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Liza Jessie Peterson in "The Peculiar Patriot" at Penumbra Theatre. (Photo by Allen Weeks)

National Black Theatre Announces 2017-2018 Season

The ‘Black to the Future’ season includes solo shows by Liza Jessie Peterson and Paterson Joseph and keeps an eye on national politics.

NEW YORK CITY: Barbara Ann Teer‘s National Black Theatre has announced its 49th season, “Black to the Future,” promising to put “modern-day griots in the spotlight” with collaborations with Hi-ARTS and the Classical Theatre of Harlem.

“This season NBT will go back to the basics of storytelling in presenting on our mainstage the singular narrative of the griot—their cautionary tales and testimonies offering voices from our past and present,” said National Black Theatre CEO Sade Lythcott, Teer’s daughter. “The intention here is to vision a future that holds up an unflinching mirror to the ‘self-evident’ first principles of this country that all people ‘are created equal…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’”

The season kicks off with the world premiere of The Peculiar Patriot (Sept. 13-Oct. 1), written and performed by Liza Jessie Peterson, directed by Talvin Wilks. The one-woman, multimedia show follows protagonist Betsy LaQuanda Ross as she makes regular visits to penitentiaries to boost the morale of her incarcerated friends and family, navigating love amid barbed wire.

At the other end of the mainstage is Sancho (Apr. 11-29, 2018), a one-man show conceived, written, and performed by Paterson Joseph, co-directed by Joseph and Simon Godwin, which tells the true story of Charles “Sancho” Ignatius, born on a slave ship but never a slave. Ignatius was immortalized by the great English painter Thomas Gainsborough and in 1774 became the first British-African to cast a vote.

Throughout the season NBT’s resident playwrights will see workshop productions of their new plays take centerstage. Angelica Chéri, Nambi E. Kelley, and Derek Lee McPhatter are all participants in NBT’s 18-month I AM SOUL residency program, the nation’s premier theatrical program dedicated solely to the development of black playwrights, with a commitment to a workshop production of their new works.

Kelley’s Blood (Nov. 15-19), directed by Elizabeth Van Dyke, follows a dying Scipio as his estranged son visits and Scipio questions his existence as a black revolutionary, father, and man.

Chéri’s I Will Not Lie to David, Part Three of The Prophet’s Cycle (Feb. 21-25, 2018), directed by Cezar Williams, with music by Ross Baum, introduces Fatima, who battles to unlock the secret purpose for her birth.

In McPhatter’s Serious Adverse Effects (Mar. 28-Apr. 1, 2018), an unconventional scientist, on the cusp of a cure for a mysterious disease, must first find forgiveness from a family with no reason to trust her and embrace the transformative potential of her own healing.

Looking ahead to the 2018 election, NBT, in partnership with the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), is embarking on an all-out effort to register community residents to vote. During the 2017–2018 season, NBT will sign up show attendees and neighbors alike to get New Yorkers on the rolls for 2018.

“The most powerful tool to dismantle the master’s house is the tool we were never intended to have access to: the right to vote,” said Lythcott. “Therefore, all season long NBT is excited to join forces with NYPIRG to take powerful action in shaping our future. As a part of our dramaturgical lobby exhibits we will be registering people to vote and providing community and audience members information and education on their voter rights and the importance of civic engagement as we contemplate going black to the future,” said Lythcott.

National Black Theatre was founded in 1968 in the heart of Harlem by the late Barbara Ann Teer, with a mission to produce transformational theatrical experiences that enhance African-American cultural identity by telling authentic stories of the black experience. Since its founding NBT has produced more 300 original theatre works that have toured the U.S., the Caribbean, Central America, Africa, and Asia.

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