‘Un-Tamed: Hair Body Attitude’ Celebrates Womanhood in New Black Fest

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Playwright/Screenwriter Keith Josef Adkins is committed to providing a space for African American artists to explore and express the nuances of the black experience. In addition to writing about black life in his own theatrical and film projects, Adkins created The New Black Fest, an annual festival which brings together black playwrights from around the world to present works with an African American focus, such as Hands Up, a series of plays written by black men in response to the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, as well as institutionalized racism.

This Fall, at the Martin Segal Theater at CUNY Graduate Center, five dynamic playwrights will present a series of dramatic works called Un-Tamed: Hair Body Attitude: Short Plays By Black Women, which will center on the black female experience and it’s relationship to black culture and social justice issues facing the African American community.

Featured writers include Nikkole Salter, an Obie-award winning actress and Pulitzer- Prize nominee, and Playwrights Chisa Hutchinson, Corie Thomas, Lenelle Moise, and Jocelyn Bioh.

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Keith Josef Adkins, http://www.pswbportraiture.blogspot.com

Tell me more about Un-Tamed: Hair Body Attitude.

Adkins: In the tradition of Facing Our Truth and Hands Up, I commissioned five black women playwrights to write short plays on things that resonate around hair, body, and attitude in relation to the trending conversations about women parody.

With Hands Up, where I commissioned six black male playwrights, the conversation was ‘who [are] the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement?’ Which was two or three black women.

There have been conversations about the representation of the presence of female voices in [discussions] about social justice, policing, and profiling. During the time I commissioned these playwrights, I was under the impression that the profiling issue was a black male issue, that it was predominant among black men. I still believe that to be true, statistically. But there has to be a more integrated conversation around profiling. It can’t just be about black men. There are women — Sandra Bland, the young woman at the Texas swimming pool party that was slammed [down]— so, obviously, this is a major issue and a concern.

What kind of discussions are being had in relation to black women, patriarchy, and racial profiling?

Patriarchy often makes us blind to the issues facing women. I wanted to commission five black women to write plays that give them a platform and a space to explore and expose their complexity around any issue that they feel is important for them to discuss. It was important to me that I didn’t do this on my own, but that I brought in a woman to help curate, to kind of educate me about what’s really important. So I brought in Dominique Morisseau to co-curate this particular commission. We have all our five playwrights and they’ve turned in their first drafts. It’s just really exciting. It’s going to be some really strong work.  It already has a slated presentation for October at CUNY Graduate Center in New York City at the Martin Segal Theatre.

How have the events in Ferguson, and the wave of discussions on race and police brutality, impacted your work as a playwright and your perspective on The New Black Fest?

I’ve always been interested and dedicated to diversity within the black experience. I feel like the conversation around race, racism, and privilege; particularly within the theater community, is prompting many people to reconsider how they’ve been thinking about blackness. They are paying closer attention to blackness. These conversations have given black theater practitioners license to discuss and build art around things that have always mattered to them, that they often felt they were silenced around.

Because of Black Lives Matter and other social justice concerns, there seems to be an un-silencing.

To learn more visit newblackfest.org and broadwayblack.com.

Photography credit: womenintechchat.  Originally appeared on BlackEnterprise.com

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Celebrity Outrage Over Death of ‘Cecil the Lion’ Ignites Twitter and Facebook. The #CatLivesMatter Hashtag

A few months ago, the Internet was ablaze over the death surrounding ‘Cecil the Lion,’ a mainstay of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park and part of a research project at Oxford University.

According to CNN, Theo Bronchorst and Honest Trymore Ndlovu, both Zimbabweans, are believed to have illegally hunted and killed 13-year-old Cecil during a time span of 40 hours. CNN also reports that Walter J. Palmer, an American dentist from Minnesota, allegedly paid $50,000 for the hunt, which has unleashed a storm of criticism against him from the online community; particularly Facebook and Twitter, with retweets of hashtags like #CatLivesMatter, a wordplay on #BlackLives Matter, and “WE ARE CECIL,” according to The New York Times.

