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.

“We Can’t Remain Silent” – Interview with Stephen Sachs

A conversation with The Fountain Theatre’s Stephen Sachs

Since starting The Fountain Theatre in 1990, Debra Lawlor and Stephen Sachs have put on new plays that challenge perceptions. Los Angeles’ Fountain is also a founding member of the National New Play Network (NNPN), a network of theatres around the country committed to the development of new plays. As part of NNPN’s rolling world-premieres program, they are the first of five theatres to produce, Building the Wall, written by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan.

The play is set in 2019, when President Trump has built the southern border  wall and the rounding-up and detention of millions of immigrants is in full swing. The play follows a  writer interviewing the supervisor of a private prison as the supervisor awaits sentencing for carrying out the federal policy that has escalated to extreme levels. During the Fountain’s rehearsals the co-artistic director, Stephen Sachs, took time to sit down with me to talk about the need to take action as theatre artists at this time.

Stage Directions: Tell me about the Fountain Theatre?

Stephen Sachs: We create work that reflects the cultural diversity of the country, and social and political issues affecting our community.

Tell us how Building the Wall came to be at the Fountain.

I’ve known [playwright] Robert Schenkkan for 30 years. We were both members of Ensemble Theatre Studio when he was a fellow actor. During the 2016 election season, we were determined for the Fountain Theatre to make a political statement, to do something to inspire social action. Then Robert sent me a draft of Building the Wall. He had written it in just one week—he did it in a blaze of white heat! It was very raw and I was just blown away by it. It was terrifying, and we knew immediately that we had to do it.

Theatre audiences in general tend to skew left, and you’re here in Hollywood… aren’t you “preaching to the choir” with a piece like this?

There is that challenge of potentially preaching to the choir, but I must trust the diversity of our audience. We can’t remain silent. As an artist, I think some of the greatest theatre has come out of social and political upheaval, of unjust and dangerous times. Theatre must be the moral conscience of this country, and to me, there is no higher calling than for theatres like ours to do works like this.

What are you hoping to do with this production? 

I am hoping to move the audience with this experience. They will be seeing a play that is a warning of the horrors that could come under this new administration. My hope is that it triggers them into action. It’s not enough to just say how upsetting and depressing the times are—we need to be inspired into action that is positive. There needs to be a movement forward.

And for those who happen to be Trump supporters?

What Robert has done is written about a Trump supporter who has followed the party line, and implemented the program. It’s about a person who has rounded up and detained immigrants, who has been part of a program that spirals out of control. This is that man who says he was just following orders. Sometimes the most horrific acts are committed by the simplest, most normal people. This play holds a mirror up to ourselves, and shows us what direction we could be moving with all this. To emphasize this, we’re moving the seating so that the production is three-quarters in the round. Audience members will be looking across the stage at each other during the production. I think that’s powerful.

Why is it important to produce this play now?

We want to give the theatre community the opportunity to give creative voice to what is happening now–what Trump means, what he’s already doing. So many people in theatres everywhere are wringing their hands, asking, “What can we do?” We can sign petitions and march as citizens as we should, but what can we do as a theatre community? This play offers the theatre artist and their audience something…

A call to arms so to speak – 

Yes.

So this play fits the mission of the Fountain.

 Very much. Theatre can change people, and I want people to leave the Fountain and somehow see the world differently. I want them to be able to look into the soul of a human being and see a greater sense of truth. Theatre for us is a higher calling, and if what we’ve done enabled audience members to see a greater sense of truth, then we’ve done our job.

Read the full article from Stage Directions here.

Works by Mashuq Mushtaq Deen, and More Slated for International Human Rights Art Festival

Playwright Mashuq Deen (New Dramatists Fellow 2022) brings the story of his own transgender journey as a member of a traditional South Asian family and Playwright Catherine Filloux, winner of more than 40 awards for playwriting, activism and peace work, brings her latest work to the stage at New York City’s first arts-advocacy festival of its kind, the International Human Rights Art Festival.

Presented by The Institute of Prophetic Activist Art, co-sponsored and housed at Dixon Place (161A Chrystie St, NYC), the Festival will take place March 3-5, 2017. Tickets are Free-$25 and are now available online with full schedule and participant information at www.dixonplace.org.

All works are advocacy-based, and treat a specific issue of concern — of even more concern now, with the recent political transfer of power!

