. On the other hand, would East is East have been taken at all seriously if it had been written by Sir David Hare? Do audiences really demand that their writers live in a near-approximation of the circumstances that they write about before they put pen to paper?

Friday, October 19, 2007

AAPEX Playwright Mike Oatman to appear at THE CHITTLIN THIEF reading 10/21 (DC)

Mike Oatman
Playwright in Residence
Cleveland, Ohio
to appear Sunday, October 21 at 4:30 pm at
Mocha Hut
1301 U Street
Washington DC
Come and enjoy a reading of his new play

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Elise Virginia Ward responds to Attenborough production of BIG WHITE FOG

Following is a response by Theodore Ward's daughter, Elise Virginia Ward, in an email to us regarding the Almeida Theatre's production of her father's play BIG WHITE FOG and The Guardian article posted here on October 15th:

As you will see from the attached letter, I was very troubled by the article Attenborough wrote. I am sending it to you because your site is dedicated to black theatre/writers and I think this kind of thing should not be allowed to happen to any of us/them.

I have not seen my response posted anywhere.

My concern is that yet another production of BWF will be mounted absent my agreement. I am already receiving calls from Europe and elsewhere in the US.

I would welcome your thoughts.

Elise Virginia Ward

PS: I was very pleased to see your site.

Theodore Ward, Big White Fog and the Almeida Theatre - a Study in Contradictions
Elise Virginia Ward

The Almeida Theatre's production of Theodore Ward's play Big White Fog epitomizes as nothing else could the arrogance and duplicity my father faced during his lifetime and the kind of behavior to which I have been continually exposed in my work as his biographer and designated representative for the past 30 years. Michael Attenborough's May 10 article in The Guardian entitled My Search for the Lost Voice of Black America is replete with inaccuracies and deliberate omissions that serve to misinform and hoodwink London theatergoers as to the true nature of this production. I want to clarify them here.

Far from being 'lost,' Big White Fog is quite well-known here in America. Actors and directors of African descent have always had a special reverence for this play, which is taught in theatre departments across the country. The obstacle for American producers has always been their inability to benefit from Big White Fog with impunity. Apparently, Mr. Attenborough believes that 3,000 miles are enough to eliminate this problem.

About a month before hearing from Almeida, in May, 2006, I received email from Nicholas Kent of the Tricycle Theatre, saying that he wanted to produce Big White Fog. I thanked him for his interest and wrote him a letter outlining my concerns, and expressing my willingness to explore the possibility with him. Unfortunately, I did not hear from Mr. Kent again until much later, after I had preliminarily agreed to the Almeida production.

Attenborough first emailed me in June, 2006, in an ostensible search for the performing rights, telling me that my sister, Laura Branca, had suggested he do so and saying that Jenny Worten, his assistant (formerly with the Tricycle) had 'discovered' the play. He also said he'd learned from the Schomburg Collection for Research in Black Culture that the play was in the public domain, but that he wanted my 'blessing' in order to go forward. I responded by saying three things: The copyright is in question; the Schomburg is not authorized to grant production rights, and I was uncomfortable about an overseas production I could not oversee.

A long correspondence of telephone calls, emails and letters ensued between Mr. Attenborough, Neil Constable and me, through which I outlined the conditions under which Almeida might be granted permission to produce the play. No financial consideration was demanded save a token payment of $50 and a production credit for my company, 9th Decade, Inc, which my advisors asked me to require while the copyright issues are being resolved so that I could retain a formal role in the production. An agreement letter was to be prepared.

Almeida also asked me to act as editor for their playbill (the theatre's glossy magazine) and invited me to come to London at their expense to see the play. I was assured of their intention to honor the work and I welcomed a European production because I wanted audiences to become familiar with my father's work. In addition, I was initially told that Almeida would engage a black director. When the possibility of having the play script published was suggested, I told Almeida that I was planning to publish a 'collected works' here in the United States, and that we would need to talk more about that. I now see that the Nick Hern Books is poised to publish the play! (

My understanding from Almeida was that they had not produced a play of this kind before and my concern was primarily for the actors – I wanted them to fully understand the play. I allowed Mr. Attenborough to read copyrighted materials of mine that contained information that is posted on the Theodore Ward webpage, as well as heretofore unpublished information that was not to be disseminated (but which I now see he has included in his article and, apparent to me from their content, in interviews with others).

