ROUNDABOUT THEATRE COMPANY In association with BLACK THEATRE UNITED Announces
THE REFOCUS PROJECT
A multi-year plan to elevate and restore marginalized plays to the American canon.
Year One Artists Include:
Alice Childress, Shirley Graham Du Bois, Angelina Weld Grimké, Zora Neale Hurston, & Samm-Art Williams.
As a theater known for producing revivals, Roundabout Theatre Company is committed to embracing its responsibility to reshape and refocus the parameters of the American theatre canon. Roundabout announces The Refocus Project, an annual program dedicated to elevating rarely produced and formerly marginalized theatrical voices from communities underrepresented or historically overlooked in the American theatre.
The Refocus Project will feature a robust selection of materials, available to industry professionals and the public. Beginning April 23, a resource library built to encourage and assist with future productions of each title will be available in addition to the launch of a weekly online play reading series featuring the selected plays. Roundabout will work with theater makers and artistic directors nationwide to encourage viewership and future engagement in the plays, with the intended goal of future productions of these works at theatres across the country.
Roundabout’s 2021-2022 Broadway season will begin with Trouble in Mind by Alice Childress, who is one of the first five playwrights in The Refocus Project.
The Refocus Project will also offer historical information, educational tools, panel discussions withartists, a “Literary Ancestry” essay series curated by Dave Harris (Roundabout’s Tow Foundation Playwright-in- Residence) and a series finale Community Conversation hosted by Roundabout Education. A partnership with The New York Public Library – spanning its branches, Schomburg Center for Researchin Black Culture, and Library for the Performing Arts – will further engage audiences in these offerings.
The first series of play readings, presented in association with Black Theatre United, will spotlight twentieth-century Black plays and their playwrights: Angelina Weld Grimké, Shirley Graham Du Bois,Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Childress and Samm-Art Williams.
The play series is free of charge. All suggested donations will directly support Black Theatre United.
The second year of The Refocus Project will feature Latinx playwrights. Audiences can access The Refocus Project here.
Leadership support for The Refocus Project is generously provided by the Ford Foundation. Additional support is provided by Bank of America.
“As our theatre begins this long overdue work, I’m grateful for the talented group of artists who have gathered to create Refocus. I’d also like to thank our friends at Black Theatre United, Ford Foundationand Bank of America for joining us,” said Todd Haimes (Artistic Director/CEO). “We look forward to doing our part to realign ourselves with the great works of these American artists.”
“We are thrilled to participate in Roundabout’s Refocus program this spring since our focus at Black Theatre United encompasses inclusion, education and making necessary changes in the business of theater.” – Black Theatre United (provided by Vanessa Williams, Founding Member of BTU and Board Member, Roundabout Theatre Company)
“The process of researching and reading these plays has been an education in both Black history and American theatre history, and it’s been exciting to spend time exploring that intersection,” said Roundabout’s Literary Manager Anna Morton. “We know these writers will inspire playwrights and audiences today if they are simply given the chance to be seen, both through this series and at theatres across the country,” added Roundabout’s Associate Artistic Director Jill Rafson.
“The “Literary Ancestry” essay series for Refocus is about creating a collection of personal craft essays by Black playwrights about a non-living Black playwright that lives in your work,” said Tow Playwright-in- Residence Dave Harris. “I’ve always thought that there was a profound lack of writing by playwrights about other playwrights, and an even greater lack of playwrights writing about themselves, and so I wanted to curate a body of work that aims to honor the craft and tactics of a literary ancestor while also honoring yourself as a playwright who is now a part of that same canon. This canon that is as old as this country itself, and yet is underproduced, understudied, and continuously disrespected by the white- imagined theatre canon that has been institutionalized.”
THE REFOCUS PROJECT: YEAR ONE READINGS
RACHEL by Angelina Weld Grimké (1916), directed by RTC Resident Director Miranda Haymon. April 23, 2021
Living in a northern city at the turn of the 20th century, Rachel Loving is true to her name, exuding warmth and kindness while doting adoringly on any child she meets. But when her mother reveals a brutal story from the family’s past, Rachel is shaken to her core and is forced to confront what it really means to bring a Black child into this world.
Originally produced by the NAACP’s Drama Committee in Washington D.C., Rachel is believedto be the first play by a Black woman professionally produced in the United States.