Deen and Filloux are joined by the award-winning collective Superhero Clubhouse, Grammy-nominated Alika Hope and the Ray of Hope Project, long-time NYC spoken word collective Poetic People Power, Ari Gold, America’s first openly gay popstar and winner of numerous national awards.

The International Human Rights Art Festival unites over 70 artists in Arts Advocacy producing more than 40 events. The Festival will use passionate, tough, unforgiving beauty to create social energy to catalyze collective action on social concerns, promote equality for racial, ethnic and religious groups, advocate for specific policy change in issues such as climate change, LGBT and disability laws, religious tolerance and other issues. Additionally, it will use workshops, discussions and other hands-on activities to inspire nearly 2000 audience members (including child participants in the “kidsfest”) to learn how to use their own creative agency to advocate for positive policy changes and realize their power and capacity for greater civic engagement.


Draw the Circle by Mashuq Deen

New Dramatists Fellow (2022) Mashuq Deen presents his hilarious and deeply moving story of conservative Muslim mother at her wits end, a Muslim father who likes to tell jokes, and a queer American woman trying to make a good impression on her Indian in-laws. One immigrant family must come to terms with a child who defies their most basic expectations of what it means to have a daughter… and one woman will redefine the limits of unconditional love. This unique show compassionately brings to life the often ignored struggle that a family goes through when their child transitions from one gender to another.

Saturday, March 4, at 7:00 pm

Read the full article from Broadway World here.

Oren Safdie’s MR. GOLDBERG GOES TO TEL AVIV Up Next at Infinitheatre

Every year Infinitheatre touts Quebec’s finest playwrights in their season and Oren Safdie‘s Mr. Goldberg Goes To Tel Aviv is no exception. Safdie is a four-time New York Times Critics’ Pick playwright who brought Infinitheatre the controversial hit Unseamly in 2014, a nervy play that dealt with sexual harassment in the garment industry.

Even bolder, Mr. Goldberg Goes To Tel Aviv is a fast-paced poignant farce that jumps headlong into a jaw-rattling ride through the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, where allegiances constantly shift, religion is irreverent, and politics is a matter of survival.

Mr. Goldberg tells the story of an award-winning, Jewish Canadian gay author named Tony Goldberg, played by critically acclaimed performer David Gale, who arrives in Tel Aviv to deliver a blistering attack on the Israeli government to the country’s left leaning literate. But before he leaves his hotel room, the conflict in the Middle East comes to him.

Mr. Goldberg is not only a hilarious joy ride on the back of an inveterate conflict, it is a play that reaches out to everyone with one message.

As Safdie puts it, “if you think you can understand the complexities of the situation in the Middle East and make a judgement from reading a few articles or watching a couple of documentaries, you’re doing yourself a disservice.”

Read the full article from Broadway World here.

IF YOU GO:

Infinitheatre presents:
MR. GOLDBERG GOES TO TEL AVIV AT THE ST. JAMES THEATRE
Jan. 30th- Feb 19th, Tues-Sat. at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm
At St. James Theatre, 265 Rue Saint-Jacques, Montreal, QC H2Y 1M6
Tickets: Regular: $25, Students/Seniors: $20, Groups: $17, Infinitheatre 6Packs available (6 tickets for $100), all tickets +tax.
Box Office: 514 987-1774 ext. 104; Box-Office@Infinitheatre.com or www.Infinitheatre.com

Infinitheatre, Presenting a Play by Oren Safdie, Sheds Light On Middle East Conflict Through Poignant Farce

MR. GOLDBERG GOES TO TEL AVIV 2017 at the St. James Theatre – January 30th to February 19th, 2017.

Four Time New York Times Critics’ Pick Playwright Oren Safdie Returns to Infinitheatre to Deliver a Jaw-rattling Ride Through the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict.

Montreal, January 18th, 2017 – Every year Infinitheatre touts Quebec’s finest playwrights in their season and Oren Safdie’s Mr. Goldberg Goes To Tel Aviv is no exception. Safdie is a four time New York Times Critics’ Pick playwright who brought Infinitheatre the controversial hit Unseamly in 2014, a nervy play that dealt with sexual harassment in the garment industry. Even bolder, Mr. Goldberg Goes To Tel Aviv is a fast-paced poignant farce that jumps headlong into a jaw-rattling ride through the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, where allegiances constantly shift, religion is irreverent, and politics is a matter of survival.

