• Paula J Leon

Being Pro Black In The Arts

Learn about Affirmation Theatre Company’s upcoming Pro Black One Acts Festival through the voices of the participants

Image from Affirmation Theatre Company

“What does it mean to be Pro Black In The Arts?” is the question Affirmation Theatre Company has been posing their festival members as part of their annual Pro Black One Acts Festival. In this third edition, the festival has shifted its usual brick-and-mortar venue for a virtual experience and will explore Blackness within the African diaspora through four diverse plays by emerging Black playwrights. Pro Black One Acts 2021 features #SuiteReality by TS Hawkins, P.A.B. by Kendra Augustin, Pocketbook by Cris Eli Blak, and Bodega Cat (Part 1 of "On The Block'' Anthology) by Ura Yoana Sanchez, with funding from the Puffin Foundation and additional support by the Bronx Council on the Arts.

I’ve had the honor to be in the festival’s production meetings and meet the emerging playwrights whose work has become an inspiration for my own. Therefore, I decided to ask the four playwrights a bit more about the pieces they're sharing as well as their artistry.

Cris Eli Blak

Why are you excited to share this story?

“I am excited to share this story for a few reasons. Firstly, I’m excited because I know my director, Saffron Quinn, is killing it and the actors Myles and Anastasia are killing it just as much. More than that though, I am excited because it continues my mission of telling real stories. Real stories aren't always pretty, not always happy, not always desirable, but they reflect humanity and the society that we live in and that's all I aim to do with my work. This is a story of a black man and young black female who have to not only understand each other, but see each other, and I think that we could all use that right now. Don't just look at what's going on, see it and try to understand it, even if it's different from what you expect or are used to.”

How have you been navigating the theatre world in this new digital medium? Any tips for fellow writers?

“I think I've been navigating pretty well! When theatre moved to the digital medium a lot of people had things to say about it and they still do and that's fine, but there's so much potential. I've been able to become a globally-produced artist because there's no location barrier anymore. Anyone anywhere can hop on Zoom and put on a show! So my best advice to fellow writers would be to take advantage of this moment and create as much work as possible. Put it out there, find your collaborators, find your community and make a name for yourself. There's no excuse now. I try to create so much work that when the lights do come back on and the doors do open hopefully someone remembers that young brown skinned boy who hustled for a year and made as much of his time as he could. Cultivate the world you want to live in. No one can tell your story but you, so do it!”

TS Hawkins

Why are you excited to share this story?

“Sharing #SuiteReality is not ‘exciting’ as much as it is necessary. There's nothing exciting about having to pen the plight of Black and Brown voices begging for their birthright. There's nothing exciting about having to witness Black and Brown bodies experiencing the same trauma as when the nation was ‘founded.’ There's nothing exciting about existing in silence. What I will acknowledge as continuously wondrous is when Black and Brown womyn gather to share their joy, love, and nurturing spirit with one another to thrive despite supremacy's footholds on their necks!”

How have you been navigating the theatre world in this new digital medium? Any tips for fellow writers?

“To fellow writers and storytellers, regardless of the medium, continue to write and share your story with the masses; the world needs your voice now and forever!”

Kendra Augustin

Why are you excited to share this story?

“I am excited to share this story because I like creating fanfiction where we share our wounds with people we love and they share their wounds and then there is healing, understanding and moving forward. But, in a mildly comedic way.”

How have you been navigating the theatre world in this new digital medium? any tips for fellow writers?

“With one company, I've done play dates where I meet with people to write quietly for an hour then share how it went. I use this especially when I have no desire to work on writing I have due. I sign up for events to have pages read to give myself a reason to do rewrites. And I find classes that are free, pay what you can, affordable, to get myself to create new material. And I keep my eye out for companies like Affirmation who my peers are behind and submit to them!”

Ura Yoana Sanchez

Why are you excited to share this story?

“I’m excited to share Bodega Cat for multiple reasons. First and foremost because it has an Afro Latina as the protagonist. Secondly, because we deal with conversations around race and gentrification from a different angle. Gina, the protagonist is an unconventional pastor who’s very passionate about social justice and is faced with confronting Caroline, a new cafe owner whose business is offensive to the community, which has suffered a terrible loss. Gina is also married to Caleb and they’re both pastors. I loved the idea of writing characters that are faith leaders and showing them in the privacy of their home, discussing very personal subjects which are not shown to the public. This intrigued me as a writer, since in the past few years several pastors have been reported to have committed suicide, suffering from depression and other situations. To many it may come as a shock since clergy is usually seen as so close to God and above the human experience. I was interested in delving into the depths of these characters’ marital problems and issues they face as a bi-racial couple. Pastors often suffer privately as they help others publicly.”

How have you been navigating the theatre world in this new digital medium? Any tips for fellow writers?

“Digital theater isn’t theater and we all know that. However, it is an extremely exciting new way to have live performances which are now accessible to so many audience members from anywhere around the world with an internet connection–which is a separate accessibility issue as well. I find it fun to navigate this new form of performance art because regardless if we’re in separate spaces it’s live! Which is a thrill. Also, I’m a filmmaker so to me it’s about working with the camera but also allowing the staging to be as naturalistic as possible. I would suggest that writers get to writing! It feels like this has been forever but I have hope we will be back and better than before! I had a wonderful conversation about this with Epiphany Samuels from Affirmation Theatre Company on my IG live series ‘Actors:’ in which she gives valuable advice. It’s available for viewing on my instagram.”

The Pro Black One Acts 2021 will be live-streamed via Zoom, running all four plays for three performances. Scheduled dates include an evening performance on Saturday, February 27, 2021 at 8:00 p.m., and matinee and evening performances on Sunday, February 28, 2021 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.

General suggested admission tickets are $5. In the spirit of accessibility and inclusivity, Pay-What-You-Want tickets are available for each performance. Their community is encouraged to give as little or as much as they would like to support our artistry. And, in the spirit of Pro Blackness, Black Folks Free tickets are available for each performance to anyone who identifies as Black. In the spirit of community, Bronx residents can access free Boogie Down tickets. To purchase tickets visit http://affirmationtheatre.eventbrite.com/.

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