I told Almeida that I would want some input in the casting and received Attenborough's request for suggestions. To my astonishment, he told me that he would need to hire African-American actors to play the older characters, because 'there [were] no black actors in that age category in England!' For the part of the most complex female character, Martha Brooks, I suggested Ruby Dee who, with her late husband Ossie Davis, were longtime friends of the author.

Perhaps most regrettable is the fact that, while I am sure that all the actors in the Almeida production (including Novella Nelson, whom I met many years ago through my friends Gus and John when she was singing in New York and again, last year, when I was a guest of her friend Mrs. Neal at their synagogue in Brooklyn) are providing audiences with stimulating performances, members of my family, many of whom are now in their 80s, are dismayed over what has occurred.

Later, at Attenborough's request, I began to act as dramaturg, elucidating for him a number of terms and concepts contained in the script and about Black life in America with which he was unfamiliar.

I also offered to come to London at my own expense early during rehearsals in order to talk to the cast, a group whose collective understanding of American race relations in the 1930s and their impact on my father would, in my opinion, benefit from an explanation of the historical context that informs this work. Both Attenborough and Constable expressed their gratitude for my involvement and willingness to help them do this right.

Mr. Attenborough told me they both wanted to visit me in New York so that we could spend time with the script and discuss other aspects of the upcoming production. I was asked to set aside a day for this purpose and I did so. When Attenborough arrived in New York last October, sans Mr. Constable, we spent several hours together discussing the play; I loaned him still more archival materials I thought would help him understand the work.

It was not until that evening, when he met me for dinner at an upscale Harlem restaurant (and very nervous about being on 125th Street) that he told me he had commissioned a derivative play and intended to perform it. Nick Curtis's May 15 piece in the Evening Standard quotes Attenborough: 'Our resident writer, Roy Williams, was greatly inspired by Ward's play and we commissioned him to write one himself, which compares and relates the social and political conditions for black people in England today with their ancestors in Chicago 70 years ago. This resulted in a 70-minute play Out of the Fog, performed over two weeks during the day to invited audiences of over 1,000 mesmerised and delighted local teenagers, most of whom happened to be black. . . . Last month, [audiences] have been to see daytime performances of [the play], in which a contemporary black family is visited by a ghostly character from Ward's play.'

The next day, I withdrew my consent from Almeida by sending them a 'Cease and Desist' letter. It read, in part, 'What is most disturbing to me . . . is the cavalier manner in which you mentioned (in a deliberately understated tone) your having 'commissioned' a new work to be written, produced, performed, and, I would assume, copyrighted; a work for which you can claim absolutely no right to create or to contemplate creating. Yet you baldly explained that this work is a 'sequel' to Big White Fog, using the characters of the four Mason children created by Theodore Ward: Caroline, Phillip, Lester and Wanda.' I was stunned to learn that Almeida has gone forward anyhow.

Black creative artists in the United States have struggled for decades to retain the right to benefit from their own work and to determine its use. Instead, Mr. Attenborough has cleverly exploited the long-term estrangement of two sisters in order to hold himself out as the anointed producer and offer to the public work over which he has no real authority.

Mr. Attenborough's clever omission of our extensive interaction was bad enough. His craven reference to my mother's having given her blessing is especially pathetic: 'I'm thankful that she was delighted at the prospect of our imminent production.' Mrs. Ward, who was divorced from my father 1966, spent the past several years in an assisted living facility, suffering from a dementia that severely impaired her ability to effectively communicate, let alone express her support for an enterprise she could not possibly have understood was being contemplated.

Since before his death in 1983, I have worked to preserve and protect the canon and elucidate for academics and audiences alike the elements that informed Theodore Ward's work and lifelong goal: to produce realistic theatre for and about African Americans for consumption by new generations of theatergoers. Last year, I was invited by Harvard University/Oxford University Press to write the Theodore Ward entry for the upcoming African American National Biography, edited by Professor Henry Louis Gates. As a graduate of Columbia University and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, my understanding of the press and of the history of the Black Theatre in the United States is both professional and comprehensive.

"I feel 'Big White Fog' is a milestone," says Attenborough. "It would be wonderful if it succeeds. Because if it does, it will provide me with the ammunition I need to go on being bold."

The italics are mine.

Elise Virginia Ward

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Theodore Ward: African American Theatre's most important playwright?

