Psalmayene 24 is Busy Imagining a Post-Pandemic Future

Psalmayene 24

Theater artists and audiences will return to the brilliant dark eventually, but it’ll be a different world by then. Acclaimed playwright and director Psalmayene 24 is already busy imagining that post-pandemic future, as it relates to both his art and his life as an artist. “Now that the present has been so dramatically transformed, I’m looking at the future in a much different way,” says the Helen Hayes Award-nominated talent, whose spring production of Antoinette Nwandu’s Pass Over at Studio Theatre was suspended due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

“I think we were only open for like a week and a half, and then we had to shut down,” he says. “And then I had another play that was running, Zomo the Rabbit: A Hip-Hop Creation Myth at Imagination Stage in Bethesda. That was in the middle of its run. Had to close that. And then I was getting ready to open another show at Theater Alliance — a new musical that I’m writing called The Blackest Battle that was going to open in May.”

The Blackest Battle — a musical that, according to the playwright, “explores so-called black-on-black violence through two warring hip-hop groups” — was postponed. But, as artists are wont to do, Psalmayene 24 saw an opportunity in the setback. He decided that Battle, set in the future, should reflect the life-changing effects of our strange here and now. “So it’s more about looking ahead and trying to create a world that is somehow connected to this new reality, which is so starkly different than anything we could have ever imagined. In some ways, real life has written a rich and compelling backstory to the play that I’m going to write.”

By real life, Psalmayene means not just the pandemic, but the almost equally transformative Black Lives Matter protest movement that’s sparked what he calls “a new awakening.”

“A lot of people are all of a sudden realizing that Black people’s lives have been in jeopardy in a very severe way in this country for a long time,” he says. “And for many of us, this is nothing new. So I’m really thinking about how my work now responds to the response of this moment, because my work has always been infused with a level of consciousness about the struggles and the obstacles that Black people have had to overcome and endure in this country.”

Psalmayene brings these issues and more to the fore as host of Psalm’s Salons at Studio, a virtual venue that allows Studio Theatre’s Artist-in-Residence to connect with the audience, and with guests like actor Justin Weaks, Galvanize DC founders J.J. Johnson and Jefferson A. Russell, and Jjana Valentiner, executive producer of the Making Space to Breathe/Gathering to Grieve vigil. Joined by frequent collaborator DJ Nick tha 1da spinning original music, Psalmayene 24 bills the Salon as a space for artists to discuss their craft, for the community to share their experiences, and for audiences to kick back and enjoy the party. “The whole idea was to create this jubilant vibe,” he says, “and create an energy of celebration even in the midst of all this chaos.”

Psalm’s Salon at Studio streams on Thursday, July 23 at 5 p.m., and on Thursday, August 20 at 5 p.m. Visit www.studiotheatre.org/psalm-salons.

Article by Andre Hereford for Metro Weekly.

Ifa Bayeza Announced as American Theatre Critics Association Finalists for 2020 Francesca Primus Prize

Ifa Bayeza

The American Theatre Critics Association has selected three finalists for the 2019 Francesca Primus Prize, which recognizes an emerging woman playwright. The prize, administered through ATCA, is named in honor of Francesca Primus, a playwright, dramaturg, theater critic, and ATCA member who died of cancer in 1992.

The Primus Prize has been adjudicated by ATCA since 2002. The award includes a $10,000 honorarium given through the generosity of the Primus Foundation. The winner, selected from this year’s three finalists, will be announced by early August. This year’s finalists are: Jennifer Barclay for Ripe Frenzy, which had its rolling world premiere through the National New Play Network at Boston’s New Repertory Theatre, Atlanta’s Synchronicity Theatre, and Greenway Court Theatre in Los Angeles; Ifa Bayeza for Benevolence, which premiered with Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul; and Stephanie Alison Walker for The Madres, which also had a rolling world premiere with the National New Play Network with Chicago’s Teatro Vista, Skylight Theatre Company in Los Angeles, MOXIE Theatre in San Diego, and Shrewd Productions in Austin, Texas.

Read more from Broadway World here.

