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Fifth Annual The New Black Fest at The Lark Returns with a Focus on Black Love, Black Space, and Solidarity

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Headshots of (from left to right) France_Luce Benson, Donja R. Love, Liza Jessie Peterson, and Jonathan Payne

NEW YORK, NY –The New Black Fest and The Lark, two theater organizations dedicated to celebrating and advocating for stories that explore the intersection of art and social justice, are proud to announce the fifth annual The New Black Fest at The Lark. This week-long event is aimed at showcasing diverse and provocative work in a festival of Black theater artists from throughout the Diaspora, and will feature talkbacks, a panel event, and staged readings of four plays-in-progress. The festival will take place April 9-13, 2018, and will include works by 2017 Djerassi Writer in Residence France-Luce Benson (Deux Femmes On the Edge De La Revolution), 2018 Laurents/Hatcher Foundation Award recipient Donja R. Love (soft), 2015 Princess Grace Award-Winner Jonathan Payne (Brother Rabbit), and artist, activist, and The New Black Fest alum Liza Jessie Peterson (Sistergurls and the Squirrel) who has performed excerpts of her one-person play The Peculiar Patriot in over 35 penitentiaries across the country.

The theme of this year’s festival, Black Love, Black Space, and Solidarity, was conceived by Keith Josef Adkins, Artistic Director and Co-Founder of The New Black Fest, in response to the world’s continued shifting. The festival will kick-off with a panel discussion on this theme, moderated by Adkins, and featuring Keith A. Beauchamp (Filmmaker, The Untold Story of Emmet Louis Till), C.A. Johnson (Playwright), Dominique Morisseau (Playwright, TV Writer, Actor, and Social Justice Activist), and Quentin Walcott (anti-violence activist, educator, and facilitator).

“As the worId continues to shift and reshape, I found myself asking: ‘what now?’” said Adkins. “After communing with some really smart and compassionate people in the community, the answer was clear: commit ourselves to Black love, Black space, and solidarity. What does that look and sound like today?”

Adkins’ focus on community cuts to the heart of why The New Black Fest and The Lark have sustained this collaboration through to its fifth anniversary.

"The Lark is honored to continue our partnership with The New Black Fest,” said Lloyd Suh, Director of Artistic Programming at The Lark. “Keith’s approach to curating a robust conversation around urgent new plays is grassroots advocacy at its most potent. These plays and playwrights, in conversation with The New Black Fest and Lark communities, provide an extraordinary opportunity to explore the varied ways that theatermakers can challenge the present moment and uplift visionary ideas.”

“The New Black Fest is an exciting venture of bringing Black artists and arts to the forefront of the American Theater conversation,” added Morisseau. “Steeped in the ancient activism of the Black Arts Movement, but also cloaked in a new pedagogy that breaks old tropes and makes space for new identity consciousness, the New Black Fest is one of the nation's leading creative platforms for contemporary Black artists. And I'm here for all of it.”

Through a diverse portfolio of fellowships, residencies, workshops, and partnerships such as the one with The New Black Fest, The Lark has provided a platform for voices to enter the evolving national repertoire. Recent plays developed through The New Black Fest at The Lark that have received subsequent honors and productions include Ngozi Anyanwu’s Nike; or, We Don’t Need Another Hero (The Kilroy’s List 2017), Jocelyn Bioh’s School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play (MCC), Lenelle Moïse’s Merit (The Kilroy’s List 2016) and James Anthony Tyler’s Artney Jackson (Williamstown Theatre Festival). Playwright Lynn Nottage (Sweat) is a member of the advisory board of The New Black Fest, and has said of the festival, “This [event] is not about separation, it’s about inclusion. It’s about inviting people who don’t get access.”

The Kick-Off Panel will take place on April 9 at a location to be determined. The public readings will take place April 10–13, 2018 in The Lark’s BareBones® Studio, located at 311 West 43rd Street, on the 5th Floor. Each reading will be followed by a talkback and reception. All events are free of charge, though reservations are required. For more information, visit The Lark’s website or The New Black Fest's website.

The New Black Fest is supported through grants to The Lark from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.


SCHEDULE

MONDAY, APRIL 9, 2018 at 7:00PM
Kick-Off Panel: Black Love, Black Space, and Solidarity

Featuring: Keith Josef Adkins, Keith A. Beauchamp, C.A. Johnson, Dominique Morisseau, and Quentin Walcott.

TUESDAY, APRIL 10, 2018 at 7:00PM
Sistergurls and the Squirrel by Liza Jessie Peterson

Kitty runs an erotic product business out of her home, a sales-depot of sorts. Several women gather regularly to gather merchandise and get party assignments. They are not sex workers but rather sell products and host sex-toy parties around town. Kitty's sister is Karmica SutraQuita Jones (from Peterson’s Chiron’s Homegurl Healer Howls) and after a squirrel jumps into the open window, chaos ensues, a family secret is revealed and old wounds come to the surface to be healed.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 11, 2018 at 7:00PM
soft by Donja R. Love

Slammed against a poetic backdrop of Urban America, Mr. Isaiah, a recent hire at a disciplinary boarding high school, is ready to make a difference in the lives of his six male students. When one of his boys commits suicide he is plagued with the questions: Where do Black and Brown boys go when they die? And what makes someone’s struggle so unbearable that they'd take their own life? While seeking answers to this question, he sees the sorrows that each of his boys dances with, and is reminded of his own.