The Guardian (May 10, 2007)

My search for the lost voice of black America
Could this man be African-American theatre's most important playwright?

The Almeida's artistic director Michael Attenborough turned detective to discover the fascinating life of Theodore Ward.

I felt like a sleuth. All we had to go on was one sole publication of an extraordinary but almost entirely unknown play found in a huge volume entitled Black Theatre USA. How are we to obtain the rights to produce it, who holds them, is the author still alive? A considerable amount of detective work later (thank God for the Internet) and I am nervously ringing a US number in a place called Ithaca. A very quiet voice answers, conjuring up an image of a rather frail, ageing lady - completely belied by the youthful woman I eventually travelled 3,000 miles to meet: Laura Ward Branca, the younger daughter of the playwright in question, Theodore (Ted) Ward.

Big White Fog was written in 1937, a full 22 years before Lorraine Hansberry's landmark drama A Raisin in the Sun, and must be one of very first African-American plays ever written in the realistic genre. It follows the lives of three generations of the Mason family in Chicago across 10 years (1922-32), one half committed to the separatist, Garveyite Back to Africa movement, and the other devoted to a belief in the ultimate rewards of the American dream. The fluency and accuracy of Ward's dialogue is matched by the richness and specificity of his characterisations, resulting in an unsentimentally honest picture of a racially oppressed community, fearlessly portrayed in all its complex and contradictory humanity, including painful and sometimes shocking moments of internal racism.

The more Laura told me of the play's background over lengthy transatlantic phone calls, the more fascinated I became. Ward was born at the turn of the century in the deep south, in Louisiana, the sixth of 11 children. His father, who had been born into slavery, was a devout schoolmaster who sold patent medicines and books from the back of a wagon to supplement his income. At the age of seven, Ward attempted a short play and showed it to his father, who threw it on the fire and declared it the work of the devil. When Ward was 12, his mother died in childbirth; the family fell apart and he ran away from home. He rode the freight trains north, travelling and working variously as a bell hop, shoe-shine boy and barber-shop porter. He ended up in Salt Lake City, where he was thrown in jail, but more importantly where he began to write again - mostly short stories and poems.

A determinedly and voraciously self-educated man, in his late 20s he was eventually awarded a place at Wisconsin University, before moving to Chicago in 1934, where he wrote a one-act play, called Sick 'n Tiahd, that won second prize in a magazine contest. He was encouraged by the winner, Richard Wright, to write a full-length play. That play was Big White Fog, produced in 1938 by the Negro Unit of the Chicago Federal Theatre Project, and revived in Harlem in 1940 as the inaugural production of the Negro Playwrights' Company, formed by Paul Robeson, Ward, Wright and Langston Hughes (among others).

With a real sense of adventure I eventually set off to meet Laura, and her sister Elise. My blind date was no disappointment; Laura was soft spoken and immensely articulate, having clearly inherited her father's love of words, selecting and savouring them like precious fruit. As well as a delightful sense of humour, she possessed an unforced addiction to the truth, what I believe we call integrity. She was, and continues to be, an invaluable source of information and support.

Despite having written over 30 plays, including one produced on Broadway (Our Lan' in 1947) it was a surprised to discover how little-known Ward's work is in America. During my visit to New York, I was invited to take a Shakespeare workshop at the Julliard School of Acting, and briefly concluded by telling them about this play and its remarkable author. No one - staff nor all 75 students present - had heard of either Ward or the play. His social realist style, largely serious tone and left-leaning politics rendered him uncommercial and, particularly when black-listed during the McCarthy era, untouchable. As a result, he struggled to earn a living as a writer, constantly having to supplement his income with other work, and frequently writing at exhausting hours of the night. It was nearly 60 years before Big White Fog received another major production - at the Guthrie in Minneapolis. Ours will be its first outside the US.

This naturally gives our theatre, the Almeida, a wonderful opportunity to attract a varied and diverse audience. Our resident writer, Roy Williams, was greatly inspired by Ward's play and we commissioned him to write one himself, which compares and relates the social and political conditions for black people in England today with their ancestors in Chicago 70 years ago. This resulted in a 70-minute play Out of the Fog, performed over two weeks during the day to invited audiences of over 1,000 mesmerised and delighted local teenagers, most of whom happened to be black.

