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Black playwrights get a voice with competition collaboration Festival at Matthews Playhouse

The following article was Published Thursday, January 14, 2021

in the Charlotte Post by Ashley Mahoney


The Matthews Playhouse of Performing Arts is collaborating with the African American Playwrights Group to ensure that Black voices are being heard.

Together they are presenting the Playwright’s Festival, which will highlight original works written by Black Indigenous People of Color. Submissions are due on Jan. 31, and should include a cover letter and a 10-page selection of the chosen piece.

A panel of judges, including African American Playwrights Group founder Vickie Evans, will review submitted works. Four will be chosen for staged readings on April 10 as one-act presentations for an audience and panel of judges. The winning submission will be incorporated into the 2021-22 Matthews Playhouse season as either a one-act or full-length play the weekend of Sept. 10-12.

While the hope is to be able to proceed in April with in-person attendance and production, there’s a backup plan in place to stage the readings virtually.

“The climate in 2020 made us take a look at our relationships in our communities, even the theater community to say, ‘what can we do to bridge that racial gap that we may not be aware of?’” Evans said.

“It made us focus on our own little areas, and it became very important to me to express our importance, and when I say ‘our,’ I mean African American playwrights. Being the founder of the African American Playwrights Group, it became increasingly important for me to emphasize the importance of us being recognized in the Charlotte theater community and surrounding areas.”

The Playwright’s Festival follows Evans’ model from AAPG’s Playwrights on Parade festival, which she held in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

Cassie Prodan, Matthews Playhouse’s production manager, and Evans first met in 2019 at a conference. Evans is also a board member of the Metrolina Theatre Association, which held conversations in diversity and inclusion. During one of the talks, she expressed the importance of Black representation in theatre, as African American playwrights are often overlooked.

“At that particular conversation, one of the representatives from Matthews Playhouse was on that Zoom call,” Evans said. “She heard my passion. She heard my heart, and she had thoughts about diversity and inclusion as well.”

It led to Matthews Playhouse reaching out asking how to bridge that gap.

“We began rather deliberately and slowly a few years ago we produced historically based shows like ‘Freedom Train’ and ‘Sweet Jen,’ which featured BIPOC artists,” Prodan said. “We also had a school show called ‘100 Dresses’ that dealt with social justice. We began to work with different community partners to see how we might proceed. We just want to make sure that other voices are being heard. We are committed to what we are doing—to provide an environment for BIPOC artists to feel safe, encouraged and supported to tell their stories.”




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