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The New Black Fest at The Lark to Explore “Black Progress, Black Erasure” in Sixth Annual Festival

Lark News
A compilation of images of the artists participating in The New Black Fest at The Lark. Top row, left to right: Headshots of Pascale Armand, Erika Dickerson-Despenza, James Ijames. Bottom row, left to right: Donja Love, Robyne Walker Murphy, Yoruba Richen

NEW YORK, NY –The New Black Fest and The Lark, two theater organizations dedicated to celebrating and advocating for stories that uplift the wide range of experiences in our complex world, are proud to announce the sixth 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 include a kick-off panel, an open-mic style evening inspired by The Moth, talkbacks, and staged readings of three plays-in-progress. The festival will take place April 1-5, 2019, and will feature work by Tony-nominee Pascale Armand ($#!thole Country Clapback), 2018 Van Lier New Voices Fellow at The Lark Erika Dickerson-Despenza ([hieroglyph]), and 2017 Whiting Award-winner James Ijames (Tank Stranger Sees the Face of the Divine in the Condensation of a Water Glass).

The theme of this year’s festival, Black Erasure, Black Progress was conceived by Keith Josef Adkins, Artistic Director and Co-Founder of The New Black Fest. “It's no secret the Black community in America has always been in a constant state of transformation and adjustment,” said Adkins. “Laws and rules based in white entitlement, racism and supremacy have dictated (or attempted to dictate) our momentum and progress. However, despite these acts (or attempts) of erasure, the black community remains resilient. I wanted this year's festival to speak to the double experience of erasure and progress in our communities and lives.”

The festival will kick-off with a panel discussion on this theme, moderated by Adkins, and featuring playwright and 2018 Laurents/Hatcher Foundation Award-winner Donja R. Love (Sugar in Our Wounds, Fireflies), social justice arts and cultural leader Robyne Walker Murphy, who currently serves at the Executive Director of Groundswell, a youth development program that uses public art making to ignite personal and societal change, and documentary filmmaker and NAACP Image Award-nominee Yoruba Richen (The New Black, Promised Land).

Recent plays developed through The New Black Fest at The Lark that have received subsequent productions, readings, and honors include Donja R. Love’s soft (New York Stage & Film), Jocelyn Bioh’s School Girls; or The African Mean Girls Play (Center Theatre Group, MCC, Kansas City Rep, and others) Ngozi Anyanwu’s Nike; or, We Don’t Need Another Hero (The Kilroy’s List 2017), Lenelle Moïse’s Merit (The Kilroy’s List 2016) and James Anthony Tyler’s Artney Jackson (Williamstown Theatre Festival). Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage (Sweat) is a member of the advisory board of The New Black Fest, and has said of the festival at The Lark, “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 1, 2019 at the Apollo Theater Soundstage, located at 253 West 125th Street. All other events will take place April 2–5, 2019 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, reservations are required. For more information, visit The Lark’s website at

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

The Lark is ADA accessible. For specific questions or requests regarding accessibility, contact Megan McClain at 212-246-2676 or

MONDAY, APRIL 1, 2019 at 7:00PM
Kick-Off Panel: Black Progress, Black Erasure
Moderated by Keith Josef Adkins

Featuring Donja R. Love, Robyne Walker Murphy, and Yoruba Richen
*This event will take place at the Apollo Theater Soundstage (253 West 125th Street)

TUESDAY, APRIL 2, 2019 at 7:00PM
Storyteller’s Night
Inspired by The Moth

Hear from The New Black Fest at The Lark featured storytellers in this open-mic style event inspired by The Moth! Three curated artists will share theatrical, first person accounts of true stories from their lives, followed by a slam open to members of the public. We will begin taking sign-ups for the slam in-person, starting at 6:00pm on the night of the event. Five minute max for slam pieces. First come first served!

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 3, 2019 at 7:00PM
$#!thole Country Clapback
By Pascale Armand

A rebuttal to Donald Trump's comment about allowing only "people from shithole countries" entrance to the United States, and a chronicle of the playwright's family's journey to American citizenship.

THURSDAY, APRIL 4, 2019 at 7:00PM
Tank Stranger Sees the Face of the Divine in the Condensation of a Water Glass
By James Ijames

The Stranger family are weird and Tank Stranger is the weirdest of them all. So weird he might be aliens...or part alien? Bi-terrestrial? In this, super black, super futuristic retelling of the birth of Dionysus, the Stranger family discovers one of their own is from another planet and has to choose whether to stay on this slowly warming dumpster fire called earth or go to another world in another galaxy where the people live like gods and drink sunlight like water.

FRIDAY, APRIL 5, 2019 at 7:00PM
by Erika Dickerson-Despenza

Two months after Hurricane Katrina, 13-year-old Davis and her father Ernest find themselves in Chicago. With her mother dedicated to the fight for Black land ownership in New Orleans and her father committed to starting a new life in Chicago, divorce threatens to further separate a family already torn apart, and Davis is left hanging in the balance. [hieroglyph] explores Davis' experience navigating the Chicago public school system while silently coping with the PTSD of a secret assault at the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina.