HOME by Samm-Art Williams (1979), directed by RTC Senior Resident Director Kenny Leon.
April 30, 2021
Is God on vacation in Miami? It certainly seems that way to Cephus Miles, who wonders if anyoneis looking out for him in a world gone mad. Cephus loves the land and wants nothing more than to stay at home in Cross Roads, North Carolina, but fate has other plans in mind. Lost love and lost freedom eventually draw Cephus up north, where the big city just might eat him alive before God ever returns his call.
Home was originally produced by the Negro Ensemble Company at the St. Marks Playhouse, and that production transferred to Broadway in 1980 for an eight-month run that received a Tony nomination for Best Play.
I GOTTA HOME by Shirley Graham Du Bois (1939), directed by Steve H. Broadnax III.
May 7, 2021
Reverend Cobb has a large, boisterous family and the dwindling bank account to match. So whenthe family learns that his long-lost sister is quite possibly the heir to a celebrity fortune, excitementand intrigue brew. But once the enigmatic Aunt Mattie blasts into town, the Cobb family and parsonage discover that things aren’t quite what they seem!
I Gotta Home had an early production by the Gilpin Players at Western Reserve University. In an article on the play, The Cleveland Plain Dealer referred to Graham Du Bois as “One of Yale’s most promising playwrighting students.”
SPUNK by Zora Neale Hurston (1935), directed by Lili-Anne Brown.
May 14, 2021
From the first day that Spunk, a charismatic, guitar-playing wanderer, sets foot in his new home,his bravado and musical talents make him the talk of this rural Florida town. Spunk immediately catches the eye of the lovely, young, and married Evalina Bishop, and their love affair sets off achain of extraordinary events that none of their gossip-loving neighbors will ever forget.
This play is based on Hurston’s short story Spunk which was published by Opportunity Magazine in June 1925. Ten years later, Hurston wrote this theatrical adaptation, which was never published and was considered to be lost for many years until the text was located in 1997.
Note: This is not the 1989 George C. Wolfe play of the same name, based on three Hurston stories.
WINE IN THE WILDERNESS by Alice Childress (1969), directed by Dominique Rider. May 21, 2021
Struggling artist Bill Jameson is working on his masterpiece, a triptych representing the differentaspects of Black womanhood. He has completed his first panel illustrating innocent girlhood and his central panel depicting a regal African queen. As he embarks on the final panel—theunappealing, lost, down-on-her luck woman—in walks Tommy Marie, who looks like the perfect model. But once he gets to know Tommy further, Bill starts to wonder: is there more to the feminine ideal than meets the eye?
The first ever performance of Wine in the Wilderness was televised on WGBH-TV in Boston,Massachusetts as part of the series “On Being Black.” Some networks refused to air the performance across the country, considering it to be too controversial for their viewers due to its depictions of racial issues.
The play selection committee for The Refocus Project’s first year includes Jill Rafson, Associate Artistic Director; Kenny Leon, Senior Resident Director; Anna Morton, Literary Manager; Miranda Haymon, Resident Director; Dave Harris, Tow Playwright-in-Residence; Nicole Tingir, Senior Producer, Artistic Development, with help from artist recommendations and the Roundabout volunteer script readers.
ANGELINA WELD GRIMKÉ (1880-1958) was a poet, playwright, author, and teacher who grew up in Boston, Massachusetts with her father, a prominent lawyer, Democratic Party activist and leader of the NAACP. Upon graduating from the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics in 1902, she taught physical education and English at schools in Washington D.C. and published poetry in journals and anthologies such as Negro Poets and Their Poems, The Poetry of the Negro, The Crisis, The New Negro, and Caroling Dusk. Her anti-lynching play Rachel was first produced by the NAACP in 1916 as a rebuttal against thepopularity of the recently released film The Birth of a Nation. The play was subsequently published in 1920 and is believed to be the first play by a Black woman to be professionally produced in the UnitedStates.