[Related: Police Brutality Also an Issue for Women of Color]

The unanimous outrage over Cecil’s death and celebrity support of movements against animal cruelty, includingJimmy Kimmel— who fought back tears talking about Cecil— Ricky Gervais, Sharon Osborne and others, is leaving some people wondering why more public, high-profile figures aren’t expressing the same degree of concern for the unlawful arrests and racism directed toward African American men and women.

Why are celebrities more eager to speak out against animal mistreatment than they are about issues of racial and social injustice?

Howard Bergman, CEO of Fifteen Minutes Public Relations, told USA Today that “Animal activism has always been a staple of Hollywood activism, it’s really in the DNA.”  Adding,

“Celebrities have found when they step into some of the race issues, they’ve gotten their hands slapped for perceived insensitivity, even when they were trying to do and say the right thing. They realize that animal activism is a win-win. In most cases, nobody objects and particularly in this specific case.”

Is it easier to care about animals than human beings?

Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Written by Rebecca Nichloson. Article originally appeared on BlackEnterprise.com

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ABC’ Black-ish Creator, Kenya Barris, Leaves His Mark on Hollywood

Kenya Barris’ mark on Hollywood extends well beyond the creation of his hit series Black-ish on ABC or his writing for America’s Next Top Model, the producer/writer will pen the film adaptation of the 1970s African American sitcom Good Times for Sony Entertainment; along with veteran producers Scott Rudin and Eli Bush.

Barris is also collaborating with Tracy Oliver for a female-driven ‘Girls Trip Project‘ for Universal Studios, and was recently signed by New Line Cinemato write the screenplay for the new Shaft remake. Although many of Barris’ projects have been comedies, he describes his Good Times adaptation as a dramaedy — the best of both worlds.

What attracted you to Good Times? What do you see as the ‘tone’ for the movie?

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Kenya Barris, http://www.NPR.org

Barris: Good Times was so iconic, in terms of that family and the struggles they were going through were so honest and real. [The writers] didn’t ignore that this was a ‘slice of life’ that a huge amount of Americans were living. The chance to have a voice and to say something as a writer is the ultimate blessing. To have something to say that affects people and makes people want to change their life or be inspired— to hear words come alive—for me that’s the ultimate blessing.

When you think of Good times as an actual show, as much as it was a comedy there was some serious stuff going on. So, I feel like [the film will be] more of dramaedy, to do it any other way would be a disservice to the poverty. The movie is actually a look back. Michael has grown up. He’s in politics and he’s looking back on his life, at something in his life that has affected him and the decision he’s making currently. I was not going to do a spoof of Good times, I felt like it was too important of a [show] to support that.

Tell me about your friendship with Tyra, your upbringing and its impact on your writing.

Tyra Banks is one of my best friends. We grew up together. Watching her—when I was in high school and college—watching her career take off was a big inspiration for me, to know that [success] was possible; coming from where we came from.

I feel like that’s what put me in a different place, where if I wanted to make people laugh there was a way to do it and it wasn’t necessarily just a dream scenario.

It was something that could actually happen, that I had seen happen. I’m from Inglewood. We were broke growing up, [but] you didn’t know you were broke because everyone else around you was broke.

My father got into a chemical accident at General Motors, where he was employed, when I was ten or eleven.

We got a big settlement and moved from, basically, ‘ashy to classy.’ We moved out of the hood and I started at a different school. I remember realizing for the first time, ‘Oh. We were broke.’

My mom worked really hard, got me through school and college and when I had my kids I looked around and the world they were growing up in was a completely different world than the one I remember growing up in. That was the inspiration for [Black-ish]. We’re taught that you want to give your kids more than you had, but in doing that I started wondering; with the added things in their life, what were the things that were being subtracted.

Many of the popular shows on television today with lead African American characters don’t deal explicitly with race. For instance, Scandal and How To Get Away with Murder. What motivated you to write a show that, thematically, openly discusses race and black culture?

