A strong sense of community filled The Clarice as theatre enthusiasts from all over the East Coast gathered Saturday to discuss elements of black theatre.

10:00 a.m. Opening Talk and Artist Housing

Gildenhorn Recital Hall filled slowly, professionally dressed individuals taking their seats, and audience members quieting as the lights dimmed.

Leigh Wilson Smiley, the director of the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies, took the stage to welcome everyone to the second annual Black Theatre Symposium.

Black theatre is “particularly rich and cultural,” Smiley said, but the big question is “where do we go next to preserve this rich and cultural institution?” That question defined the theme of the day, inviting participants and panelists to join the conversation in the various breakout sessions.

“We hope for students and professionals to overlap,” said producing artistic director of the African Continuum Theatre Company, Thembi Duncan. “It’s about everyone coming together to make connections.”

After the opening talk, professor of theatre and performance studies Scot Reese introduced a special presentation from Seret Scott.

From the second she took the stage, Scott captivated the audience. Aside from Scott’s voice,  the recital hall was noticeably silent until laughter echoed off the walls.

Scott performed excerpts from her show Artist Housing. The excerpts ranged from Scott telling funny anecdotes about performing a show in French even though she didn’t know the language to emotional stories about her participation in the Civil Rights Movement.

When commercial theatre allowed for a broader variety of shows, Scott said she felt the need to tell her stories. She said the earlier stories describing how the theatre community publicly and politically engaged in the civil rights movement got lost.

“I love how she engaged the audience,” said Garey Hyatt, the program coordinator of visual and performing arts at Coppin State University. “She made us feel so comfortable receiving her. I loved her words about community, and I think they really resonated with all of us.”

12:00 p.m. The History of Hip-Hop Theatre

A circle of chairs lined the Rever Rehearsal Room, hip-hop music blaring from speakers in the four corners of the room.

Goldie Deane, the executive director and founder of FRESHH, stood in the center of the room. Her animated expressions and high energy engaged the group encircling her.

The panelists created an open environment by starting the discussion with a cypher, where people share and exchange ideas. During a cypher everyone abides by the unspoken rules – the participants know who speaks next and nobody steps on anyone else’s toes.

After learning about the origins of hip-hop, the discussion focused on the future of hip-hop theatre.

Candace Feldman, the associate producer of 651 Arts, said sustainability of hip-hop theatre is important because these are stories that need to keep being told.

“I think, especially when you’re talking about black art being presented and produced, it’s really important who the voice is,” Feldman said. “I think as far as sustainability goes, I think about an age of generosity. Instead of organizations competing against one another for ticket sales and audiences, we put our strengths together and create a model where it moves around so it has better access to communities.”

(Maya Pottiger/Bloc Reporter)
(Maya Pottiger/Bloc Reporter)

3:00 p.m. Black Dance & Performance

Nobody danced – rather, the panel led a discussion about staying true to their legacy.

In this case, the legacy they are referring to is the origin of black dance.

“We need to keep moving forward and encourage people to find their own voice,” said Carol Foster, the arts coordinator at Savoy Elementary School. “We always have to honor the legacy of what came before us because, when you destroy the root, you kill the tree. There’s a lot to be learned from the past.”

Meghan Abadoo, a graduate student pursuing dance, said she questions what, aside from dance steps, she’s teaching her students.

“I always ask myself what values I’m teaching my students,” Abadoo said. “You have to have that critical conversation with yourself. You have to know the values where things come from.”

Brynn Tucker, of Synetic Theatre, said she doesn’t usually get to sit around and listen to people talk about black dance, so this panel interested her.

“You’re celebrating the history, stories and achievements of black people that have often been excluded from history books or not recognized or acknowledged as part of our history of the nation,” Tucker said.

“I think black dance is part of the culture and history of our nation and how it affects U.S. culture, period.”

headshotMaya Pottiger is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at mayabee777@aim.com.

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