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A Closer Look: The New Black Fest at The Lark 2019

Playwrights’ Corner

The New Black Fest at The Lark is back for its sixth season! This festival is a week-long event celebrating diverse and provocative work in a festival of Black theater artists from throughout the Diaspora. With talkbacks, panels, and public staged readings for a series of plays in progress, The New Black Fest at The Lark aims to gather artists, thinkers, activists, and audiences who are dedicated to uplifting the multiplicity of the Black aesthetic.

This season will feature plays by Pascale Armand, Erika Dickerson-Despenza, and James Ijames. In order to give audiences a closer look at the plays and how they engage with this year's festival theme, "Black Progress, Black Erasure", Communications Associate Christopher Reyes captured some of the writers main inspirations and aspirations for their work in the interviews below. Check out what they had to say, then RSVP for the readings!

$#!thole Country Clapback by Pascale Armand

[heiroglyph] by Erika Dickerson-Despenza

videos by Christopher Reyes

and finally...

Tank Stranger Sees the Face of the Divine in the Condensation of a Water Glass by James Ijames

Philly-based playwright James Ijames sent his answers in the old-fashioned way! (You know, email).

CHRISTOPHER REYES: Can you give a brief synopsis of Tank Stranger Sees the Face of the Divine in the Condensation of A Water Glass?

JAMES IJAMES: Tank Stranger is a typical black teenager who wakes up on the morning of his 18th birthday and can no longer see his reflection in the mirror. This is the first in a series of changes that are transforming him. He lives with his Aunts Vonn and Sephine who have devoted their entire lives to raising him after his mother disappears from his life. On this day, the whole family has to figure out what to do with the imminent transformation of Tank.

CR: What was the inception of this play?

JI: I initially set out to write a play about the power of representation and what happens when the world doesn’t offer reflections of yourself. Growing up black and gay in the south I was completely deprived of myself in the media and really in my community. As I wrote the play, I leaned into the science fiction of the story. The social commentary is still present but is not as primary as it was in the beginning.

CR: What do you think about this year's theme: "Black Progress, Black Erasure?"

JI: I think this is one of the primary questions around what it means to be black in the
21st century. It is in our DNA to be resilient and to overcome adversity and to this day we continue to be powerful makers of culture, thinkers, activist and policy makers. However, the cost of this resiliency on our mental health, our spiritual maintenance and our physical bodies is tremendous. Additionally, I find that with our increased dependence on technology we are encountering obstacles to actual human interaction. Technology has offered us the platform to galvanize social justice and to build community, but it also places black people in the position of doing a lot emotional labor for other folks. Technology has also positioned our cultural production front and center but with the downside of that culture being free to anyone who wants to use it or profit from it. The tether between Black Progress and Black Erasure is profound.

CR: How do you think Tank Stranger Sees the Face of the Divine in the Condensation of A Water Glass fits into this theme?

JI: The play is about Tank literally losing himself to an outside force that wants to transform him. I think the play talks about the ideas I just mentioned through allegory. With Tank and his family sort of standing in for blackness and the extraterrestrial force representing everything that want to bend us into submission and to, in a way, steal us from ourselves.

CR: What inspires you as a playwright?

JI: I’m inspired a lot by science fiction and the black church. Those two things feel very antithetical as I type them but fundamentally, they are both trying to explain and understand and even prevent catastrophe. I grew up in the black church and there is something about that experience that frames anything that you make. Call and response music, possession, community building and declarative speaking seem really natural to me and delight me. Science fiction just was an escape for me as a kid. I read a lot of comic books, so I began to really understand dialogue as a storytelling tool early on. I loved movies like
Close Encounters and Alien. There is a freedom in both of these elements that I hope I’m achieve in my writing.