For all the amazing things that I felt from The Cosby Show growing up, the one thing I looked at was that they sort of [looked over the fact that they were black].

 I felt like every day as an African American; as a black person, you’re never not aware of [race]. It’s part of who you are. It’s part of the people who deal with you. So why would you do a show in a time when we have a black president and choose to ignore [race]?

That doesn’t mean it has to be a black show, but it is about a black family. It’s not done in an ostracizing way. To me, the idea of talking about it makes it more inclusive.

 Conversation is part of what makes America work at its best, and that’s what we were trying to do: start the conversation.

Written by Rebecca Nichloson. Originally appeared on BlackEnterprise.com

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Evocative Martha’s Vineyard Panel Sheds Light on Diversity with ‘Changing the Script: Media, Culture, & Black Lives’

Monday, Aug. 17, actor, producer, and humanitarian Danny Glover, Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl series creator Issa Rae, and Black Lives Matter Co- founder Patrice Cullors, participated in a dynamic panel in Martha’s Vineyard titled, Changing the Script: Media, Culture, And Black Lives.

The panel, moderated by Alan Jenkins, provided an invaluable platform to discuss culture makers, activists, and their utilization of media and creative strategies to tell stories about black Americans.

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Issa Rae, http://www.latimes.com

YouTube phenom Issa Rae expressed her desire to “talk about reclaiming the narrative of African Americans in the media, television and film,” as motivation for joining the panel. When asked about her own writing, Rae said she hopes to provide “an alternative depiction; a real depiction, showing that [African Americans] are capable of doing anything and being anything.” Social Activist Patrice Cullors said of the event, “I think it’s always important to talk about the way we’re treated; the narrative of blacks, how it’s being told and how we’re intervening.”

Adding, “I wanted to hear from my co-panelists, as well as the audience, about what they’ve seen in the last couple years around the impact of The Black Lives Matter movement on exposing racist media images of black people or helping shift to a new narrative.”

Tell me about The Opportunity Agenda and the inspiration behind organizing this panel.

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Alan Jenkins

Jenkins: My organization— The Opportunity Agenda — is a social justice communication lab. We use communication and culture to build public support for greater or more equal opportunity. We’ve been around for about ten years. One of the things that we do at The Opportunity Agenda is study media and culture and how issues of race and identity and opportunity are depicted in different communities.

Four years ago we did a study of media depictions of black men and boys. What we found is that there were some really persistent and harmful trends that depict a very warped picture of black folks in the media.

We are, in the media, overly associated with criminality, with poverty; with intractable problems. The idea [of this panel] is to look at different perspectives, at the new era we’re in; an era of activism— Black Lives Matter—criminal justice reform, and many other issues of race and equality.

There is an absence of diversity in creative decision makers, as it relates to the entertainment industry. Do you think increasing diversity behind the camera will result in the telling of more diverse stories?

Increasing diversity on both sides of the camera is vital. It’s necessary, but not sufficient. We could have diversity there and still not have diversity of storytelling and things that reflect the breadth of the black experience.

We can have better storytelling and still be grossly underrepresented.

So we need to work towards both. It’s certainly the case that when you have diversity of storytellers, you’re much more likely to get a fuller and more accurate depiction of the lives of black folks and our place in the broader American society and world.

What motivated your decision to include Danny Glover and Issa Rae as panelists?

Danny Glover has been, in many ways, fortunate—he’s tremendously talented—but there are a lot of talented people of color who don’t get to play the diverse and rich roles that he has gotten to play.

Issa Rae has used the medium of YouTube and the Internet to get her story out: that’s a real change.

This is the first moment in human history, in which almost all of us have the ability to speak and tell stories to millions of people and hear back from them without mainstream media and gate keepers.

Issa Rae, like Danny Glover, is a very talented story teller. She’s been innovative in finding new ways to tell her story; in the way she wants to tell it, through a medium that literally didn’t exist a decade ago. So, that was the idea behind bringing together this diverse panel, which of course includes Patrice Cullors who has used Twitter to [support] activism and concern about police killings of unarmed black men.