THURSDAY, APRIL 12, 2018 at 7:00PM
Deux Femmes On the Edge De La Revolution by France-Luce Benson

A pig is sacrificed, a goddess seduces a young bride, and enslaved and self-liberated Africans on the island of San Domingue rise up to end slavery and destroy colonialism. A story of the Haitian Revolution from the perspective of two women - an enslaved healer of African nobility, and a French woman sold into marriage. The two form an unlikely alliance on the battle fields of San Domingue, and, like the revolution, their journeys will forever change the course of history. 

FRIDAY, APRIL 7, 2017 at 7:00PM
Brother Rabbit by Jonathan Payne

An Easter Play with a false rabbit and a dead Christ, where the scattered tribes of the inner city are alone against the horrors of a terrible plague. Brother Rabbit questions the influence of the church in the Black Community. An institution once so rooted in the upward mobility of a people, may have tragically fallen out of the prestige it once had so long ago.


ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHTS

France-Luce Benson graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with an M.F.A. in Dramatic Writing, and holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Florida International University. She is a two-time recipient of the Shubert Foundation Fellowship Award. Her play Fati’s Last Dance received the Lorraine Hansberry Award for Playwriting from the Kennedy Center (Honorable Mention), was one of six plays selected for the inaugural Ignition Festival at Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago, a finalist for the Theodore Ward prize given by Columbia College, and the winner of the Mary Marlin Fisher Award given by Carnegie Mellon University. Most recently, Fati’s Last Dance was featured at Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Octoberfest 2010. Also at EST, Risen from the Dough was produced in Going to the River 2009: River Crosses River Festival, Silence of the Mambo, Destiny’s Edge, Ascension, and Floating Under Water have all had readings and/or workshops at previous EST/GTTR festivals. In 2010 Ms. Benson founded and served as Executive Director for CAFÉ (Caribbean Association for Females in Entertainment) and produced Kijan Pou’N Geri? at the Abe Burrows Theatre, to benefit Haiti’s Earthquake victims. She has served as a Teaching Artist for Manhattan Theatre Club, the Paul Robeson Theatre, is a Playwriting Workshop Leader for Young Playwrights, Inc., an Adjunct Professor for Lehman College.

Donja R. Love is an Afro-Queer playwright, poet, and filmmaker from Philadelphia. He's the 2018 Laurents/Hatcher Foundation Award recipient, the 2017 Princess Grace Playwriting Fellow, a Eugene O’ Neill 2017 National Playwrights Conference finalist, The Lark's 2016 Van Lier New Voices Playwriting Fellow, The Playwrights Realm’s 2016-2017 Writing Fellow, the 2016 Arch and Bruce Brown Playwriting Award recipient, and the 2011 Philadelphia Adult Grand Slam Poetry Champion. His work has been developed at Manhattan Theatre Club, Rising Circle Theatre, The Lark, and The Playwrights Realm. He’s the co-founder of The Each-Other Project, an organization that helps build community and provide visibility, through art and advocacy, for LGBTQ People of Color. Select stage-plays include: a trilogy which explores Queer Love* during pivotal moments in Black History, The Love* Plays (Sugar in Our Wounds, which has a 2018 World Premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club; Fireflies; In The Middle), and soft. Select film work: Modern Day Black Gay (web series), and Once A Star (short film). Training: Juilliard, Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program.

Jonathan Payne’s work has been produced and developed at the Tristan Bates Theatre (UK), Ars Nova, Fringe Festival NYC, The Bushwick Starr, and the Fire This Time Festival. He was a proud fellow at New Dramatists, Playwrights Realm, and The Dramatist Guild, as well as an Ars Nova Play Group member 2014-15. Awards include the Princess Grace Award (2015), Holland New Voices Award (2014), Rosa Parks Award (2011), John Cauble Short Play Award (2002). He received a BA from the GSA Conservatoire (UK) and an MFA in Playwriting from Tisch School of the Arts. He now attends the Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program at the Juilliard School.

Liza Jessie Peterson is a renowned actress, poet, playwright, educator, and activist who has been steadfast in her commitment to incarcerated populations both professionally and artistically, but specifically with adolescent boys and girls detained at Rikers Island for eighteen years. She has worked as a program counselor for the Department of Corrections, a reentry specialist, a teaching artist (with poetry and theater), GED instructor for the Board of Education at Rikers Island, and a life skills workshop facilitator. She was recently featured in Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th (Netflix) and was a consultant on Bill Moyers documentary RIKERS (PBS). She has written several plays, including The Peculiar Patriot, which she performed excerpts of in over 35 penitentiaries across the country, and opened for Angela Davis at Columbia University’s conference on mass incarceration. Also known for her exceptional poetic skills, Liza began her poetry career at the Nuyorican Poets Café and was a vital member of the enclave of notable poets who were part of the “underground slam poetry” movement. It was this electric group of artists that inspired Russell Simmons to bring “spoken word” to HBO where Liza appeared on two episodes of Def Poetry. As an actress Liza appeared in several feature films: Love the Hard Way (costarring with Pam Grier and Adrien Brody), Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, K. Shalini’s A Drop of Life, and Jamie Catto’s What About Me. Liza’s first book, ALL DAY; A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids, was released in Spring 2017.