So here we have a largely self-educated young "hobo", who wound up in jail and emerged to write his first full-length play set in his own community on the south side of Chicago an area, torn apart by battles over separatism versus integration and ravaged by racism and poverty. It's this play that has the power to inspire a leading contemporary British playwright, and to attract a crack company of actors to perform its European premiere, 70 years later.

Ward died of cancer in 1983, his wife Mary (an American-Armenian social activist) only months ago, aged 95. I'm thankful that she was delighted at the prospect of our imminent production.

When, not long before he died, Big White Fog received a public reading in New York, Ward wrote: "As a young man travelling across the United States, hoboing on a westbound freight train through the Rocky Mountains, I found myself at the Great Horseshoe Bend. Seated in the open doorway of the boxcar in which I was riding, I was enthralled by the overpowering beauty and the strength of the towering hills, and the vast declivity to the valley beneath with its shrubbery of gold and red and brown bathed in the light of the sinking sun - the sides of the mountains themselves with their tall trees tinged with the amber of its dying rays and creating a sight of fabulous enchantment.

"It seemed to me that such a scene had been the source of inspiration to the poet who had conceived of Americas 'the beautiful'. My heart thrilled and I found myself singing of its 'purple mountain majesty above the fruited plain' as I had done as a child in school.

"But suddenly I found my spirit sickened as I realised the truth: 'I'm a Negro and all this beauty and majesty does not belong to me.' With a fallen heart, I acknowledged that I had nothing to boast of. I was a descendant of the slaves who had built this country, yet I was still deprived of the patriotic joy felt by those who claimed the land as their own.

"In my bewilderment that late afternoon, it suddenly occurred to me that we as a people were engulfed by a pack of lies, surrounded, in fact, by one big white fog through which we could see no light anywhere. Disheartened, as the sun sank behind the mountains west of the pass, I crawled back into a darkened corner of the boxcar and there I lay down, convinced that my life would be that of a 'floater', sans hope, sans purpose.

"When Big White Fog was produced in the years before world war two, years of deep depression and disillusionment for black people, many were convinced that there was no hope for black liberation. Although much has changed, the Masons' struggle to discover viable options through which to ameliorate their condition is, I believe, as meaningful today as it was more than 40 years ago."

It was an extraordinary experience on the first day of rehearsals to read this out, along with a most touching message from Laura, to the assembled company of 18 actors.

Here we go.

Big White Fog
Directed by Michael Attenborough
Almeida Theatre
from May 11th through June 30th
Box office: 020-7359 4404

Say it Loud: Poems about James Brown-- a Call for Poems Celebrating the Man

Say it Loud: Poems about James Brown
Edited by: Mary E. Weems, and Michael Oatman

We grew up on James Brown's Hit me! When he danced every young black man wanted to move, groove and look like him. Mr. Brown wasn't called the hardest working man in show business for nothing. Experiencing a James Brown show was like getting your favorite soul food twice, plus desert. His songs, are like black power fists you could be proud of and move to at the same time. When Mr. Brown sang make it funky, we sweated even in the wintertime. Losing him was like losing somebody in our family. This is a shout out for poems about the impact James Brown had on our lives. Poems that will help people remember, honor, and celebrate his legacy. Don't be left in a cold sweat, send us your old and new James Brown poems today.

Email Submissions Preferred!

Submission Guidelines:
3-5 Unpublished and/or published poems with acknowledgement included.
No longer than 73 lines
Deadline: December 31, 2007 (Receipt not postmark)
Send via a Word document with a short bio to:

Hard copies via CD to:
Dr. Mary E. Weems
English Department
John Carroll University
20700 North Park Blvd.University Hts., Ohio 44118

Friday, October 12, 2007

World Premiere of Glenn Alan's THE CITY OF LOST DREAMS 11/1-4 (DC)

The Drama Dept. presents the world premiere of The City of Lost Dreams written by acclaimed playwright Glenn Alan and directed by Cody Jones at THEARC Theatre, 1901 Mississippi Avenue , SE Washington , DC , November, 1 - 4, 2007. Show times: 7:30pm Thursday - Saturday, with special matinees on Friday November 2nd at 10:00am, Saturday, November 3rd at 3:30pm and Sunday, November 4th at 2:30pm.