Donja R. Love is an Afro-Queer playwright, poet, and filmmaker from Philadelphia. He's the recipient of the 2018 Laurents/Hatcher Foundation Award and the 2017 Princess Grace Playwriting Award. He’s The Lark's 2016 Van Lier New Voices Playwriting Fellow, The Playwrights Realm’s 2016/2017 Writing Fellow, 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 had productions at Manhattan Theatre Club (Sugar in Our Wounds) and Atlantic Theater Company (Fireflies). He’s the co-host of Off Book, a podcast on Black theatre; and 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: The Love* Plays and soft.

Robyne Walker Murphy is a nationally recognized social justice arts and cultural leader and youth worker. In 2016, she began her appointment as the Executive Director at Groundswell, a social justice, youth development program that uses the transformative power of public art making to ignite personal and societal change. To date, Groundswell has installed over 500 murals in all five boroughs of New York City. Previous to her position at Groundswell, Robyne served as director of membership development and engagement at the National Guild for Community Arts Education, working closely with a national network of community arts organizations. Robyne created the Guild's first network for leaders of color in the arts, ALAANA (African, Latin, Asian, Arabic, Native American) to raise the profile of work being led by people of color (POC) in the arts, increase POC access to sustained resources, and invest in the growth and leadership of people of color in the field of community arts education. This role was deeply rooted in her work serving for seven years as the director of the DreamYard Art Center, located on the ground floor of an affordable housing unit in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. Under her leadership, DreamYard Art Center’s offerings expanded from three programs serving high school students to 16 multi-disciplinary art and college readiness programs for young people in grades PreK-12. In 2012, DreamYard Art Center was recognized by the White House as one of the top 12 out of school programs in the nation. Robyne accepted the award from First Lady Michelle Obama at a White House ceremony. Robyne has conducted workshops about art and social justice at conferences and institutions across the country including: New York University, City College, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center, the Bronx Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall, and the National Guild’s Conference for Community Arts Education (Chicago/Los Angeles). Robyne is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University where she majored in English with an emphasis in African American Literature. She has delivered keynote addresses on liberatory education at the University of Chicago, Seattle Museum of Art, and Harvard Graduate School of Education. Robyne obtained her MFA in acting from the University of Washington’s Professional Actor Training Program. She resides in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, Tarik Murphy, and her son, Ras.

Yoruba Richen is a documentary filmmaker whose work has been featured on PBS, New York Times Op Doc, Frontline Digital, New York Magazine’s website -The Cut, The Atlantic, and Field of Vision.  Her latest film The Green Book: Guide to Freedom was broadcast on the Smithsonian Channel in February 2019. Yoruba’s last feature documentary, The New Black won multiple festival awards and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and a GLAAD Media Award.  It was broadcast on PBS’s Independent Lens. Her previous film Promised Land, won the Fledgling Fund award for social issue documentary and was broadcast on POV. Yoruba won a Clio award for her short film about the Grammy-nominated singer Andra Day. She has also won the Creative Promise Award at Tribeca All Access and was a Sundance Producers Fellow. Yoruba is a featured TED Speaker, a Fulbright fellow, a Guggenheim fellow and a 2016 recipient of the Chicken & Egg Breakthrough Filmmaker Award. She was chosen for the Root 100s list of African Americans 45 years old and younger who are responsible for the year’s most significant moments and themes. Yoruba is director of the documentary program at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.


The New Black Fest is a theater organization committed to celebrating insurgent voices within the diverse African Diaspora through theater, film and discussion. The New Black Fest is a gathering of artists, thinkers, activists and audiences who are dedicated to stretching, interrogating and uplifting the Black aesthetic in the 21st century. The New Black Fest has developed many artists including Mfoniso Udofia, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Dennis Allen II, Eisa Davis and more. It has partnered with the National Black Theatre, 651 ARTS, the BRIC Arts/Media/Brooklyn, the Classical Theatre of Harlem and more. It also co-founded the American Slavery Project as well as commissioned Facing Our Truth: 10-Minute Plays on Trayvon, Race and Privilege, HANDS UP: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments, and Un-Tamed: Hair Body Attitude - Short Plays by Black Women (in collaboration with Dominique Morisseau).

Keith Josef Adkins (Artistic Director) is a playwright whose work includes The People Before the Park (Premiere Stages), Pitbulls (Rattlestick), Safe House (Aurora Theatre, Cincinnati Playhouse, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis), among others. His play The Last Saint on Sugar Hill received its New York City premiere in 2013 at Dr. Barbara Ann Teer’s National Black Theater under the direction of Seret Scott and earned six 2014 Audelco nominations. Other plays include The Migrant's Fight, Sugar and Needles, The Final Daze, among others.  He is currently under commission by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Keith is currently writing a screenplay for James Franco's Rabbit Bandini production company and is a writer for CBS' The Good Fight.

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