Social media has played a pivotal role in the development of social justice movements, particularly Black Lives Matter. Can you talk about some of the ways technology has impacted activism and differences between today’s black activism and the civil rights movement?

Social media is an organizing tool. So, people [from] far reaches of the country and the globe now know they have allies with whom they can connect.

Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr. had access to Twitter—the movement he would have been able to create.

Today activists are able to tell their story, organize, and bring people together to demand action; that’s transformative. There are certainly differences between 20th and 21st century movements. 21st century movements tend to be more decentralized; there are fewer recognizable national leaders.

They are more networked. But I think when we look back a decade or two, at the Black Lives Matter movement, we’ll see that there were a cadre of leaders, just as there were in the previous civil rights movement. We’ll see that there were people who exerted tremendous personal courage and leadership, and were the glue that held these movements together.

The event was held at the Harbor View Hotel, Edgartown Room, 131 North Water Street, in scenic Martha’s Vineyard. To learn more about The Opportunity Agenda visit www.opportunityagenda.org.

Written by Rebecca Nichloson. Originally appeared on BlackEnterprise.com

 

 

 

 

 

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The ‘Transracial’ Phenomenon Rocking the Nation

Race and cultural identity differ; the same is true for biological sex and gender identity. People who describe President of the Spokane NAACP chapter, Rachel Dolezal’s, misrepresentation of herself as black, as indicative of being “transracial,” are really talking about cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is, often, an expression of the value an individual places on a particular culture, so much so, that his or her own identity is significantly informed by it.

The argument that Rachel Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner are the same, that transgender and the term, “transracial” share similar qualities, or that, because Dolezal identifies with black culture, she should be considered black, is problematic. For one, such arguments fail to recognize differences between biological sex, race, gender identity, and cultural identity. Biological sex and race are static, which isn’t the case for cultural and gender identity.

Being transgender isn’t about denial of biological sex, it’s about accepting that one’s gender identity cannot subscribe to norms espoused by society; it’s about allowing one’s own instincts and natural tendencies to determine how one chooses to live and, socially, identify.  Biologically speaking, Caitlyn Jenner keeps the sex she was born with. But, in all other ways—behaviorally and otherwise, the label of “man” is no longer appropriate.

Racism isn’t about culture.

Racism is discrimination, inequality, and social stigma directed towards a group of people based solely on the fact that they were born of a certain race and have, often times, its physical traits, ect.

Being on the receiving end of racism, as we have seen, brings with it a host of experiences unique to those who are members of that race, or another oppressed racial group. The implications of Dolezal’s actions are connected to a long history involving the topic of race and culture in this country, just as the comparison to Caitlyn Jenner relates to much research, scholarly and otherwise, concerning gender and sexuality.

With that being said, here are two transgender people of color ‘making waves’

Janet Mock: The New York Times bestselling author of Redefining Realness and the host of  So POPular! — a weekly MSNBC digital series about culture. She is a sought-afterspeaker and the founder of #GirlsLikeUs, a social media project that empowers trans women. Her book recounts her journey towards womanhood and serves as a inspiration for transgender people of color everywhere.

“Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power – not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and they don’t want it to exist.” – Janet Mock

Laverne Cox  is an activist and actress on Netflix’s hit series Orange is the New Black. She was born in Mobile, Alabama, and was the first openly transgender person in history to receive and Emmy nomination.

“My third grade teacher called my mother and said, ‘Ms. Cox, your son is going to end up in New Orleans in a dress if we don’t get him into therapy.’ And wouldn’t you know, just last week I spoke at Tulane University, and I wore a lovely green and black dress.” – Laverne Cox.

Share your stories in the comments section.

This article originally appeared in BlackEnterprise.com

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The ‘Heart Throb’ Will See You Now: Actor Blair Underwood Says Creatives Need to Make their Own Opportunities.