MIRANDA HAYMON (Director, she/they) is a Princess Grace Award/Honoraria-winning director,writer and curator. Recent projects include A Cakewalk (Garage Magazine & Gucci), Really, Really Gorgeous (The Tank), Everybody (Sarah Lawrence College), In the Penal Colony (Next Door @ NYTW, The Tank) and Mondo Tragic (National Black Theater). Miranda is a Resident Director at Roundabout Theatre Company and The Tank, a New Georges Affiliate Artist, a Usual Suspect at NYTW, a Space on Ryder Farm Creative Resident, member of the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab, and the WingspaceMentorship Program. Miranda has held directing fellowships at WP Theater, New York Theatre Workshop, Manhattan Theatre Club, Roundabout Theatre Company and Arena Stage. BA Wesleyan University. www.mirandahaymon.com
SAMM-ART WILLIAMS is a playwright, screenwriter, actor, and producer. As a playwright, Williams has written HOME, Welcome to Black River, Friends, and other plays produced in New York, LosAngeles, and other cities. HOME received a Tony nomination as Best Broadway Play, the Outer Critics Circle Award, a Drama Desk nomination, the NAACP Image Award, and the North Carolina Governor’s Award. For the screen, Samm-Art Williams has written “Solomon Northup’s Odyssey” (PBS), “John Henry” (Showtime), “Badges” (CBS), and episodes for “Cagney and Lacey,” “The New Mike Hammer,” “Miami Vice,” and other programs. He has been nominated for two Emmy Awards. As an actor, he performed in “Blood Simple,” “Huckleberry Finn,” and other feature films. His television acting credits include “Women of Brewster Place,” “Race to the Pole,” “Search for Tomorrow,” and other productions. In addition to his writing and acting credits, he served as Executive Producer of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Martin,” “Good News,” and other television productions. He has received the Guggenheim Fellowship, The National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Playwriting, and other awards for hiswriting.
KENNY LEON (Director) is a Tony and Obie Award-winning and Emmy-nominated Broadway andTelevision director. Most recently, he directed Lifetime’s Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia! set to air this spring. Last year, he directed the Tony-nominated Broadway premiere of Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece, A Soldier’s Play, for which he also received a nomination for Best Director. He also directed The Underlying Chris at Second Stage Theatre Company and the acclaimed production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Delacorte/Shakespeare in the Park. Broadway: A Soldier’s Play; American Son; Children of a Lesser God; Holler If Ya Hear Me; A Raisin in the Sun (Tony Award; 2014); The Mountaintop; Stick Fly; August Wilson’s Fences, Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf. Off- Broadway: Everybody’s Ruby, Emergence-See! (The Public), Smart People (Second Stage). Television: “American Son” (adapted for Netflix), “Hairspray Live!,” “The Wiz Live!,” “Steel Magnolias,” “Dynasty,” “In My Dreams.” Author, Take You Wherever You Go. Artistic Director Emeritus, Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company. Senior Resident Director, Roundabout Theatre Company.
SHIRLEY GRAHAM DU BOIS (1896-1977) was a prominent civil rights activist, playwright, musicologist, and author. In the last quarter of her life, she married W.E.B. Du Bois, the iconic historian,sociologist and author, after a lifelong collaboration championing like-minded social causes. In theatre, Graham Du Bois is most known for authoring and staging Tom Tom: An Epic of Music and the Negro (1932), which is considered to be the first U.S. opera staged by an African American woman. In addition, she has written the plays It’s Morning (1937), Cold Dust (1939), I Gotta Home (1939), Elijah’s Raven’s (1940), Dust to Earth (1940), and Track 13 (1940). She also wrote a series of biographies for young readers of prominent Black figures in American history, as well as of other historical figures. In addition,she authored many notable articles and speeches on the civil rights struggle and other social struggles, and helped found a national television system in Ghana, after her migration to that country. Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, Shirley Graham studied at Oberlin College, Yale University, the Sorbonne in France, Columbia University, Howard University, and Morgan State College. During World War II, she served as the YWCA-USO Director at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, where she lost her position afterdefending the right to protest over racial violence, and then as Field Secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She later helped found the Progressive Party. After marrying W.E.B. Du Bois in 1951, the two spent a decade fighting legal battles resulting from anti-Communist furor. Partly as a result of this, they moved to Ghana, where she continued to champion andprovide guidance to civil rights and anti-colonial leaders in the U.S. and the world, including Malcom
X. Due to political unrest in Ghana, she moved to Egypt and traveled the world for speaking engagements until her death in China in 1977.