The City of Lost Dreams is an incredible story, depicting the overwhelming strength of a family, whose lives are held together by the single dream of a young son. Inspired by the true story of Tray Chaney, star of HBO's "The Wire" and 8 time winner of Amateur Night at the Apollo, is an unforgettable story of what happens to the dreams that are abandoned. Playwright Glenn Alan takes us on an often humorous journey that is sure to be hit for the entire family. Director Cody Jones, Artistic Director for "That's Entertainment Productions" does an incredible job of shaping this unforgettable story with just the right amount of honesty to deliver a masterful performance. Original music by legendary blues bassist B.T. Richardson and jazz great Denyse Pearson add just the right touch to make this production standup and deliver a fun filled night.

Ticket Prices: $12.50 for children & $26.50 for adults. For Tickets call: (800) 595-4TIX (4849) or visit
Location: THEARC Theatre, 1901 Mississippi Avenue, SE Washington , DC .
Performance Dates: November, 1 - 4, 2007. 7:30pm Thursday - Saturday, with special matinees on Friday November 2nd at 10:00am, Saturday, November 3rd at 3:30pm and Sunday, November 4th at 2:30pm.

Classical Theatre of Harlem puts urban spin on Bill Shakespeare's ROMEO & JULIET

Special to The Miami Herald

In the Classical Theatre of Harlem's new, modernized production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which opened Wednesday night and runs through Saturday at the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, director Alfred Preisser wastes no time showing us that this is not a traditional staging of the classic play.

The characters burst onto a set of scaffolding and shimmering blue, green and red cellophane curtains. They are outfitted in casual street clothes (lots of denim), including one T-shirt with the words ''Smartass University'' printed on it, and plenty of attitude.

In the Harlem of ''the near future,'' tension between the Montagues and Capulets erupts in the first of several impressively executed fight scenes, with flailing limbs, a baseball bat, a golf club, and a few effectively startling but too-loud gunshots. (They sound real, but it's a small theater, and I hope, for their sakes, the actors wear earplugs).

While Shakespeare's language is mostly preserved, iambic pentameter is tossed out in favor of the cadences of urban street talk.

The dialogue is peppered with phrases like ''Your Momma!'' and ''You go girl!'' Juliet (Robin LeMon) incorporates teenage up-speak, occasionally ending phrases so they sound like questions.

Somehow none of this feels contrived, and it's not difficult to believe, for the duration of the play, that the black youth of Harlem might actually talk in the language of Shakespeare.

Still, purists might take issue with Preisser's choice of cuts, such as Juliet's love-struck soliloquy in the second act, which was scaled down considerably from the original. But the truth is, most people probably won't miss it, and the pace of this production works well.

One of the most charming things about this production is all that teenage bravado and angst, channeled into hip-hop dance scenes and alcohol-fueled partying.

It jumps off the stage -- in one scene, literally. A laugh-out-loud moment comes when a whole menagerie of drunk partygoers, including a drag queen in a bright yellow wig and silver short shorts, stumbles through the audience looking for Romeo.

The characters and the costumes are lively and bright. But a cop wearing a pig's mask? That's as cliché as it comes and doesn't add anything significant.

The production is provocative and sexually charged, taking every opportunity to imply a double-entendre in the existing dialogue. There is much bumping and grinding and crotch-grabbing, which overall makes for a dynamic show.

But all of this tinkering with tradition seemed to be a bit much for a handful of audience members who were so rattled they left mid-performance. In a moment of comic timing that could not have been planned, just as one actor was preparing to shoot a water gun through the legs of another, a woman in the front row stood up to leave, narrowly missing the spray of water. (Others in the audience took the hit).

Much of the action plays out against a soundtrack of hip-hop, soul and R&B, but the music worked best when a recurring guitar melody underscors the pure sweetness of the relationship between Romeo and Juliet.

Duane Allen as Romeo and Robin LeMon Juliet are adorable and sexy, and their chemistry is terrific.

Most of this production's innovations take place during the first half of the play. After that, it feels more traditional -- probably because the humor that defines the first part of the play has given way to the run-up to its tragic ending.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Southern Appalachian International Film Festival/The African American Screen gets Front Page Story

The Southern Appalachian International Film Festival made the front page of The Johnson City Press today. Check it out at Click on "Reel Delight."

One aspect of the festival which is given special mention - The African American Screen. So thanks to all of you film makers who brought us that distinction.