African American heartthrob, thespian, director and author, Blair Underwood, has long been a staple in black cinema, television and the arts, maintaining a successful professional career for three decades. The two-time Golden Globe nominee made his film acting debut at the tender age of 21 in Michael Schultz’s Krush Groove (1985) and has given emotionally compelling performances in movies such as Murder in Mississippi(1990), Heat Wave (1990), and Mama Flora’s Family (1998), where he shared the screen with acting ‘force of nature,’ Cicely Tyson.

Currently, Underwood plays the role of Dr. Andrew Gamer on ABC’s hit super-hero drama, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and will direct the independent film, Silent Voice. He’ll be returning to his theatrical roots this summer, starring in the world-premiere of Dominic Morrisseau’s Paradise Blue, a play based in Detroit’s Blackbottom neighborhood, at The Williamstown Theatre Festival, July 22 through August 2, 2015.

What advice do you have for young, aspiring African American actors, or those hoping to pursue a creative passion, in terms of career success and longevity?

Blair Underwood: Be creative in how you plan your future. Young people understand that, I think, better than my generation – that the world is constantly spinning, turning, changing, and evolving. As a creative person, you have to find the stories you want to tell, create the characters you want to play.

Whatever you’re creating, be true to yourself. You have to watch the market, the patterns and all of that, but you have to be true to yourself. Create what you love. Do what you love, that’s the main thing I would say.

Also, decide what kind of creative person you want to be. I have to say that, first and foremost. Do you want to be successful within this industry?

If you want to be successful in a certain industry, you’re going to have to comply with the rules of that industry. If you just want to act, you can act in your backyard and that’s fine. Do you want to be famous or do you want to be great at your craft? Two different paths. Two antithetical paths. If you’re going after fame, you can do a YouTube video and a reality show. [But if] you want to be a great artist, that’s a different path.

There are a number of students graduating from M.F.A. programs in theatre, film, and creative writing with tremendous amounts of loan debt – upwards of $100,000 for some. What advice do you have for these students, in terms of finding a balance between creative pursuits and economic realities? What has been your experience?

I have my own experience, and I have my experience as a parent of an 18-year-old son who’s going to college in September. I’m sure in four years we’re going to accrue a lot of debt. It’s a very good question. When you look at that quandary, if you will, then you have to make some very real decisions about what path you’re going to take, because you have to contemplate making money.

You have to contemplate providing for yourself and eventually others: wives, husbands, children or whatever that may be. Those are your responsibilities [and] that costs money. It’s a very, I think, noble but challenging path in life—the path I took—to be a creative person. We all need to survive. You’re constantly riding that fine line of keeping your integrity but also knowing you have to pay the bills.

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http://www.nomore.org

What are your thoughts on blacks in Hollywood; particularly the need for stories that expand the African American narrative?

I believe that there’s always room for more, but I also say ‘if you want more, then create more.’ In other words, it’s not enough to stand on the sidelines. You can create your product and distribute your product by yourself on the Internet, on YouTube. There are more avenues today than ever before – Hulu, Amazon.com, Netflix. There’s more than just the traditional route of networks, or even studios for that matter, for movies.

You can make a film for much cheaper today because of the technology. You can make a film with your Iphone. It can be high quality, have a good story and, if it’s good enough, get you attention. Not always, but that’s life. There’s so much that happens to be in the hands of the creator, [now more] than ever before.

It’s not enough to say ‘nobody’s allowing me to do anything.’ Go do it yourself.

There’s not enough diversity, but there’s more than there has been in a long time – Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, Empire. Because of that there are many more opportunities for African American actors in this coming season of new shows.

Reporting by Rebecca Nichloson.  Article originally appeared on BlackEnterprise.com

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ABC ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Creator, Shonda Rhimes, Says “Yes” to All Things Awesome.

Late last year, at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, Shonda Rhimes, creator of ABC mega-hits Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, talked about her new book, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. The interview was held with New York Times best-selling author and journalist, Jake Tapper.