Mr. Goldberg tells the story of an award-winning, Jewish Canadian gay author named Tony Goldberg, played by critically acclaimed performer David Gale, who arrives in Tel Aviv to deliver a blistering attack on the Israeli government to the country’s left leaning literate. But before he leaves his hotel room, the conflict in the Middle East comes to him.

Mr. Goldberg is not only a hilarious joy ride on the back of an inveterate conflict, it is a play that reaches out to everyone with one message.  As Safdie puts it, “if you think you can understand the complexities of the situation in the Middle East and make a judgement from reading a few articles or watching a couple of documentaries, you’re doing yourself a disservice.”  Safdie is well positioned to tackle the presumptions many outsiders have regarding the reality of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.  He’s a celebrated Montreal playwright who was born to Israeli parents.  His mother, originally from Poland, spent the war in hiding and his father, a descendant from Aleppo, Syria, was born in Haifa before Israel became a state.  In fact both of Safdie’s parents were living in Palestine when it became the state of Israel in 1948. Safdie traveled to Israel every summer as a boy to visit relatives and completed a three-month service with the Israeli pre-army. His family had a house in the Jewish Quarter in the Old City and Mr. Goldberg Goes To Tel Aviv springs from this life experience in Jerusalem. While Safdie is technically an Israeli citizen by way of his father, he doesn’t consider himself a “true Israeli” because he’s exempt from doing a mandatory three-year military service… He instead has the option of going to Montreal where the biggest disputes have to do with language.

Infinitheatre’s Artistic Director and the Director of Mr. Goldberg Goes To Tel Aviv, Guy Sprung, is also sensitive to the material. In fact, Sprung hosts discussions after certain shows in the lobby where audience members can voice their enjoyment or displeasure of the piece presented. “We want to use the delicious comedy that Oren has orchestrated as a gateway to understanding,” says Sprung. He goes on to explain that “it is critical that each character, from each side, is fully drawn in a three-dimensional manner. Conflict is part of human nature and it is important that we not forget how to disagree with one another with integrity,” Sprung maintains. It may be only the equivalent of a drop of water in the Mediterranean, but Infinitheatre hopes, in some small way, to contribute to peace from the ground up. Sprung draws out the humanity in each of the three characters in the play while exploring their respectively entrenched opposing political/religious views. He has intentionally cast a Jewish actor, Howard Rosenstein, in the role of a Palestinian and an Arab actor, Mohsen El Gharbi, in a Jewish role as a symbolic testament to our universal humanity.

Infinitheatre is Quebec’s premiere English-language theatre producing original Quebec works. Notably, both Mr. Goldberg and Unseamly were finalists in Infinitheatre’s hallmark annual playwriting competition Write-On-Q!. Each year, finalists from the competition receive a public staged reading through Infinitheatre’s The Pipeline series and often production in upcoming seasons. In addition to these initiatives, Infinitheatre provokes and nurtures the best in contemporary Quebec playwriting, and has pushed the craft to the next level by founding the Quebec Playwright’s Unit in 2014 (aka: The Unit). Infinitheatre challenges writers to develop their craft to its highest level and ensures that Quebec English-language plays are produced and celebrated in theatres across Canada and internationally.

Infinitheatre: developing, producing, and brokering new Quebec work.

Infinitheatre presents:
MR. GOLDBERG GOES TO TEL AVIV AT THE ST. JAMES THEATRE
Jan. 30th- Feb 19th, Tues-Sat. at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm
At St. James Theatre, 265 Rue Saint-Jacques, Montreal, QC H2Y 1M6
Tickets: Regular: $25, Students/Seniors: $20, Groups: $17, Infinitheatre 6Packs available (6 tickets for $100), all tickets +tax.
Box Office: 514 987-1774 ext. 104; Box-Office@Infinitheatre.com or www.Infinitheatre.com

Infinitheatre is generously supported by: Season sponsors CN and Hydro-Quebec

Infinitheatre gratefully acknowledges the support of Ezio Carosielli and the Rialto and St. James Theatres. Infinitheatre also thanks our production sponsor Hotel Le Cantlie Suites

To interview Infinitheatre Artistic Director Guy Sprung or Writer Oren Safdie and/or any participant of Mr. Goldberg Goes To Tel Aviv –
Media Relations: Gen Blouin, gen@genesispr.com (514) 887-8187