STEVE H. BROADNAX III. (Director) Directing credits include various shows and theatre’s nationally and internationally including: Signature Theatre NYC, Actors’ Theatre of Louisville, Hattiloo Theatre, Syracuse Stage, Ensemble Studio Theatre Company NYC, Chautauqua Theatre Company, People’s LightTheatre, Apollo Theatre NYC, Classical Theatre of Harlem, Atlantic Theatre NYC, Detroit Public Theatre, Baltimore Center Stage, Cleveland Playhouse, The Black Theatre Troupe in Phoenix, AZ,Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Moore Theatre in Seattle, Market Theatre Johannesburg SA, The EdinburghFringe Festival in Scotland, National Arts Festival in South Africa, and The Adelaide Arts Festival Australia. Steve is attached to direct Thoughts of A Colored Man on Broadway after a successful run at Center Stage in Baltimore. The Hip Hop Project, an award-winning, full-length original play directed,choreographed, and conceived by Steve, has toured nationally and was showcased at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Other writings include American Taboo, Camouflage (Eugene O’Neil semifinalist), and Bayard Rustin: Inside Ashland (2021 world première at The People’s Light THEATRE Company). As a member of Actor’s Equity Association (AEA) and Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC), Steve has worked nationally and internationally. Steve is also a member of The Ensemble Studio Theatre and the National Theatre Conference in NYC. He as serves as the Resident Director at People’s Light Theatre. Training: BFA Conservatory of Fine Arts Webster University, MFA Penn State University. Steve is currently a Professor of Theatre at Penn State University.
ZORA NEALE HURSTON (1903-1960), a prolific writer and folklorist, was a central figure of theHarlem Renaissance. Born in Alabama to formerly enslaved parents, Hurston moved to Eatonville,Florida with her family as a young child and always considered it to be her home. She is best known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God but also wrote essays, articles, short stories, an autobiography, and ten plays, including Color Struck, Mule Bone (a collaboration with Langston Hughes), and Polk County. Hurston first won acclaim for her writing in New York City, where she completed her collegeeducation at Barnard College. It was there that she joined a community of artists such as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Ethel Waters, with whom she would collaborate and publish work that contributed to the considerable output of the Harlem Renaissance.
LILI-ANNE BROWN (Director). A native Chicagoan, works as a director, actor and educator, both locally and regionally. Recently she helmed the world premieres of Ike Holter’s Lottery Day at Goodman Theatre and Put Your House in Order at LaJolla Playhouse. The former artistic director of Bailiwick Chicago, she directed Dessa Rose (Jeff Award), Passing Strange (BTA Award), See What I Wanna See (Steppenwolf Theatre Garage Rep), and the world premiere of Princess Mary Demands Your Attention byAaron Holland, while producing several other award-winning shows during her tenure. Other directingcredits include School Girls; or The African Mean Girls Play (Goodman
Theatre), The Color Purple (Drury Lane Theatre), P.Y.G. or the Mis-Edumacation of Dorian Belle(Jackalope Theatre), The Total Bent (Haven Theatre w/About Face), Caroline, or Change (Firebrand Theatre w/TimeLine), Tilikum by Kristiana Colon (world premiere, Sideshow Theatre), Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story (American Blues Theatre), Hairspray (Skylight Music Theatre), The Wolf at the End of the Block (16th Street Theatre), Marie Christine (Boho Theatre), Peter and the Starcatcher (Metropolis Performing Arts), The Wiz (Kokandy Productions; BroadwayWorld Award), Xanadu (American Theatre Company), Jabari Dreams of Freedom by Nambi E. Kelley (world premiere, Chicago Children’s Theatre), American Idiot (Northwestern University); the national tour of Jesus Snatched My Edges; and Little Shop of Horrors, Unnecessary Farce, Cabaret, Sweet Charity, and The 25th…Spelling Bee, among others, at Timber Lake Playhouse where she was an Artistic Associate. She has received 3 Jeff Awards for Best Director of a Musical. Member of SDC, AEA, SAG-AFTRA, and a graduate of Northwestern University. www.lilbrownchicago.com