Tina Tippit Brown, Who Wrote for the Stage and for Stars, Dies at 94

Christina “Tina” Tippit Brown, writer, photographer, performer and longtime wife and collaborator of The Wiz librettist William F. Brown, died at her Westport, CT home on July 2. She was 94.

Brown started her writing career at the age of 19 while still attending Texas Tech University, seeing her comedic pieces published in The New Yorker and performed on The Tonight Show, and going on to develop material for performers including Imogene Coca, George Gobel, Hermione Gingold and Virginia Graham. Over her long career, she authored screenplays, television projects and worked on TV’s As the World Turns.

With her late husband of 38 years, William F. Brown, she was co-librettist of the musical Have a Nice Day, co-author of the comedy Mixed Doubles and a musical revue, Cole. She also contributed material to his musicals Twist and The Wiz. Brown wrote her own full-length musical, Gringo, and also wrote material for many musical revues: Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know; Style, Baby, Style; Playboy on Broadway; Any Number Can Play; More Sweet Reason and Straight Up with a Twist, among others.

A well-loved bon vivant on the theater scene, Brown also counted among her careers fashion model (for Oleg Cassini), TV guest star (on The Merv Griffin Show) and photographer (serving as official shooter for The Lucille Lortel Theater in Manhattan and The White Barn Theatre in Westport).

Brown is survived by her daughter Terri Ranck, grandchildren Sara Fitzpatrick, Emily Smith, Katy Johnsen and Cristin Jameson and seven great-grandchildren and sister Betty Wheeler. She was predeceased by her son Stephen Tippit and brother Wade Eller. In lieu of flowers, the family requests you celebrate her life with a donation to Westport Country Playhouse.

BWW Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson’s Been Ready For SHOWTIME – BLUES

BWW Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson's Been Ready For SHOWTIME - BLUES

In these pandemic times, The Fountain Theatre has been Zooming their SATURDAY MATINEE series, the latest on June 27 being France-Luce Benson‘s SHOWTIME BLUES. The cast of this reading includes Cecil Blutcher, Suzette Azariah Gunn and Matt Kirkwood. I had the socially distant opportunity to pose a few questions to this prolific playwright.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, France-Luce!

What are you doing to keep safe, sane and creative in these stay-at-home times?
Besides producing and hosting SATURDAY MATINEE for The Fountain, which has kept me busy and focused, lots of biking and long nature walks; and I managed to complete a new TV pilot and have had a few readings of works in progress. I’ve also been much more deliberate about connecting with friends and loved ones. I do a weekly Friday night happy hour with a group of friends (that always goes into after hours); and I’ve participated in virtual healing circles with the “Hidden Water” community. I was introduced to Hidden Water several years ago in NY, it was a life line then and a great source of support these past few months. In these last few weeks, I’ve been revisiting a lot of James Baldwin for inspiration and guidance; and I’ve been watching Pose for generous doses of light and love.

SHOWTIME BLUES first premiered in 2017 at Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York. Did any audience responses then take you by surprise?

I was in residency at Djerassi for the run of the show, but was deeply moved by the number of folks who reached out to me after seeing it; and particularly moved by how much it resonated with black men.

Do you expect audience responses on June 27 to be different in any way, now three years later?

Good question. I try not to anticipate audience responses, I try to focus on the work. But I imagine the characters’ journeys might trigger some raw emotions. However, it’s amazing how little has changed in the three years for Black Americans. Perhaps white audiences might hear and see these characters more vividly, and have greater compassion.

What would your three-line pitch of SHOWTIME BLUESbe?
A potentially dangerous encounter, and major train delays force Ameira and Demetrius to confront their internalized prejudice attitudes, and the harsh realities of life as a moving target.
OR…
No matter how bright their lights shine, Ameira and Demetrius struggle to be seen. But a potentially dangerous encounter forces them to open their eyes and confront their internalized prejudice attitudes. And while their train is stalled, they grapple with the harsh realities of life as a moving target.

Any particular incident sparked your creation of SHOWTIME BLUES?