Year of Yes, published by Simon & Schuster, documents a year in which Rhimes, a notorious introvert, decided to say ‘yes’ to people and activities she would normally say ‘no’ to—this included speaking engagements, parties, and other social events, which Rhimes says were out of her comfort zone.

She even went as far as to describe herself as a ‘wall hugger’ at social events, telling NPR, “I’ve always been an introverted person,” and that fame and success were, to her, “daunting.”

But for an entire year, whenever she wanted to decline an invitation or new experience, she made the choice to say ‘yes,’ and the results, she says, were phenomenal.
During the panel, Rhimes talked about her childhood growing up in a highly-intellectual home where her parents encouraged her to read and write and envision her own reality. She also talked about being the only African American girl in her school and being lonely because off this. Her imaginary world, ‘Shondaland,’ served as a creative refuge.

Rhimes discussed her disdain for the term “diversity” when describing her shows, she feels she’s simply normalizing television by creating roles for actors of color, women, the LGBTQ community, and other underrepresented groups; not revolutionizing it. She also rejects the notion that she alone is responsible for breaking “the glass ceiling” by being, arguably, the only black woman to definitively own an entire evening of network television. Instead, she stated, breaking the glass ceiling is a collective effort.

During the Q&A session audience members were invited to ask questions. To my delight, my question was the first one answered by Rhimes.

I asked her if, when she first started writing, she was ever afraid of her own voice—afraid of the depth of her talent and where it might lead. Her response: “As a writer, write as if you are the only person who will read your work.” In other words, create from honesty, not the need for approval or validation.

So what can we learn from this phenomenal African American pioneer?

  • Truthful representations can lead to success. Just like the saying goes, ‘sex sales,’ in today’s competitive entertainment arena, so does the truth.
  • Stay open to new things and allow yourself to be surprised. Sometimes not knowing is a gift.
  • Build a strong support system of people who respect and inspire you.

Although my question was specific to writing, Rhimes’s advice to create from a place of truth or, at the very least, adhere to your own standards of excellence, is invaluable.

Written by Rebecca Nichloson. Originally appeared in Black Enterprise. 

 

 

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Playwright Dominique Morisseau on Writing, the Theater, and the Unique History of Detroit.

In 2013, theater critic Ben Brantley, in his New York Times review of Dominique Morisseau’s Sunset Baby, described the playwright as a writer “who knows the code for getting under our skins . . .”

 Perhaps this is what has actor Blair UnderwoodGolden-Globe nominee and star of ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, so excited about playing the role of Blue in her latest work, Paradise Blue. In a BE Exclusive, Underwood referred to the role as “powerful,” but Morisseau, story editor on Showtime’sShameless, is no stranger to this kind of description.

The University of Michigan graduate has won a monsoon of awards and fellowships, writing plays such as Detroit ’67 (Public Theater; Classical Theatre of Harlem/NBT; Northlight Theatre), Sunset Baby(Labyrinth Theater Co – NYC; Gate Theater- London), and Follow Me To Nellie’s (O’Neill; Premiere Stages). Paradise Blue, directed by Tony Award-winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson, is based in Detroit and centers on an African American trumpeter struggling with whether or not to sell his beloved jazz club.

Tell me about The Williamstown Theater Festival, Paradise Blue, and what inspired you to write it?

Morisseau: I’m from Detroit. My play, Paradise Blue, is part of a three-play cycle about my city. The cycle is called The Detroit Project. The first play was called Detroit ‘67 and that was about the 1967 riots in the city, kind of like what we’re seeing in Ferguson, New York, and all over the country.

The second play in my cycle is Paradise Blue and that’s looking at 1949 during the Jazz era of the city when Detroit had its own little Harlem renaissance, if you will, a thriving black community called Blackbottom, and a black business strip called Paradise Blue where they had automobile shops, lots of bars and nightclubs, and jazz spots.