Jaz Dorsey

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

AAPEX Playwright Bob Ost's NEVERWONDERLAND performed at Shortened Attention Span Horror Festival (NYC)

a one-act fantasy by
Bob Ost
Fantasy-land survivors Alice, Wendy and Dorothy meet for their safe, ordinary monthly support group years after their traumatic childhood experiences in strange worlds. Today they are joined by a newcomer, a woman named Oprah who wants to lure them away to TV-land to become media stars.
Directed by Catherine Lamm
Ingrid Kullberg-Bendz, Leslie C. Nemet, Susan Neuffer, Akua Taylor

Part of the Shortened Attention Span Horror Festival
running from 10/11 through 10/28 at
The Players Theatre 3rd floor Loft.

The Neverwonderland program runs 10/11-14: Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 3pm. Audiences vote for their favorite play each week, and the Audience Picks will be performed in a special Halloween performance. Tickets are $17 by calling 212/475-1449, or save $5 by buying at the door when you mention Bob and TRU.
The Players Theatre
115 Macdougal Street
below West 3rd, NYC.

Bob Ost founded TRU (Theater Resources Unlimited), a clearing house for all things theatrical. He is also AAPEX's non-profit enabler. Congratulations, Bob!

AAPEX member Jamal Williams' DING DONG DADDY featured in 5th Annual Theatre Festival in Black & White (Pittsburgh)

Jamal Williams' DING DONG DADDY will be featured in the 5th Annual Theatre Festival in Black and White, the premiere event of the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre. It features eight one-act plays, half by African-American playwrights and half by Caucasian playwrights, with a twist that the Caucasian plays are directed by African-American directors, and vice versa. Supported by MCAI, Mellon and The Pittsburgh Foundation. Always a treat for their patrons and the Pittsburgh theatre community. Festival Coordinator: John Gresh. Way to go, Jamal!

Stagefright looking for writers

STAGEFRIGHT is looking for writers with strong opinions on the state of the art. Contact

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Little Theatre of Alexandria announces 29th Annual One-Act Playwriting Competition

The Little Theatre of Alexandria PLAYWRITING COMPETITION
29th Annual One-Act Playwriting Competition Guidelines of Submission:

All submissions must be original, unpublished and un-produced (not staged for a paying audience as of date of entry) one-act plays. Time permitting, the Little Theatre of Alexandria will present a staged-reading or small-scale production of the top three shows. In addition, cash awards of $350 for 1st Place, $250 for 2nd Place and $150 for 3rd Place are presented. Submissions must be postmarked by October 31, 2007. All submissions must include a $20.00 per play entry fee. Only two plays per author will be considered.

Additional Information:
1. Send a duplicate copy, not the original.
2. All scripts should be legibly typed, firmly bound and of standard size.
3. Scripts will be returned only if accompanied by manuscript -size, self-addressed, stamped envelope. Do not use metered postage on return envelope.
4. Scripts should include: 4 a. Name, address and telephone number of author on title page. 4 b. Cast of characters with descriptions and a brief synopsis attached as part of play. 4 c. Number all pages
5. Scripts may be held until winner is announced in February 2008.
6. All production and publication rights remain the property of the playwright.
7. The Little Theatre of Alexandria shall have the right to produce selected scripts without payment of royalties.
8. LTA reserves the right to withhold any oral awards.
9. Production will be at the discretion of LTA.
10. Only stage plays will be judged. Film and TV scripts will not be accepted.
11. Scripts will be judged on Concept, Dramatic Action, Characterization, Dialogue and Technical Requirements. Critical analysis of scripts will not be provided.
12. Experience has shown that judges are favorably inclined towards scripts that have a running time of 20 to 50 minutes, where scenes are few!

To participate in the 28th Annual One-Act Playwriting competition, submissions should be sent to:
One-Act Play Reading Committee
The Little Theatre of Alexandria
600 Wolfe Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314

AAPEX Playwright Reginald Edmund reading at Playwright Center (Minneapolis)

AAPEX playwright Reginald Edmund to recieve reading at the Playwright Center in Minneapolis December 14th, 2007 of his new play "Juneteenth Street". Congratulations, Edmund!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

AAPEX member Stanice Anderson interviewed for Essense Magazine

Thanks to Jaz Dorsey, founder of AAPEX, Stanice Anderson will be the lead interview for a story about successful women of color in the February issue of Essense Magazine. Congratulations, Stanice!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Gala Film Fest Premiere Tixs Available (Tenn)

The African American Screen at the
Southern Appalachia International Film Festival
has Gala Premiere tickets on sale ($75.00).
RSVP to Jaz Dorsey at 423-743-7904

Among a number of African American films being screened is “Blind Tom: The Last Legal Slave in America” which is a true story of a slave born in 1849. He captivated audiences around the world – including a command performance at the White House – with his “dazzling skills at the piano,” but he remained a slave until 1908.

