In October 2020, Parent Artist Advocacy League (PAAL) and Blackboard Plays announced an open call for submissions to The Black Motherhood* and Parenting New Play Festival. After a one week extension to the November 9th Deadline, the final plays were reviewed by the inaugural committee, composed of: Martha Redbone, Tamara Anderson and Sacha Wynne. Playwrights who identify as Black Parents or Caregivers were invited to submit up to 10 pages of work that they would develop into a One Act. The ultimate goal of the festival is to annually commit all proceeds available to PAAL and Blackboard from the festival to a PAAL/Blackboard Plays Childcare Grant for a Black Playwright Parent.
The 4 finalists are: Melda Beaty, Eureka Lewis, Julie Taiwo Oni and Cynthia G. Robinson.
Each playwright and their play has been paired with a partner theatre. The four partner theatres have a vested interest in supporting the new work of Black parents and are all lead by mothers, and have Black mothers in leadership at every one. Some theatres and even local artists are providing dramaturgical support, making this a truly national digital festival of new work. Each week from mid May through mid-June, a new finalist’s play will be streamed on bmpfest.veeps.com. Ticket prices begin at $10, with proceeds going to support the funding of a new grant and resources for future Black parent playwrights. Support the grant and the festival at bit.ly/bmpgive
In Justin’s Side, by Eureka Lewis, a typical day at Roman Middle School takes a drastic turn when an incident amongst classmates warrants a parent/principal meeting. This presentation of the play is made possible through a partnership with Oregon Shakespeare Festival and is directed by Ellen Valencia. Justin’s Side opens the festival, streaming Thursday, May 20th until Monday, May 24th at 7pm.
In WHAT IF…? by Cynthia G. Robinson: A young woman’s need to fight for justice unleashes her mother’s fears for her child’s life. It is produced with Bishop Arts Theatre Center and Directed by Mary E. Hodges (Slave Play, Broadway). WHAT IF…? streams Thursday, May 27th at 7pm until Monday, May 31st at 7pm.
Thirty by Melda Beaty is an explosive look at a family generation of Black women caregivers grappling with family secrets. Thirty is produced with the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, and streams Thursday, June 3rd at 7pm until Monday, June 7th at 7pm
In The Break by Julie Taiwo Oni, Jade, a single early-twenties Black boy-mom and influencer, challenges herself to a day sans social media. It is made possible in partnership with Detroit Public Theater. The Break closes the festival, streaming from Thursday, June 10th at 7pm until Monday, June 14th at 7pm.
In advance of the weekly stream, a Panel of the 4 finalists will be streamed on Thursday, May 13th. A Panel of Artistic Directors will be streamed following the 3rd Stream on Thursday, June 3rd. The Production Stage Managers are: Kristina Jackson and Alexis McKay
Nataki Garrett, Artistic Director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, said, “As a mother, an artistic director, and a working director, I am intimately familiar with the challenges of maintaining a career in theater while parenting. We often must be at rehearsals and performances on nights and weekends-the times when we are also most needed at home. The obstacles are even greater for Black writers and artists, who typically are less likely to have the resources to pay for childcare. Oregon Shakespeare Festival is proud to be a partner in this vital new festival, and to support the creation of the grant that it funds.”
“As a Black parent and playwright, I know the positive impact of having a theatre support my full humanity and artistry. I’m honored to be able to help celebrate the new work of Black parents through this collaboration,” said Hana S. Sharif, Augustin Family Artistic Director at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. “The Rep is delighted to partner with PAAL and Blackboard Plays to bring Melba Beaty’s compelling play Thirty to audiences in St. Louis and across the nation.”
Teresa Coleman Wash of Bishop Arts Theatre Center shares, “Perhaps the most fulfilling part about my job is curating what narratives are told on our stage. We are our own secret weapon. That messaging resonated deeply with me deeply when I read Cynthia Robinson’s searing script ‘What IF…?’ We’re privileged to partner with this festival and expand our territory.”
“As a company led by four mothers, Detroit Public Theatre is thrilled and honored to be part of this festival amplifying and celebrating the voices of Black mothers,” said Artistic Leadership team, Courtney Burkett, Sarah Clare Corporandy, Dominique Morisseau and Sarah Winkler.
*PAAL is a transgender and non-binary affirming space. “Mother” and “Motherhood” and their derivatives are used as inclusive terms for anyone who identifies with them.
The project is Executive Produced by Blackboard founder and artistic director, PAAL Producing Director and PAAL Chief Rep of New York City, Garlia Cornelia Jones. Jones joined PAAL as Producing Director in June 2020 after producing Jenni Lamb’s Mother Lode, A PAAL Mother’s Day Benefit in May 2020. She is also PAAL’s first recipient of the PAAL Mother Artist of Color National Childcare Grant. Outside of PAAL and Blackboard Plays, Garlia is also a Line Producer at The Public Theater and one of the 6 producer’s of Harlem9, the Black producing collective responsible for the OBIE award winning, “48Hours in…Harlem” and other sister festivals. Garlia teaches at Wayne State University in Detroit and has written extensively for The Washington Post and multiple publications on her journey through motherhood. Her organization, Blackboard Plays, has over a decade of experience in creating dedicated space for readings, workshops, and other opportunities for Black playwrights.
“Black parenthood is often overlooked in our national and artistic conversations and represented without the nuance that white parents and parenting stories often include,” Garlia adds, “My journey as a parent has been alongside the growth of my artistic career. Blackboard was founded years before I had children, but remained part of my life, exposing me to the inequities in our field towards parents, BIPOC artists and women. PAAL’s entrance into my life has enabled me to find the balance between advocating for others so they are supported in ways I was not and shedding light on the truths in our industry.”
“Dismantling systemic racism through art requires the creation of platforms and opportunities to tell stories that illuminate the reality, obstacles, pain, joy, celebration, humor, revelation, and even mundane aspects of the human experience lived by Black and Indigenous people and People of Color. From the obstacles of increased post-birth mortality rates to some of history’s greatest leaders and game changers, Black parents and families deserve the center-stage visibility of their full range of existence to own their narratives so we can learn, keep active, and create platforms for great art that also serves restorative justice.” adds PAAL founder Rachel Spencer Hewitt.
In order to accomplish this artistic and activist goal on a national scale, PAAL and Blackboard are committed to a Black Exclusive Budget (BEB) for every budget line item. This means that only Black artists and administrators will be compensated in the development and execution of the project (with the exception of the honorariums given to actors in accordance to casting requirements, if necessary).
To donate to this project, visit the BMP Fest Campaign Page. Subscribe here to receive updates on this initiative.