Civil Rights and American Theatre — Nashville Dramaturgy Project — AAPEX

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Civil Rights and American Theatre

Zephaniah Alexander Looby

Civil rights and the American Theatre.

What better place to showcase new plays by African American writers than in the Z. Alexander Looby Theatre on Rosa Parks Boulevard in Nashville, Tennessee, a Southern City whose African American contribution to the human race is as important as that of any other city in the country, if only for the amazing folks who have studied and taught at Fisk University.

In fact, the moniker "Music City" - which many may assume has to do with Country Music, was in fact conferred on the Fisk Jubilee Singers by Queen Victoria when they went to England and performed for her.

Of course, we all know who Rosa Parks is, but Z. Alexander Looby is right up there with her and simply lingering in somewhat obscurity, so the first thing I need to do as a dramaturg is to acquaint the rest of you with the man after whom is named the theatre where we folks down here have begun to unveil the New Play Reading Series conceived by Carolyn German, artistic director of The Metro Nashville Parks Theatre Department.

Carolyn, by the way, is the person to ask about Looby - she wrote the play. And speaking of Fisk, Looby taught there. But he was born in Antigua and studied at Howard and was a great Civil Rights leader - just not inclined to thrive on the drama or to attract it, so not the splashy news item that some folks were. Since y'all know how to Google, I suggest that you take a minute to check Z. Alexander out.

Carolyn's new play reading series started off last fall with a reading of a new play about Billie Holiday by Hershell Norwood. Hershell is a founding member of The African American Playwrights Exchange (AAPEX) and this first event was a partnership between AAPEX and MPTD. The first event was such a great success that we followed up in October with a reading of NINE DAYS IN THE SUN by Mark Clayton Southers, who made the trip from Pittsburgh the day of the reading to check out our cast.

For the rest of 2012, this reading series has a dual mission - to showcase the plays of the AAPEX writers and to showcase new musicals by Nashville Songwriters. On the second front, in February we presented UMBRELLA by Steve Leslie and Len Cohen and in March, ANGELS WITHOUT WINGS by Dr. Jamie Cutler - not a musical, but Dr. Cutler is a serious player in Nashville's Music Row culture.

Next up is another cool musical by another Nashville songwriting team - Jesse Goldberg and Gene Levine. From Long Island and the Bronx respectively, Goldberg & Levine bring the cultural roots of growing up (and growing up Jewish) in The Big Apple to the Nashville mix. Their musical IT'S A RUFF LIFE is you might say, a dog show about life adventure and love among the kennel set. This(free) reading will take place on Monday, May 21 at 7:30 pm.

At the Z. Alexander Looby Theatre. Also home to The Tennessee Womens' Theatre Project, currently producing a new play by Regina Taylor, whose legendary musical CROWNS just had it's Nashville premiere at Christ Church Cathedral.

After we break in June for the world premier of AIRSHIP AT VAPOR STATION, the summerSTEAMPUNK musical for Metro, written by Caroly German and Rollie Mains, Founder of the Nashville Composer's Society, the series will continue with one more new Nashville show and then close out the year with three more AAPEX scripts - YOUNG MESSIAHS FLY by Dr. Frank Dobson of Vanderbilt University, THE CHITTLIN THIEF by Mike Oatman, resident playwright at Karamu House in Cleveland, and HANNAH ELIAS by Nathan Ross Freeman of Winston Salem.

In addition to showcasing these plays, AAPEX takes pride in showcasing Nashville's amazing community of kick ass talent. We are particularly looking forward to presenting HANNAH ELIAS to the world starring our amazing sister, Helen "Olaketi" Shute-Pettaway in the title role.

On the schedule for November is STORIES MY GRANDMOTHER TOLD ME by Ted Swidley, author of the iconic Nashville musical ALWAYS ...PATSY CLINE and, more recently, BECOMING KINKY: THE WORLD ACCORDING TO KINKY FRIEDMAN.

Needless to say,this is a community undertaking and completely unfunded, so what you are getting here is art as the artists want to do it.

A special recognition here goes to two alarmingly talented young ladies, Courtney McClellan and Halee Culicerto, who have brought their directing talents to the project, to Alexis Lherrison, who thoroughly stage managed the 30 or so actors in NINE DAYS IN THE SUN and to William Jenkins, who produced that awesome event, and to Mark Payne and Helen Pettaway, who directed.

Songwriters Leslie, Cohen,Goldberg and Levine have all taken on the task of producing their own readings and have brought a special songwriters touch to the way we are showcasing these Nashville musicals - which are not necessarily in the same style as new works you will see in New York. We're more of the DOYLE & DEBBIE school down here, Whatever that may mean.

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre.

Jaz Dorsey
The Nashville Dramaturgy Project
NDP Divisions:
The Southern Writers Theatre - established in 2002
The African American Playwrights Exchange - established in 2007.
The Foreign Language Acting Group (F.L.A.G.) established in 2009 in
partnership with Sabine Schlunk, gallery f and Scarritt Bennett.
The Singers' Theatre of Nashville - to debut in February 2013.

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