A Stage for Black Playwrights

A Stage for Black Playwrights Lenore Skomal, a playwright and author, founded The Broadway Bound Theatre Festival in 2016 to help playwrights launch their careers. In light of George Floyd’s murder and the resulting protests, Lenore has decided to take action and launch a new approach to the festival. She says, “It was a personal awakening for me… I did a deep dive into all the plays that we put on over the last five years, and just broke down the demographics and realized that we are pretty much on par with what’s been going on on Broadway and off-Broadway in terms of having a majority of white playwrights represented… so that was really upsetting to me.” Lenore has since formed the Artist’s Anti-Racist Advisory Board, which consists of Black playwrights and theatre-makers and playwrights of color. The Board also has a good cross-section of ages, from recent college graduates to millennials.

Lenore and the Board are working on restructuring the festival’s model. She says, “I’ve always considered myself an anti-capitalist, but yet when I look at the way we modeled our festival, even though it’s about self-empowerment for playwrights, the structure of it comes from the larger racist system that is set up and dictated everything on Broadway and Off-Broadway since time infinitum.” The new approach is what Lenore calls a “hands-off approach,” where there’s no hierarchy. The Board is working on accessibility and getting over the financial barriers and coming up with a model to implement so that bigger theatre companies can follow suit. They are also trying to change the capitalist aspect of theatre. Lenore says, “as long as theatre is based on the capitalist system, they’re going to have a big problem with restructuring the system because all they see is green, and if that’s the only color you see, then there’s going to be a huge problem with implementing this. So it sounds like this radical approach, but it’s not. The system of changing that up has been around since forever, it’s just a matter of how do you implement that?”

Lenore and the Board are having a playwriting contest that is open only to Black playwrights. The festival’s submissions closed in March, but it has opened back up to counter the current- mostly white- lineup of playwrights. In order to help out the playwrights, the $1000 entrance fee has been waived. Lenore explained of the current lineup, “I decided we have a commitment to everybody that’s already in the festival before COVID-19 hit and it all went sideways. But the remaining six slots are going to be for black playwrights only in the festival coming up, which will be in August 2021.”

Lenore is very committed to doing the work and bringing visibility to Black playwrights. She says, “I can still give a stage to people, and I can still give them the support that they need. The support may be different; we have to really look at the needs of our playwrights as opposed to just assuming, me as a white playwright, producer and theater maker, I can’t just assume, that’s the height of arrogance.”

Lenore also pointed out that while she and the Board are committed to changing things up, there hasn’t been change coming from other theatres. She says, “I’m astounded because we have nothing but time right now, so why don’t you sit down and look at the way that you present work? And as we know, it’s a pay to play, if there’s not enough money, you don’t get your work up, so you’re not seeing the best work all the time, and you’re certainly not seeing work that’s representative… So where’s the exciting new work? Where’s the voice of the people?”

Lenor is sensitive to the fact that the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival is currently a “festival in transition,” but they are working extensively to make long-lasting changes to make theatre more accessible to Black playwrights.

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by Kayla Goldfarb


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