ALICE CHILDRESS (Playwright). Born in 1916 and raised during the Harlem Renaissance under the watchful eye of her beloved maternal grandmother, Alice Childress grew up to become first an actress and then a playwright and novelist. A founding member of the American Negro Theatre, she wrote her first play, Florence, in 1949. The script was written in one night on a dare from close friend and actor SidneyPoitier, who had told Alice that he didn’t think a great play could be written overnight. She proved him wrong, and the play was produced Off-Broadway in 1950. Childress became in 1952 the first African-American woman to see her play (Gold Through The Trees) professionally produced in New York. In1955, Childress’ play Trouble in Mind was a critical and popular success from the beginning of its run Off-Broadway at the Greenwich Mews Theatre, and it immediately drew interest from producers for a Broadway transfer. In an ironic twist echoing the tribulations of the characters in the play itself, the producers wanted changes to the script to make it more palatable to a commercial audience. Childressrefused to compromise her artistic vision, and the play never opened on Broadway, ending her chances ofbeing the first African-American woman playwright to have a work on Broadway. Trouble in Mind received a well-reviewed Off-Broadway revival in 1998 by the Negro Ensemble Company and has since been produced by Yale Repertory Theatre, Centerstage, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, and Arena Stage.Childress is perhaps best-known today for A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But A Sandwich, her 1973 novel about a13-year-old black boy addicted to heroin, which was subsequently made into a movie in 1978. Other playswritten by Childress include Just A Little Simple (1950), Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White (1966) and Gullah (1984). Alice Childress died in New York in 1994. Throughout her career, she examined the true meaning of being black, and especially of being black and female. As Childress herselfonce said, “I concentrate on portraying have-nots in a have society.”
DOMINIQUE RIDER (Director) is a director and dramaturg based in Brooklyn, New York. They believe in l[i/o]ving like it is the end of the world. Dominique’s work is concerned with answering thequestion: “What is a world unmade by slavery?” They have worked as a director and collaborator at The New Group, Audible, BRIClab, NYU, Harlem9, Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Haiti Cultural Exchange, MCC, The Old Globe, The Lark, Soho Rep, The Atlantic, The Bushwick Starr, Clubbed Thumb, Long Wharf, Flux Theatre Ensemble, WP, and The Movement Theatre Company. They are the director in residence for the National Black Theatre through 2021, a 2021 BRIClab resident artist, a 2019 NAMT directing observer, and an inaugural member of Roundabout Theatre Company’s Directing Group.
BLACK THEATRE UNITED
AWARENESS • ACCOUNTABILITY • ADVOCACY • ACTION
“As members of the Black theatre community, we stand together to help protect Black people, Black talent and Black lives of all shapes and orientations in theatre and communities across the country. Our voices are united to empower our community through activism in the pursuit of justice and equality forthe betterment of all humanity. We will not be silent. We will be seen. We will be heard. We are here. Join us.” This call to action is just the beginning. It was the latest manifestations of police brutality thatgalvanized Black Theatre United into being. With roots reaching into all 50 of the United States thiscoalition can harness invaluable political scope and influence. To elevate a cause or to overturn policiesthat target black people in any one state or community, the group will draw on members with localconnections to use their visibility and influence for good in theater and on the national stage.
The Founding Members of Black Theatre United
Passionate and committed, this founding group of actors, directors, musicians, writers, technicians, producers and stage management includes: Lisa Dawn Cave, Darius de Haas , Carin Ford, CapathiaJenkins, LaChanze, Kenny Leon, Norm Lewis, Audra McDonald, Michael McElroy, Brian StokesMitchell, Wendell Pierce, Billy Porter, Phylicia Rashad, Anna Deavere Smith, Allyson Tucker, Tamara Tunie, Lillias White, NaTasha Yvette Williams, Schele Williams and Vanessa Williams.
Roundabout Theatre Company celebrates the power of theatre by spotlighting classics from the past, cultivating new works of the present, and educating minds for the future. A not-for-profit company, Roundabout fulfills that mission by producing familiar and lesser-known plays and musicals; discovering and supporting talented playwrights; reducing the barriers that can inhibit theatergoing; collaborating witha diverse team of artists; building educational experiences; and archiving over five decades of productionhistory.
Roundabout Theatre Company presents a variety of plays, musicals and new works on its five stages: Broadway’s American Airlines Theatre, Studio 54 and Stephen Sondheim Theatre, and Off-Broadway’s Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, which houses the Laura Pels Theatre and Black Box Theatre.
American Airlines is the official airline of Roundabout Theatre Company. Roundabout productions are supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; and the National Endowment for the Arts.
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