On June 21st, the 2019 DC Black Theatre & Arts Festival kicks off a fifteen day multidisciplinary arts celebration, with loads of theater showcases presented by artists from around the world. It has been ten years since the festival first debuted in the Washington, D.C. area, and it’s grown quite a bit since.
“When it first got started, the idea of the festival was to do seven plays in seven days,” says Crys Brown, president of the DCBTAF. “It transformed every year, and we always have about five percent more acts than we did the previous year. We are up to 150 this year and we still have people wanting to join us.”
The Center for Black Arts and Culture, parent company of the DC Black Theatre & Arts Festival, is a not-for-profit, educational theatre company and has worked hard to make this event something special each year.
“We believe people of color need to have a platform where they can do their work,” Brown says. “There are just not enough platforms, and we want to provide that opportunity. To do theater, and different aspects of it can be very expensive, so one of our goals has always been to keep these as economical as possible, while putting on the best shows as possible.”
She notes people have a lot of great ideas but often there’s no place for those ideas to come to light. That’s where this festival comes in.
“We are giving all the support we possibly can,” Brown says.
In honor of the ten year milestone, the DCBTAF has added music, film, dance and visual arts to its already packed selection of performances. And there’s something for everyone.
“We’ve been so caught up in the day-to-day details, and while we probably should take a breath and celebrate the ten years, we’ve just been so focused on getting good content and programming, which is why we added film this year for the first time and we’ll be seeing a lot more musical acts,” Brown says. “We just want to keep doing the work and look ahead to the next ten years and more.”
“We wanted to have all facets of the arts represented, which is why you will see the visual arts represented, and you’ll hear poetry, because we want all aspects of black art represented,” Brown says.
This year, more than 300 plays were submitted for consideration and 100 were chosen to take part. Those selected fall into three groups—traditional, urban and gospel-style plays.
“We have a team that reads through every script and sometimes they are not ready to be produced on stage. In those cases, we will send them to our Reader Series, so they can be read out loud and get some input to make the play work better,” Brown says.
One of the highlights of the festival will be Sojourner, staged June 21, 25 and 26. Directed by Zuhairah McGill, the play offers an in-depth view of the life of abolitionist Sojourner Truth, the first African American woman in the suffrage movement.
On June 22 and 23, Tubman, a one-woman show by Lacresha Berry, presents the story of Harriet Tubman reimagined in a 21st century view through the eyes of a young woman growing up in Harlem.
From June 28-30, comedian Michael Colyar will be at the festival, performing his dramatic solo show Michael Colyar’s Momma at the THEARC Theater in Anacostia. The play reflects back on how he emerged from a life of cocaine addiction to a comedy career, and highlights the importance of the love and support of his mother and God.
“We’re very excited to have him. He’s a wonderful guy,” Brown says.
Closing out the fesitival will be The Eve of Jackie starring acclaimed singer, actor and songwriter Chester Gregory in a tribute to the life and music of the two-time Grammy Hall of Fame inductee, Jackie Wilson. It will play July 5-7 at THEARC Theatre.
“I love this show. I had the opportunity to see it a couple of years ago when he was here, and we were so lucky he was able to squeeze us into this schedule,” Brown says. “We are very excited about Chester and what he brings to theater. You’ll be laughing, crying and clapping the whole time he is on the stage, he’s just so dynamic.”
Many of the events and shows are family friendly. Brown says it’s important for young black children to experience the arts and theater and participate as much as possible.
“If we don’t get these young folks in, theater will die,” she says. “We have to keep them involved and engaged. One of the ways we do that is with youth volunteers at the festival, because we offer community service hours. We need to keep this going so the art form doesn’t die—especially urban theater. We need to keep that going with each generation.”
One great show for the little ones is Camden Repertory Theatre Company’s The Princess and the Pea, which will run July 6 and 7.
The festival also presents is the annual One-Act Battle, four friendly competitions for best play in the genres of comedy, drama, solo/duo and Anything Goes chosen by the audience. Winners go on to the Championship event, June 28.
“It’s a good way for everyone participating in the festival to get to know one another and it’s also a great way for promoting the shows,” Brown says. “We try to have some fun and let our hair down during a busy time.”
Tickets for all shows range from $10-$25. To purchase, or for more information, visit http://www.dcblacktheatrefestival.com.