As a playwright, people are constantly asked – why the need for “Black” theater? Even some people of color consider the distinction divisive. The answer to this sometimes-disingenuous question is simple – when there is no longer a distinction between races in America, there may be less compelling need for Black theater, though there will always be relevance in creating our own narratives. Face it, like the Kerner Commission reported in 1968, the U.S. remains two Americas in one nation – one Black and one white, separate but unequal.
James Baldwin said to have any level of consciousness in this country to almost always be in a constant state of rage. Arthur Ashe said being a Black man in America is like having a second, full-time job. Gabrielle Union pointed out the tension of everyday living for people whose skin color is viewed as a weapon. Black people are the only folks put on trial when they are victims. The American workplace remains a labyrinth, voting rights are in peril, and systemic racism has reached epidemic proportions. And yet we rise.
Black theater is an imperative to provide voice to the voiceless, to articulate our legitimate discontent, to celebrate our greatness, and to showcase our inspirations, and aspirations.
In 1980, a group of theater enthusiasts created the Gary Creative Theater Ensemble. It brought to the same page talents like dancer Toni Simpson, production manager Jeff Williams, a core of actors that included Sam Brooks, Dinahlynn Biggs, Zack Thomas, Violet Brown, Otho Lyles III, and Morning Bishop, Stephan Turner – just to name a few.
One of the first plays was one that I wrote entitled, “Whatever Happened to Blackness?” The story featured residents of a fashionable apartment building helplessly watching their building go up in flames from across the street. In the shadow of the inferno, they express wildly divergent views on how they feel about losses and priorities. The play studied social justice, Black consciousness, definitions of success, priorities and coping with and overcoming major setbacks.
That ensemble production addressed dilemmas facing those of the Africana Diaspora in the midst of the American experiment. The amazing thing is that 40 years later, many of the same dynamics that impacted Black progress prevalent then remain prevalent now. While some complain that the more things change, the more they stay the same, others point to lessons of the past to guideposts to change.
“Being Black” is the name of a play I wrote decades later coming to the Glen Theater on Ridge Road at 7 p.m. Friday, October 28, and Saturday, October 29. Created in the heat of the George Floyd fervor two years ago, it premiered at OnyxFest – the only Black theater festival in the state – then was brought back last year for the IndyFringe Festival in 2021. The script has been refreshed for 2022, but the essence remains the same, telling our story in our authentic voice. “Being Black’ celebrates our glory and raises necessary issues!
Much like Black life, this powerful two-act stage play will make you laugh, make you cry, make you feel exhilarated and at some points make you angry. Most importantly, “Being Black” will make you think. For the past two years, audiences have been abuzz leaving theaters after the production. The same is expected for the Glen Theater performances – the first outside of Indianapolis.
The production is the first collaboration between Seventh Son Media, Inc., and the Morning Bishop Theater, headed by McKenya Dilworth-Smith who just happens to be the talented daughter carrying on the legacy of one of the lead characters in that play back in 1980 referred to earlier – the gifted and engaging Morning Bishop. The effort is the maiden voyage in a new kindredness between Indianapolis and Gary theater.
Tickets for “Being Black” are only $15 in order to engage the broadest possible audience – particularly students and young adults. Tickets are on sale online at Eventbrite and can be purchased at the store Beautiful Things in the Village Shopping Center beginning Saturday, October 15. Ticket sales proceeds will be split between non-profits Word of Mouth Production and Gary African American Achievers.
Indianapolis writer, producer, filmmaker, and director Tijideen Rowley has directed “Being Black” at all 10 previous performances in Indianapolis. He will again bring his stage wizardry to the stage of The Glen with a virtually all-new cast consisting of Tommy Gray, Angela Wilson-Holland, LaToya Jay, Elmetriss Fickling, Jacob D., ShaQuan Spyntek Davis, Atiyyah Radford, Curtis Rogers and Jessica Gray.
Those interested in group discounts or complimentary tickets for children or senior citizens should reach out to me directly at [email protected] or 317-457-8779. “Being Black” has a message for everyone – all ages and all races. My hope is that it will not only resonate with the audience but cause deeper thinking of how we can bring about lasting change.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].