ABOUT THE PANELISTS

Keith A. Beauchamp found his calling as an independent filmmaker through his documentary, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, about the story of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was murdered in 1955 for whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. Since his experience making this award-winning and Emmy-nominated film, Beauchamp has become passionate about seeking justice for the “voiceless” and often assists the FBI in investigating unsolved civil rights murders under their Civil Rights Cold Case Initiative. His relationship with the Bureau has led him to produce and direct several critically acclaimed and award-winning documentary reality series:  Murder in Black & White hosted by Rev. Al Sharpton for TV One Networks, Wanted Justice: Johnnie Mae Chappell for the History Channel and The Injustice Files for Investigation Discovery Network. Beauchamp is currently a producer on the upcoming feature film, Till, which is being directed by Whoopi Goldberg. He is a frequent lecturer at colleges and universities around the country.

C.A. Johnson hails from Metairie Louisiana, but currently lives and writes in Queens, NY. Her plays include Thirst (2017 Kilroys List, upcoming at The Contemporary American Theater Festival), An American Feast (NYU Playwrights HorizonsTheater School), The Climb, All the Natalie Portmans, Mother Tongue and Elroy Learn His Name. She is a member of the 2017 Working Farm at SPACE on Ryder Farm and a Core Writer at the Playwrights Center. She was previously The Lark's 2016-17 Van Lier Playwriting Fellow, a 2016-2017 Dramatists Guild Fellow, and a member of The Civilians R&D Group. Her work has been developed with The Lark, Luna Stage, Open Bar Theatricals, The Dennis and Victoria Ross Foundation, and The Fire This Time Festival. Most recently, C.A. was named the 2018 P73 Playwriting Fellow and a Sundance/Ucross Fellow. BA: Smith College MFA: NYU.

Dominique Morisseau is the author of The Detroit Project (A 3-Play Cycle) which includes the following plays: Skeleton Crew (Atlantic Theater Company), Paradise Blue (Signature Theatre), and Detroit ’67 (Public Theater, Classical Theatre of Harlem and NBT). Additional plays include: Pipeline (Lincoln Center Theatre), Sunset Baby (LAByrinth Theatre); Blood at the Root (National Black Theatre) and Follow Me To Nellie’s (Premiere Stages). She is also the book writer on the new musical Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations (Berkeley Repertory Theatre). Dominique is an alumna of The Public Theater Emerging Writer’s Group, Women’s Project Lab, and Lark Playwrights Workshop and has developed work at Sundance Lab, Williamstown Theatre Festival and Eugene O’Neil Playwrights Conference. Her work has been commissioned by Steppenwolf Theater, Women’s Project, South Coast Rep, People’s Light and Theatre, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival/Penumbra Theatre. She most recently served as Co‐Producer on the Showtime series Shameless. Awards include: Spirit of Detroit Award, PoNY Fellowship, Sky‐Cooper Prize, TEER Trailblazer Award, Steinberg Playwright Award, Audelco Awards, NBFT August Wilson Playwriting Award, Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama, OBIE Award, Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellowship, and being named one of Variety’s Women of Impact for 2017-18.

Quentin Walcott is the Co-Executive Director of CONNECT, a nonprofit organization in New York City dedicated to eliminating interpersonal violence and promoting gender justice. Mr. Walcott’s work over the past 20 years has focused on engaging men and boys as allies and activists in the movement to prevent and end interpersonal and gender-based violence. Before taking sharing the helm of CONNECT in 2013 along with Rev. Dr. Sally MacNichol, he developed the CONNECT Training Institute, the leading anti-violence learning facility in NYC, directed CONNECT’s Community Empowerment Program and the organization’s groundbreaking work to engage men and boys in ending gender-based violence. Mr. Walcott is one of the U.S. leaders chosen for the 3rd cohort of NoVo Foundation’s Move To End Violence (MEV) initiative. He has been a featured speaker in international anti-violence forums leads trainings in Brazil, Canada, Fiji, France, India, Kenya, South Africa and Thailand. In June of 2016, he was invited as a plenary speaker along with actor-activist, Matt McGory, at the White House Summit on Women, discussing the importance of engaging Men and boys in the work to end violence. He co-founded and organizes the Father’s Day Pledge Against Violence, an annual event now entering its 9th year and observed in many U.S. cities. Mr. Walcott collaborated with Cornell University ILR School to create Men and Women as Allies (MWAA), a training program to address intimate partner violence in the workplace. MWAA program has trained approximately 3000 members at several CWA Locals in NYC and upstate NY. In 2013, he was a recipient of the United Nations Trust Fund Award along with Mariska Hargitay and Nicole Kidman.

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