Though it’s easy to get distressed about how white and male-dominated the artistic landscape still is today (because it really, truly is), it’s important to acknowledge and seek out the exciting and prevalent work being made by artists of color in spaces that are perhaps not as commercial as, say, network television. Some of it has been in comedy: recently, we’ve written about black comedian and activist Elsa Waithe and an all-Muslim comedy showcase.
Another addition to the field of local live performance eschewing Wonder-bread whiteness that should be on your radar is, believe it or not, yet another theater festival. The Fire This Time Festival kicked off last night at the East Village’s Kraine Theater.
The festival, presented by Horse Trade Theater Group and now in its seventh season, is dedicated to showcasing work by “talented early-career playwrights of African and African-American descent.” Rejecting the notion that “black theater” is something that only means one particular thing, TFTT seeks to explore its possibilities through a diverse group of artists working in theater and performance.
The Fire This Time Festival was founded in 2009 by playwright Kelley Nicole Girod “to provide rising playwrights of African and African American descent a platform to write and develop new work,” per a press release. In past years, TFTT has shown work by Katori Hall, Dominique Morrisseau, Marcus Gardley, and more.
The main attraction of the festival is world premieres of several ten-minute plays directed by Nicole A. Watson. Featuring work by writers Tanya Everett, Keelay Gipson, Jiréh Breon Holder, Roger Q. Mason, Stacey Rose, Korde Arrington Tuttle, and Nia O. Witherspoon. Though short in length, the plays seem full of substance exploring intriguing topics such as perception-altering rough sex, NCAA football, gay sex stigmas, and a progressive white woman’s birthday “Slavesperience.”
That may sound like a lot, but that’s not all TFTT has to offer. Notably (and thankfully), many of the director and writers involved in the festival are also women. The festival also includes readings of several full-length plays, including a musical by Daaimah Mubashshir and Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa, excerpts from five solo shows, works-in-progress and an open mic night. It’s refreshing to see diversity not only present in the artists chosen, but in the work being made, as TFTT clearly demonstrates that theater and performance today is not only defined by the standard play, but so much more.
At the bottom of the festival’s website lies a stirring James Baldwin quote: “There is something terribly radical about believing that one’s own experience and images are important enough to speak about, much less to write about and to perform.” I have a feeling the Oscar voters missed that one.
The Fire This Time Festival continues through February 6. Tickets to the 10-minute plays are $18 ($15 for students/seniors/military), all other events are free. More info and full schedule available here.