Breaking Down Barriers: Black Female Directors featuring Dawn Monique Williams

When Liesl Tommy received a Tony Award nomination for directing Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed on Broadway, she made theatre history as the first woman of color ever nominated for a Tony for Best Director of a Play.  Eclipsed set another unprecedented moment as the first show in Broadway history to have an all-female, all-black director, cast, and playwright—fitting for a production that chronicles the resilience of five women in unbelievable circumstances.

While theatre appears to be experiencing a golden age of diversity, there is still a large disparity between the number of women and men that direct shows. According to Playbill, of the approximately 30 new Broadway productions announced for the 2016–2017 season, only six are being directed by women, an alarming number considering that women make up more than half of theatre audiences.

But the success of Eclipsed, which just completed an acclaimed run at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre, reflects a growing excitement for stories told from a black, female perspective. In anticipation of the stories to come, I sat down with Margo Hall, Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe, Velina Brown, Dawn Monique Williams and Ayodele Nzinga—five black, female Bay Area directors to keep on your radar.

Dawn Monique Williams

Known for: Resident artist at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and a 2016 Princess Grace Foundation Theatre Fellowship Award winner.

What it’s like being a woman of color directing Shakespeare: “A lot of people aren’t looking for us in the way I think they should be.  People default to who they know so even when it’s a play that might be written by a black author, written by a black woman, written by a woman, they still might hire a white man to direct the play.  It’s even tenfold when it comes to the classic plays because there are a lot of people who believe they are the authority on Shakespeare so I have to pitch very hard to get those opportunities to do the classic plays.  When you see a theatre doing Suzan-Lori Parks’ Venus and they haven’t hired a black woman to do this play, I don’t understand how in 2017 you wouldn’t hire a black woman.  So, we don’t have the agency to tell the plays that are written about our own bodies but I also can’t direct The Cherry Orchard or Shakespeare either. Where do I fit then in the new you of storytelling? It’s very discouraging.”

How African American women directors are impacting theatre: “I feel like I have a really strong sisterhood of other women directors and especially women of color directors who when they get offered a gig and can’t take it, they recommend the next woman of color for the job.  That we’re sharing each other’s names, we’re advocating for one another, we’re promoting one another—I feel very supported in that sense of sisterhood.  For the sisters who are getting in the door, I feel a strong sense that they are keeping that door propped open, they have put their shoes right there, they have wedged that door and let me know I left that door open for you to come through.”

What inspires her: “My daughter is a great inspiration to me in my spirit as a human but also in my artmaking because I’m so fascinated by the way she sees the world, what her logic is, how these young people are different from us.  In retrospect, like oh my gosh what my mother must have felt! It’s so eye opening to try and see the world from her perspective.”

What has been her biggest challenge: “One of the things about being a director is sometimes the anonymity and how there’s good and bad that comes along with that anonymity. I could be walking through this small town where I am [Williams is currently in Ashland, Oregon directing for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival] and people aren’t stopping me at the grocery store the way they do the actors.  But also, I don’t fit the image of who people think a director is so sometimes in the theatre at my own show, I am treated as if I don’t know how to behave in a theatre, as if I don’t have theatre etiquette.  Nobody assumes that I’m a theatre professional so that’s sometimes a little disheartening, and that’s just when I enter the space as a patron.”

What’s up next: “I am in rehearsals for Merry Wives of Windsor at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival that will open in June.  Then in July I will go to Chautauqua Theatre Company to direct Romeo and Juliet, which is my favorite play ever. Then in the fall, I’ll be back in the Bay Area directing Paula Vogel’s A Civil War Christmas at Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette.”

Read the full article by Jia Taylor from Theatre Bay Area here.

With by Carter W. Lewis, Selected for 2017 Play Penn Conference

Clifford and Minnie devolve into a world of often hysterical but ultimately heartbreaking minutiae as they navigate a blizzard, a dead son, a rat in the kitchen and a half decorated Christmas tree, to find dignity in their final days.

Carter W. Lewis is currently Playwright-in-Residence at Washington University. Previously, he was Literary Manager & Playwright-in-Residence for The Geva Theatre Center (NY), and was co-founder and Resident Playwright for Upstart Stage in Berkeley, California. He has won several national awards including The Julie Harris – Playwriting Award, The State Theatre – Best New American Play, The Cincinnati Playhouse Rosenthal New Play Prize (1996 & 2001), New Dramatist Playwriting Award, Playwright’s Center Jerome Residency, and is a two-time nominee for the American Theatre Critics Award.  He has had close to 200 productions of his plays nationwide. Carter lives in St. Louis with his dog, Bucket.

Gustavo Ott Wins the Aguijón Theater Playwriting Award in Chicago for BRUTALITY

Read the full article from Aguijón Theater here, and find the English translation directly below the Spanish text:

Chicago, 31 de diciembre de 2016— Aguijo?n Theater Company e Instituto Cervantes de Chicago se complacen en anunciar a Gustavo Alfonso Ott como ganador del Segundo Concurso Internacional de Dramaturgia Hispana 2016.

Ott, escritor venezolano, obtiene este preciado galardo?n con la obra “Brutality”.

Este segundo concurso de dramaturgia atrajo la participacio?n de 179 obras de autores provenientes de Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Cuba, Espan?a, Me?xico, Peru?, Puerto Rico, Repu?blica Dominicana, Uruguay, Estados Unidos y Venezuela.