BWW Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson's Been Ready For SHOWTIME - BLUES

No. It wasn’t one specific incident, it was series of incidents in which Black men and women’s lives were taken by police. Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice… and on and on…
Have you worked with any of the cast or creatives of SHOWTIME BLUES before? All of them. Cecil Blutcher originated the role of Demetrius at Ensemble Studio Theatre in NY. Suzette Azariah Gunn was cast in my play FALL, also produced at EST, and Matt Kirkwood participated in the reading of DETAINED last month.

You are currently the Community Engagement Coordinator for The Fountain Theatre. How did it all come about in your accepting this position?

I was in Salvador de Bahia in Brazil, in residency at the Sacatar Foundation. Stephen Sachs emailed me out of the blue, a few days later we had a phone interview and he offered me the job. It was perfect timing.

What are the goals you’ve set for yourself, and for The Fountain?

Primarily, I want to develop their Arts Ed programming. I want to reach a wider range of students in Los Angeles, and to build bridges in the community through the work we do. I’d also like to nurture The Fountain’s relationships with organizations who embody our artistic mission. Before the pandemic, we partnered with Hollywood Food Coalition, Covenant House, and Los Angeles LGBTQ Center during the run of HUMAN INTEREST STORY. I actually maintained contact with the LGBTQ Center during quarantine; and volunteered for their Hello Club, making wellness calls to senior citizens. I’d like these relationships to be long lasting. I’d also like their audience base to reflect L.A.’s multi-cultural landscape. I’d like to see more brown and black folks in the audience, on stage, and behind the scenes.

How old were you when you came to America from Haiti?

I actually wasn’t born in Haiti – both of my parents were born and raised in Haiti. I was born in Zaire (aka Democratic Republic of Congo) in Africa. We came to America when I was about 2 years old.

Have you gone back to Haiti to visit family or friends there?

It’s been awhile. I haven’t been back to Haiti since the earthquake. We were planning a trip this year, but will have to postpone.

Haitians are central to a lot of your plays (i.e.; BOAT PEOPLE, THE DEVIL’S SALT, ASCENSION, FREEDOM SEA). Any specific aspects of Haitian culture you try to reveal to your audiences in your projects?

In all my plays, I aim to reveal our humanity. Part of my artistic mission is to challenge the many negative (and largely inaccurate) stereotypes about the Haitian people, and to celebrate our amazing history.

What facet of Haitian culture do you find most people are unaware of?

Just about everything. But I suppose what pains me most is how most people know nothing about The Haitian Revolution. It is one of the greatest and most successful uprisings in world history. It was a magnificent achievement that gave birth to Haiti – and changed the course of history for France, England, Spain, and America.

You earned your BA in Theatre from Florida International University and MFA in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. Any anti-racial experiences stick in your mind?

Ha, ha! So many. (I’d rather not get into that here.)

Would you consider staff and fellow students woke in your university years?

Honestly? No.

What is your hope for the heighten human situation today?

Radical change.

Article from Broadway World LA by Gil Kaan.

Congratulations to Vickie Ramirez, the Recipient of The National New Play Network 2020 Smith Prize for Political Theater !

 National New Play Network, the country’s alliance of professional theaters that collaborate in innovative ways to develop, produce, and extend the life of new plays, announces the winner of the 2020 Smith Prize for Political Theater: Vickie Ramirez.

“The Smith Prize for Political Theater is a program that has been urgent and necessary since its inception,” said NNPN Executive Director Nan Barnett. “The resonance and vision that Vickie’s project will contribute to the American theater is especially vital at this time. We are thrilled to welcome her and her work into the Network.”

Elisa Blandford, the Managing Producer of Native Voices at the Autry, the NNPN Member Theater that nominated Ramirez for the prize, said: “Vickie demands audience exploration of what it means not only to be American, but also to be human in a society that was ravaged by the atrocities of colonialization and the separation of Indigenous communities from mainstream culture. She poses challenging, political, and divisive questions – questions with no one clear answer, allowing for continued audience dialogue when the play ends.”

Ramirez is the 15th recipient of the Smith Prize for Political Theater, established in 2006 by Timothy Jay Smith and a group of socially conscious donors to encourage emerging playwrights to tackle the pressing issues of our times.

The full press release is available here.