Another African American family-friendly film -- “The Life Project” -- spreads the message “each one can teach one.” Noting that everyone “must be willing to learn from the people we encounter, regardless of what package they come in,” the film asserts that “color, gender, age, or social economic status should never be an issue” when we’re “blessed with the opportunity to learn and listen to someone’s life or story.”

The documentary “Drama Mamas!” highlights the work of black women theater directors. It’s been featured in the Reel Sisters Film Festival at Long Island University and the National Black Theater Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., and was presented the Storyteller Award at the 1st Urban Theater & Entertainment Awards at Florida Memorial University.

Yet another film in the same genre is “Cooking the Books: A Recipe for Murder!” a “hilarious musical mystery” concerning Harold Johnson and Associates – indicted “by the Feds” for stock fraud and embezzlement – who would rather “murder than go to jail!” The creator of the Hip Hop Musical Mysteries series is to attend the Opening Gala.

Bring Your White Friend To Black Theatre Day

As a white male who has spent the past two years working exclusively with black theater companies, my discovery has been that white audiences do not have a connection to black theater and this can only be amended by active outreach. I rounded up about thirty folks to go to the opening of THE BLACKS at Tennessee State University and those guys had a blast. And the Nashville production of HAVING OUR SAY (Collards and Caviar Productions) had an attendance that was about 75% white, but usually I am one of three or four Caucasians in the audience at any given performance in Nashville's black theater productions.

Of course, your average American white theater goer doesn't want anything more thought provoking than HELLO, DOLLY or, to get really edgy, a female production of THE ODD COUPLE. The real problem in this country is that the THEATER is not working within the context of it's most potent voice.

However, given the obstacles faced by African American playwrights when it comes to getting respectable and respected productions of their work in months other than February, I am in awe of any African American writer who chooses to pursue a theatrical career - especially those who chose to write outside the Diaspora. As a white male I am welcome to write about anything from Martin Luther King to Chinese midgets on crack, but if an African American playwright wrote a play about George Washington (or Marie Antoinette) it would cross people's eyes. It's like the only part of "African American" that applies here is "African."

What we need here is is to pick a day nationwide where black theaters offer a two-for-one to anyone who comes with a friend who is not African American.

Jaz Dorsey
The African American Playwrights Exchange
Nashville, Tennessee

Shaping Black Culture Conference 10/5-6 (LA)


Friday, October 5 & Saturday, October 6, 2007

Friday, October 5, 2007
5:00PM - 9:00PM
Planning and Conference Update

Saturday, October 6, 2007
11:00 AM - Registration
11:30 AM – Welcome
12 Noon – 2:00PM Panels (Admission Free)
Theater – Dr. David L. Horne, Dr. Victor Leo Walker, II, Wren T. Brown, Yvonne Farrow, et al
Dance – Gayle Leonard-Hooks, Renae Williams, Pat Taylor, et al
Music – Robin Yip, Darryl Cook, Peter Black, Washington Rucker, Ndugu, et al
Digital Media - Andrew Thornhill, Founder America Is A Great Arts Place (AGAP Media Suite)

2:00PM – 4:00PM Panels (Admission Free)
Advocacy – Dr. Victor Leo Walker II, President/CEO and James B. Borders IV, Consultant - African Grove Institute for the Arts (AGIA), Inc.
Institutional Capacity Building – Avery Clayton (Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum), Sherri Franklin (Urban Design Center), Luis Rodriguez (Tia Chuchas)

5:00PM - Until – Post Conference Reception DJ Café - Libra Fest Celebration (No Host Bar)

This Conference is intended for performing, visual, media, recording, literary artists and other cultural practitioners. Discussion will explore best practices and the growing trends in the development, production and distribution of black culture to the extent arts, culture and entertainment are pre-cursors to community economic vitality.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

AAPEX Playwright Mike Oatman named Playwright-in-Residence at Karamu

Mike Oatman, author of THE CHITTLIN THIEF, has just been named Playwright-in-Residence at Karamu House. Congratulations, Mike!