Monday, February 25, 2013

Black History Month & Theatre

Contributed by Keith Josef Adkins

Aw, good ole black history month. That special time of year when theaters produce black content (new or classic) and black theater artists are finally in high demand. A steady paycheck for four weeks in February is a breath of fresh air (or should I say some paid rent).

I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between theaters and Black History Month. Sometimes it illuminates the lack (or interest or financial trust) in black story throughout the year. Sometimes it’s a reminder that the black experience is potentially an after-thought in the day-to-day of theatermakers, or worse, some awkward racial obligation. It’s 2013 and most of us realize black people are not a monolithic group. Black people represent nearly every nationality, language, religious affiliation and culinary lifestyle (macrobiotics included). Some black people have Korean grandmothers, prefer to live in Detroit, refuse to wear name-brands, couldn’t breath without a name-brand, want to free Mumia, worship Beyonce, or ready to flee to the interior of Brazil if one more person strips down to their underwear and does the “Harlem Shake”.

As an artist who knows my family history, I consider Black History Month an opportunity to shine an extra special light on a history I spend every day celebrating. However, I would encourage everyone to use the entire year to study everyone’s histories. I really believe the more we know about each other, the more we’ll realize how tangled our lives. And hey, if we realize our lives are truly tangled, maybe we’ll demand theaters to shine the spotlight not just in the month of February, but perhaps the entire year.


Keith Josef Adkins is a playwright, screenwriter and artistic director. His plays include Sugar and Needles (2013 Prototype Production at Epic Theater – NYC), Sweet Home (2012 production MPAACT Theater Company – Chicago), The Final Days of Negro-ville (2012 Playwrights Foundation Rough Reading Series – San Francisco, 2011 Represent Festival at A.C.T. – Seattle), The Last Saint on Sugar Hill (2011 production MPAACT Theater Company), Safe House, The Dangerous, Farewell Miss Cotton, Pitbulls, among others. Keith’s play Sweet Home just earned six nominations (including Best Script) from the African American Theater Alliance in Chicago, his play The Last Saint on Sugar Hill recently earned a 2012 Jeff nomination for Best New Work in Chicago. He was also recently named resident playwright (2012) for MPAACT Theater in Chicago and Epic Theatre Ensemble in New York City. His awards include a 2010 Gateway commission from the Obie Award-winning Epic Theatre, a 2010 A Contemporary Theatre/Hansberry Project Commission, a 2009 New Professional Theater Playwright Award, a 2009 New York State Council on the Arts playwriting grant, a 2008 Kesselring Fellowship nomination, among others Keith has been published in Humana Festival 2003 – The Complete Plays, Playscripts, The Best Women’s Stage Monologues 2005, and African Voices. He is featured in the NAACP’S Crisis Magazine winter 2012 edition as “four writers to watch”. Keith was also recently selected into the University of Iowa Theater Department’s Distinguished Alumni Gallery. Keith worked as a TV writer on the CW hit comedy "Girlfriends". His feature film script The Disappearing is in development with SimonSays Entertainment (2010 Sundance’s Night Catches Us with Anthony Mackie). Keith also worked as a story editor on the critically-acclaimed feature film Gun Hill Road, which premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. In 2010, Keith co-founded The New Black Fest, a festival of new and provocative playwriting, music and discussion from the African Diaspora. He serves as co-artistic director. In 2011, Keith also co-founded the American Slavery Project, a five-year series of plays and conversations around the topic of slavery and the Civil War to complement the Civil War’s sesquicentennial.

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