El jurado estuvo compuesto por el dramaturgo uruguayo Dino Armas de Montevideo, Uruguay; el escritor y filo?logo espan?ol Jose? Luis Garci?a Barrientos de Madrid, Espan?a; la dramaturga y periodista cubana Teresa Dovalpage, de Taos, Nuevo Me?xico, EEUU; el dramaturgo y profesor de teatro cubano Abel Gonza?lez Melo de Madrid, Espan?a, y el escritor y periodista mexicano Gerardo Ca?rdenas de Chicago, EEUU.

“Brutality” presenta dos actos y siete personajes. De acuerdo a Dino Armas se trata de una “obra bien dialogada y con interesante retrato de la sociedad actual” a lo cual Abel Gonza?lez Melo an?ade que “Brutality” es “viva, provocadora, entretenida. Creo que es muy atractiva para una audiencia mu?ltiple en ese tono documental/ficcional que maneja”.

Aguijo?n Theater presentara? una lectura dramatizada de “Brutality” el 27 de marzo pro?ximo a las 7 p.m. en el Instituto Cervantes de Chicago.

Fiel a su espi?ritu de difusio?n del teatro de origen hispano dentro los Estados Unidos y de promocio?n de las escrituras esce?nicas contempora?neas, el Concurso de Dramaturgia Hispana de Chicago fue creado en el 2014 por la compan?i?a de teatro Aguijo?n Theater con el propo?sito de establecer un dia?logo entre los autores, en su bu?squeda de un discurso genuino y de exploracio?n en las nuevas tendencias de la disciplina teatral.

En conmemoracio?n de una de las efeme?rides ma?s importantes en el mundo literario del 2016, el IV Centenario de la muerte de dos gigantes de las letras universales: Shakespeare y Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Aguijo?n prosigue con su tarea de promocio?n dramatu?rgica.

Este concurso bianual cuenta con el apoyo del Instituto Cervantes de Chicago.

Aguijo?n Theater fue fundada en julio de 1989 y se encuentra celebrando su vige?simo se?ptimo aniversario como la compan?i?a de teatro en espan?ol ma?s antigua de Chicago.

Chicago, December 31, 2016 – The Aguijón Theater Company and the Cervantes Institute of Chicago are pleased to announce the winner of the 2nd International Competition for Hispanic Drama 2016 is Gustavo Alfonso Ott.

Ott, Venezuelan writer, wins this award with his work “Brutality.” This year, the competition drew 179 submissions by authors from Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Cuba, Spain, Mexico, Peru, Puerto, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, the United States and Venezuela.

Members of the jury included: Uruguayan playwright Dino Armas of Montevideo, the Spanish writer and philologist José Luis García Barrientos of Madrid, the Cuban playwright and journalist Teresa Dovalpage of Taos, New Mexico; The Cuban playwright and theater teacher Abel González Melo of Madria, and the Mexican writer and journalist Gerardo Cárdenas of Chicago.

‘Brutality’ consists of two acts and seven characters. According to Dino Armas, it is a ‘play with great dialogue and an interesting portrait of the current society” to which Abel González Melo adds that ‘Brutality’ is “lively, provocative, entertaining. I think it’s very appealing to a variety of audiences with its documentary / fictional tone.

The Aguijón Theater will present a dramatized reading of ‘Brutality’ on March 27 at 7pm at the Cervantes Institute in Chicago.

True to the spirit of Hispanic theater diffused within that of the United States and promoting contemporary stage writing, the Chicago Hispanic Drama Competition was created in 2014 by the Aguijón Theater Company for the purpose of establishing a dialogue among authors in their search for genuine discourse and exploration in new theatrical movements.

Aguijón continues his task of dramaturgical promotion in commemoration of two literary giants: Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. This biannual contest is supported by the Cervantes Institute of Chicago. Founded in July 1989, the Aguijón Theater celebrated its 27th anniversary as the oldest theater company in Spanish in Chicago.

Congratulations to France-Luce Benson, Winner in the 2016 Samuel French Off Off-Broadway Short Play Festival

France-Luce Benson
France-Luce Benson

At the conclusion of the week-long Samuel French Off Off-Broadway Short Play Festival, six plays were named the winners of the nation’s premier short play competition, including Risen from the Dough by France-Luce Benson!

These winning works were performed as part of an August 14 showcase at Classic Stage Company’s East 13 th Street Theater. Samuel French will publish the pieces and make them available for licensing.

Thirty finalists competed for the six prize spots. The finalists were chosen from 1,500 submissions worldwide.

Read the full article here.

MacDowell Colony Names Mashuq Mushtaq Deen as the Arch and Bruce Brown Fellow for 2016

Mushtaq DeenThe foundation extends congratulations to playwright/performer Mashuq Deen, of Brooklyn, N.Y., who has been selected by the MacDowell Colony as the 2016 recipient of the Arch and Bruce Brown Fellowship. While in residence at MacDowell, Deen completed a draft of a book, Draw the Circle and Other Writings, which details an Indian-American family’s struggle to come to terms with their transgender son. The book includes Deen’s full-length play Draw the Circle as well as two short plays and other short pieces.

For more about Deen and his theatrical work, visit his website, here.

The Arch and Bruce Brown Fellowship, funded by a grant from the foundation and administered by MacDowell, provides support to a MacDowell resident creating LGBT-themed, history-based, performing-arts or related works.