SAN FRANCISCO: PlayGround has announced a partnership with Bay Area theatre veteran Aldo Billingslea, Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, Planet Earth Arts, and more than 30 other theatres from around the country to present a Juneteenth livestreamed Zoom reading of Vincent Terrell Durham’s Polar Bears, Black Boys & Prairie Fringed Orchids. Simultaneous readings of Durham’s play on June 19 at 7 p.m. PT will be presented as part of the Juneteenth Theatre Justice Project, a national effort to stand in response to and in solidarity with the outcry and uprising over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and numerous others.
“This collaboration of theatres is exactly what theatre was meant to do: uniting for change, responding to the current moment, raising awareness and resources to support marginalized communities, and amplifying the voices of artists of color,” said Billingslea, producer and leader of Juneteenth Theatre Justice Project, in a statement. “With a perfect blend of wit, pathos, and humor, this play speaks to some of the most pressing subjects of our time: gentrification, white fragility, the sustainability of the planet, the Black Lives Matter movement, and police violence against Black bodies.”
Originally co-commissioned by PlayGround and Planet Earth Arts, Polar Bears, Black Boys & Prairie Fringed Orchids will be part of PlayGround Zoom Fest under the direction of Peter J. Kuo. A 2019 National New Play Network National Showcase of New Plays finalist, the play was presented in Stanford Repertory Theatre’s 2019 Summer Festival in collaboration with PlayGround and Planet Earth Arts. This reading is co-presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, American Conservatory Theater, Marin Theatre Company, California Shakespeare Theater, San Francisco Playhouse, Magic Theater, Shotgun Players, Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, African-American Shakespeare Company, PlayGround, Planet Earth Arts, Aurora Theatre Company, Center REPertory Company, Central Works, City Lights Theatre Company, Crowded Fire Theater, Custom Made Theatre Company, Cutting Ball Theater, Golden Thread Productions, Livermore Shakespeare Festival, Marin Shakespeare Company, National Center for New Plays, Pear Theatre, Perspective Theatre, San Jose Stage Company, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, Santa Cruz County Actor’s Theatre, Santa Cruz Shakespeare, Silicon Valley Shakespeare, Stanford Repertory Theater, and TheatreFIRST. Additionally, theatres in nearly a dozen other regions including Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Houston, Seattle, Tampa, San Diego, and Albany, New York are working on mounting readings with local casts.
Durham’s play follows as a cocktail party thrown by a liberal white couple leads to conversation and debate over topics like underweight polar bears, Lana Turner, saving the planet, gentrification, racial identity, and protecting the lives of Black boys with their guests, a Black Lives Matter activist, his gay white lover, a sistah named Shemeka, and the mother of a slain 12-year-old Black boy. The play aims to offer insight, combined with humor, to portray the meeting of well-meaning white liberals and Black Lives Matters activists.
The cast, assembled by the Juneteenth Theatre Justice Project, will include Jennifer Bradford, Britney Frazier, Rodney Earl Jackson Jr., Carrie Paff, Patrick Russell, Gabriel Q. Solomon, and Michael Ray Wisely.
Billingslea launched the Juneteenth Theatre Justice Project to center Black theatre artists and new voices, address systemic racism in the theatre industry and push for change, and help raise funds to support Black theatres around the country. Any theatres interested in staging their own Juneteenth reading are encouraged to reach out to Billingslea.
The reading can be streamed for free on Juneteenth, which commemorates the 1865 reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to enslaved Black people in Texas. While the stream is free, donations are requested to support a campaign to raise $1 million for funding Black theatre projects in America. More information can be found on PlayGround’s website.