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Third Annual 'The New Black Fest at The Lark' Returns with a Focus on Black Sustainability

Lark News
The New Black Fest logo, underneath it the headshots of the Ngozi Anyanwu, NSangou Njikam, Liza Jessie Peterson, and James Anthony Tyler. Underneath them, the Lark logo.

NEW YORK, NY –The New Black Fest and The Lark, two theater organizations dedicated to celebrating and advocating for extraordinary and diverse stories, are proud to announce the third annual The New Black Fest at The Lark. The week-long event, with talkbacks and panel events surrounding the 10-hour rehearsal processes and public staged readings of four of plays in progress, is aimed at showcasing diverse and provocative work in a festival of Black theater artists from throughout the Diaspora. The festival will take place April 3-7, 2017, and will feature public readings of plays in process by CTG/Humanitas Award winner Ngozi Anyanwu (Nike or we don’t need another hero), co-founder of The Continuum Project, Inc. and The New Black Fest playwright alumnus NSangou Njikam (When We Left), artist and activist Liza Jesse Peterson (Chiron’s Homegurl Healer Howls) who has performed excerpts of her one-person play The Peculiar Patriot in over 35 penitentiaries across the country, and Paul Robeson Award winner James Anthony Tyler (Artney Jackson).

The theme of this year’s festival, Black Sustainability, was conceived by Keith Josef Adkins, Artistic Director and Co-Founder of The New Black Fest, as an exploration for an answer to the question, “What does it take for a group of people, or an individual, to wake up every day and seek out normalcy while also pushing against legislative and social oppression?”

“Here’s the thing: navigating extreme forms of oppression is nothing new to the black experience,” said Adkins. “Our grandparents and great-great grandparents spent nearly every moment of their existence attempting social normalcy, while navigating extreme forms of institutional oppression. By example, they showed us what oppression looks like and how to survive it. Sometimes even fight it tooth and nail.”

The festival will kick-off with a panel discussion titled “Black Sustainability in the Trump Era,” that will feature Yvette Carnell (journalist and Founder of BreakingBrown), Tressie McMillan Cottom Ph.D (writer, researcher, and Assistant Professor of Sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University), Duarte Geraldino (journalist and former Wall Street corporate finance analyst), Dr. R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy (Associate Professor of Sociology in Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership and the Black Studies Program at the City College of New York), and Dorian T. Warren (President, Center for Community Change Action). The speakers and audience will engage in a collective conversation around survival, and the impact the presidential election of Donald Trump has had on shaping the way individuals in the artistic community articulate their politics and points of view.

“In truth, I decided on the theme several months prior to Trump’s election, but aware his presidency was a possibility,” said Adkins. “Since his inauguration many have been forced to become even more fearless in our art-making. We, for the most part, have not been blindsided by Trump’s election; we have been forced to rethink our comfort levels and sharpen our tools of resistance. We’re living (and rethinking) through a period in our history that challenges our notion of earned liberty, allegiances and endurance. It is a time for fearless art, uncompromised self-definition and perhaps strategic sustainability. It is time for potent conversations about our truths that lead us into courageous action.

The New Black Fest at The Lark will examine the definition and possibility of normalcy in our current cultural climate, how sustainability has been shaped in the past and present, and whether fantasy, unapologetic truth, resistance, and fear, can serve as forms of sustainability, forms of resistance, or simply self-definition. “Or perhaps those things are inherently intertwined,” said Adkins. Through the panel discussion, the plays, and talkbacks, The New Black Fest and The Lark hope to provide an opportunity to build a community conversation around the development and power of new plays.

"Perhaps art’s greatest value is that it helps us see the world through other people’s eyes, so that we may recognize our common humanity and act with compassion,” said John Clinton Eisner, Founder and Artistic Director of The Lark. “Collective conversation about enfranchisement and pluralism is critical, and our partnership with The New Black Fest is core to our mission of nurturing a community eager to engage."

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 substantially developed at The Lark include Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew,Kimber Lee’s brownsville song (b-side for tray)Rajiv Joseph’s Guards at the TajKatori Hall’s The Mountaintop, Lenelle Moïse’s Merit and Jocelyn Bioh’s School Girls or The African Mean Girls Play, both of which were developed through The New Black Fest at The Lark and were featured on the 2016 Kilroy’s List, and Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, which opens on Broadway later this month. Nottage is also 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 3, 2017 at The 52nd Street Project, located at 789 10th Avenue, in New York City. Doors open at 6:30pm. The public readings will take place April 4–7, 2017 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.

The New Black Fest is supported in part by a special grant from the Ford Foundation.

Additional support provided 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.