ASU Black Theatre festival provides opportunity for community, expression

“I Know Where I’ve Been: Soulful Expressions of the Black Experience,” musical cabaret, kicked off ASU’s first-ever Black Theatre Festival on Feb. 8 with performances from popular productions including “Memphis,” “Dreamgirls,” “The Color Purple,” “Hairspray” and “The Lion King.”

Alexis Green, a senior in ASU’s School of Theatre and Film, is the mastermind behind this month-long festival that showcases student and local talents with productions ranging from a musical, a one-man show, two plays, a forum and a mixer.

“As a black actress I don’t feel like I get the opportunity to celebrate my history and culture as much as I’d like to,” Green said. “We are often seen as the saucy friend or the really cool guy in the back, and what is being perpetuated is a stereotype instead of a celebration of a culture and the strengths that come along with that culture.”

Green began planning this festival February of 2012 while she was doing shows with Arizona’s Black Theatre Troupe and thinking about how she wanted to approach her senior project in a way that spoke to the measure of her as an artist and who she had become through her experiences in acting and school.

The festival continues until Feb. 24 and will showcase one-man act “Black & 25 in America,” along with the plays “The Face of Emmett Till” and “For Colored Girls.”

Green said she was most excited for her “baby,” “The Face of Emmett Till,” because, in her research, she found that it had not been often performed, and because she could see the cast members learning about race and the effects it can have.

“I can especially see our white cast members learning about race, because if you aren’t affected by it, you just don’t really think about it or get it,” Green said. “It’s not anyone’s fault, because it’s just a reality, but seeing their eyes open makes me really happy because they are getting involved in a different way, and I can’t wait to see how it touches the audience with that beauty.”

Throughout planning Green has committed herself to using her connections through the Black Theatre Troupe, friends and ASU’s School of Theatre and Film to find 30 actors and actresses whose talents may have otherwise been overlooked to be involved in her project.

“There are diamonds out there, but they are just kind of hidden and I, along with my producers and directors, have the opportunity to showcase people who haven’t had the opportunity to showcase themselves,” She said.

She hopes that in the next couple of years her work in uncovering black talents in Arizona can affect the acting season and plays that are chosen to run so that more of them work to present black actors on the same level as other races rather than placing them into a set role.

“We can be Natalie Portman — but we aren’t. As far as Hollywood and Broadway are concerned we aren’t and are given the character in the black role. The way I see it, it shouldn’t be everyone competing for the black role, everyone should be competing at and considered on the same level.”

Jeremy Gillett, a graduate student in ASU’s School of Theatre and Film wrote, directed and produced his “Black & 25 in America,” an act in which he singularly explores issues of race, class and identity through a series of vignettes.

His show is extremely raw as he transitions between four black characters whose stories differ but who share the same feelings of invisibility and being without voice.

“When I began writing, I began to see that what these characters I had created were going through was simply the human condition, meaning that you don’t have to be a specific race, ethnicity or gender to understand what is it that these characters are yearning and striving for,” Gillett said.

Gillett drew his characters from his own life experiences and friends he developed while traveling, accumulating a multitude of these experiences into each of his complex characters.

“It’s beautiful, and I felt like I could cover all races, and not just that of the African American race, because I was working with characters who are searching for their voice and identity and a sense of confidence in that,” Gillett said.

Green was in attendance at Gillett’s first performance of “Black & 25 in America” Feb. 9 since she oversees all rehearsals and performances.

“Jeremy has some very dynamic stories to share, and I loved everything about his performance, especially the great job he does in switching between his characters,” Green said. “The fact that he plays all of them just means it’s an incredibly universal thing and it could be anybody and I’m very happy with his performance.”

“Black & 25 in America” will present its second show Feb. 10 at the Prism Theatre in Tempe at 7:30 p.m.

“The Face of Emmett Till” will run Feb. 16 through Feb. 17, while “For Colored Girls” will run Feb. 22 through Feb. 24. The forum, “From the Rainbow to the Mountaintop,” will take place Feb. 15 and discuss where the world of black acting is headed and how actors are portrayed in film.

The festival will wrap up with a festival mixer on Feb. 24 for members of the community to connect and network.

 

Reach reporter at kgumpert@asu.edu or on Twitter at @cat2bekittenmee.