Alot of the great jazz legends used to come through Detroit and play in Paradise Valley. In 1949, a housing act got passed that would eventually lead to the wiping out of Blackbottom and the building of the 75 Chrysler Freeway. Blair Underwood plays the owner of the jazz spot, and [the piece centers on] what happens when the city gets ready to start its Urban Renewal Campaign and get rid of the black folk. [It’s about] who’s on board and who’s not.

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Waiting for the streetcar on Woodward at State Street. Nov. 25, 1949.

Williamstown Theatre Festival produces works that are in practice, transitioning to another city, or getting incubated for the first time with the hope of transferring to another city. So, this is a safe space for things to get on their feet, get in front of audiences,  get tried out and get the chance to move to New York or transfer somewhere throughout the region.

It’s also a really special place because it was started by a guy named Nikos Pappas, a Greek man who believed in theater and creating a safe haven and artistic space for theatre makers. The tradition has been going on for several decades now and has new leadership, Mandy Greenfield, who has just taken over as artistic director.

As you know, Black Enterprise believes in African American personal and professional empowerment. What advice do you have for creatives looking to enter the entertainment industry, along those lines?

I definitely think artists of color need to think about how to tell our own stories and make space for ourselves in our respective industries— be that theatre, film, or television. We need to think about not just participating in the telling of other people’s stories, but how to bring the stories from our experiences into the spotlight. It takes more and more storytellers to push their stories forward to create balance in our industry.

I think in order for us to be able to tell our stories and tell them the way that we want to, we really have to tap into our entrepreneurial side and figure out how we’re going to be the leader of our narrative, how we’re going to run our own shows or create our own films, find capital to make our films, and create distribution companies for ourselves.

Invest in the opportunities in your community. Build a community around you of like-minded artists that you can create a support system for.

The reason why I was able to transition into television writing is not because I just woke up one day and got lucky, it’s because I built myself—ten years in New York City— a strong community of supporters who, eventually, became my biggest audience and my biggest fans.

A few years ago, I had a premiere of one of my plays in London. I started an Indiegogo campaign to be able to afford housing in London so I could be around to help give shape to my work. We really have to lean on each other and think about where we’re circulating our investments and our support, so that we’re getting it back. Where you put your energy is where you’re going to get it back. Build a foundation—that starts with relationships and community.

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Vintage photo from Detroit’s Paradise Valley and Black Bottom neighborhood. http://www.michiganradio.org

There was a New York Times article, Last Stop on the L Train: Detroit, about the growing number of artists leaving New York for other, more artist-friendly, cities. Detroit is one of those cities.  How do you think this new influx of, largely non-minority artists, will impact the cultural landscape there?

I was actually just talking about this with some friends last night; some of the actors in my cast. All cities need new blood, mixed with old blood, to keep the city reviving itself. However, what happens with this exodus of people leaving their cities and going to Detroit is that they’re not integrating with the culture that exists in Detroit. I’m not saying all of these [people] are doing this.

Alot of times they just see an abandoned building and they just go and they buy it. But are [they] talking to the people in that community to see what the relationship between that building and the community that surrounds that building is? How can you come in and offer something to that community?

You can’t offer something to a community, that it needs, if you haven’t figured out what it needs. Therefore, you’re not actually building with people, you’re building on top of them or you’re displacing them.

Detroit has a gifted artist community that already lives there. There are legendary poets, legendary writers living in Detroit, that are from Detroit, that have been building there and can’t get grants from the state of Michigan for the art they’re doing because of these new people coming in. The state is more interested in the new than the old, and that’s the problem across the board.

The people that are coming in have to learn how to bring an idea and offer something to the community that the community needs. You can’t do that if you’re not talking to the community and getting to know them.

Many of the artists moving there—not all of them—but many of them are well-intentioned. They’re energized by the idea of the city. They’re interested in trying to shift something. But we, collectively, have to figure out a way for that to happen without making the people who are already there feel like they’re unwanted in their own city.

Do you have any stories about the African American experience in Detroit? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Reporting by Rebecca Nichloson. Written for BlackEnterprise.com