SPOTLIGHT ON UPU
UPU Invades The Festival Circuit in 2013!
By: Ronnie J. Johnson
Since the start of 2013, Urban Playwrights United (UPU) theater members have been living in a season of open doors. This year, a few members took theater production to a new level by participating in numerous theater festivals across the country. UPU members: Tangie Brickhouse-Beaty & Donna Johnson (Columbia, SC); Teleah Scott-Williams (Owings Mills, MD); Richard A. Bass (Detroit, MI); Karen Jethroe (Belleville, IL); Nanette Marie Hodge (Columbus, OH); Eric Christopher Jones (Missouri City, TX); Jeanette Hill (Austin, TX); and Darrell Cador (Washington, D.C.) participated in various theater festivals. They took time out of their busy schedules to sit through interviews regarding their festival experiences.
R.J.: Greetings playwrights! I want to thank you all for participating in this interview regarding your theater festival experience. Which theater festival event did you participate in and in what city was that event held?
Donna: WOW Productions participated in The Kingdomwood Christian Film Festival in Atlanta.
Tangie: The Kingdomwood Christian Film Festival in Atlanta.
Darrell: Our production company participated in the Atlanta Black Theater Festival in Atlanta.
Karen: I attended the Kingdomwood Christian Film Festival in Atlanta.
Richard: I participated in the Atlanta Black Theater Festival in Atlanta.
Eric: I participated in the Atlanta Black Theater in Atlanta.
Jeanette: I participated in the D.C. Black Theater Festival in Washington, D.C., the Atlanta Black Theater Festival and the Kingdomwood Christian Film Festival in Atlanta.
Teleah: I participated in the One-Act Battle Competition at the D.C. Black Theater Festival in Washington, D.C.
Nanette: I participated in D.C. Black Theater Festival in Washington, D.C., The Ohio Black Theater Festival in Columbus, OH, The National Black Theater Festival in Winston-Salem, NC, and The Atlanta Black Theater Festival in Atlanta.
R.J.: Wow! There is such an array of talent being shown across the country by such great creative people. Out of all of your productions, which one did you submit to the festival events?
Jeanette: I submitted The Best Lesson as staged reading for the D.C. Black Theater Festival and The Atlanta Black Theater Festival and also as a DVD showing at The Kingdomwood Christian Film Festival.
Teleah: I submitted a short one-act play entitled The Healing Floor.
Eric: I submitted my play Emancipation to the ABTF.
Tangie/Donna: We submitted our stage play DVD Yesterday Is Still Gone to The Kingdomwood Christian Film Festival.
Darrell: We performed a staged reading of Hands Made to Hold at the ABTF.
Karen: My stage play DVD Where’s My Inheritance? was shown at The Kingdomwood Christian Film Festival.
Richard: My stage play Entangled was performed at the Atlanta Black Theater Festival.
Nanette: Mama’s Drama was performed at all four festivals. Additionally, my other play Suzette’s Saga was apart of the DCBTF.
R.J. Excellent! I know that the audiences truly enjoyed every performance and viewing your shows. What attracted you or made you want to participate in the festival circuit?
Donna: WOW Productions was attracted to the festival circuit because it was the first time the theater category was included in the film festival.
Tangie:That’s true. We wanted to broaden our horizon with our production.
Darrell: Our production team as a whole saw the ABTF as a grand opportunity to be amongst the best writers, directors and producers in urban theater. It was also the perfect chance to unveil Hands Made to Hold.
Karen: Ms. Vanessa Lynn posted the information. At first, I didn’t think it was for me because of the quality of my DVD. However, she mentioned that they were looking at the storyline and not the quality of the DVD. I knew then that I should at least submit my DVD and I was very proud of my work.
Richard: I was attracted to the festival circuit because I have never participated in a theater festival before. When I saw the opportunity, I felt led to jump and do it.
Eric: I was excited to present a work that is a true hybrid of classical and urban theater.
Jeanette: After last year’s UPU Conference, I decided that if I was going to be serious about my career, I needed to take steps to move to the next level. That meant getting feedback on my work on a national level. The festivals are an effective, immediate way to accomplish just that.
Teleah: In 2011, I served as a volunteer at The D.C. Black Theater festival. So this time around, I decided to participate as a playwright.
Nanette: I wanted to see my work performed beyond my home town to get a feel as to how it would be received by national audiences.
R.J.: These are such great inspirational reasons to have your works displayed nationally for those who are interested in participating in festivals. What did you set out to accomplish while participating in the festival(s)?
Teleah: My team (myself and Dyone Mitchell) under the direction of Ronald Benson-El entered into the competition to battle for the championship title. We rehearsed and made the decision to use only a few props for our script. Our props consisted of a metal wash tub, a metal bucket, a wooden scrub brush, a sleeping mat and a toy truck. We competed against other teams in the categories of drama, comedy, adult theme and anything goes. My team entered into the drama category and we had 20 minutes to perform. All the teams were good and we had some tough competition!
Eric: We wanted to present a Broadway-style production with a Judeo-Christian viewpoint.
Tangie: Our goal was to get others to view our shows and get outside opinions.
Donna: Our goal was to gain exposure and have our DVD viewed by professionals in the field. It also allowed us to be able to become better as directors, playwrights and producers.
Darrell: Aside from the obvious, our goal was to grow our network of theatre professionals while solidifying some of our existing connections.
Karen: My goal was to get personal exposure. I needed the personal exposure of just meeting playwrights and seeing other people’s work. In the area where I live, there are not a lot of stage plays. Since I joined UPU, I really wanted to meet some of the people (especially Ms. Lynn) who I only know through Facebook. I accomplished my goal.
Nanette: My goals were three-fold. I was curious to find out if the juried festivals would accept my work. I wanted to provide my actors with national stage exposure. I also wanted to see how I could develop my work.
Richard: My goal was to go into another city that I have never been before. I set a goal to gain more exposure in promotion for myself and my company.
Jeanette: I had two main goals. My first goal was to have a professional presence at the festivals, and my second goal was to get out of my comfort zone (both geographically and professionally). I want to expose my work to a larger audience. Urban and blended playwrights need to become influencers in the industry and gain recognition and respect for our work.
R.J.: Great answers by all! What were your triumphs and setbacks in participating in the festivals?
Jeanette: My triumph was not only winning the awards, but learning how things were done on a festival level and how they impact the industry as a whole. I finally met some UPU family members face to face and created long-lasting relationships.
Nanette: I felt triumphant just by being accepted into the festivals. The great performances by the actors and enjoyment by the audience was reward enough. Financial setbacks occurred; however, the exposure and feedback received was valuable to the development of my work. Most of the festivals were organized and accommodating.
Darrell: Thank God that we had no setbacks! The triumph was that I had the distinct pleasure of sitting right next to our very own Jeanette Hill and her husband when her play The Best Lesson was announced as the winner in the Readers’ Theater category. Over the years, I’ve learned that if you surround yourself with blessed people, you soon become a blessed person. Sitting by Mrs. Hill that night means that my future is bright!
Donna: The number of festival attendees was surprisingly low. That would be my main concern and possible setback. On the flip side, we were afforded the opportunity to view some amazing talent from around the United States in various genres.
Karen: My triumph was to win Best Stage Play. My setback was because of the way the program was set up, I did not get a chance to either see every film or attend every workshop because they ran concurrently.
Richard: My triumphs were pulling off the impossible by bringing my entire cast down to Atlanta to perform the show. My setbacks were not getting the crowd and the return on investment that I expected.
Eric: As a triumph, we were able to assemble a first-rate cast from Houston to Atlanta through fundraising and prayer! As a result, we won the Short Play Competition.
R.J.:Awesome! I see the majority of you just wanted to get out of your home base and try something new in a new area. How many of you won awards at the festivals and what were the awards?
Teleah: My team won the championship title to the One-Act Battle Competition at the DCBTF. We were the 2013 grand prize winners!
Eric: We won the Short Play Competition at the ABTF.
Jeanette: I am both humbled and ecstatic! I won The Best Staged Reading Award at the ABTF. I also won the People’s Choice Award at the Kingdomwood Christian Film Festival.
Nanette: Unfortunately, I did not win any awards at the festivals; however, being chosen to participate was extremely rewarding!
Donna/Tangie: WOW Productions was honored to win the Best Director Award for a stage play at the Kingdomwood Christian Film Festival.
Darrell: Seeing that we were in the same category as The Best Lesson, we didn’t win. But the experience was priceless just the same!
Karen: I won Best Stage Play for Where’s My Inheritance? at the KCFF.
Richard: Unfortunately, we didn’t win any awards.
R.J.: Congrats to all award winners and to those who came close. What did you take away from the festivals and would you participate in the festival circuit again?
Teleah: I learned that it takes a team to build a dream and that hard work pays off! Yes, overall it was a good first-time experience and I got to meet Pertri Hawkins-Byrd from Judge Judy!
Jeanette: The most important thing I brought back with me was greater confidence in my abilities, especially when it comes to submitting and participating in festivals and contests outside of my local area and my comfort zone. Just as importantly, I realized that festival or not, it is still a business! I would absolutely participate in the festival circuit again! Overall, it was a wonderful experience. I was able to observe work of some very talented artists. I learned a lot, not only about the festivals, but also about myself personally and my abilities. I also had a chance to meet Pearl Cleage and Melba Moore, two people I really admire!
Richard: The main thing that I took away from the festival is that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to pull this thing off. I would most definitely participate in the festival circuit again, but it will be in the distant future.
Donna: An artist, whether they are a writer, producer, actor, or director, no matter the genre, must always look to improve and hone their craft. You are only as good as your last production. I am sure Tangie and I will attend many more festivals in the future, as it is afforded to us the opportunity to view the wonderful and amazing talent. WOW Productions will definitely have to step our game up!
Nanette: I took away a great appreciation for all of the effort and talent it takes from everybody, beginning with the playwright and the actors, to the production team and finally to the audience to make our work and festivals successful. It was surreal to see the work that God had me create come to life onstage. The appreciation and understanding from those who were in the audience. The talk backs I was able to conduct were very engaging at the two festivals. Without question, I am a playwright, and I am walking in my purpose! I feel it is important to support black theatre festivals. In many cases, they are the only method for getting initial exposure. It feels more like family.
Darrell: The more you know, the more you grow. Both can be obtained by participating in the ABTF. I will absolutely be a part of the festival circuit again!
Karen: I came away with an expanded vision for my work. I realize now that there is a process to accomplishing your goal. But if you take it step by step, work diligently and persistently on it, it will happen. There is a myriad of people out there willing to help. It was a very good experience. I would definitely participate in the festival circuit again!
Eric: We were able to perform for a live urban market in Atlanta. Most of our works are multi-cultural and it was a treat to see that the work was received very well by a large urban market! I will absolutely participate again!
R.J.: Well fellow playwrights, our time has come to an end! This was truly an intriguing, insightful, interview with you all! Congrats to all of the winners and participants of the various festivals. I’m looking forward to hearing about your next production mounting at another festival event in 2014!