Theater festival showcasing black playwrights celebrates tenth anniversary

Playwright Samantha Godfrey, who is of Caribbean heritage, is one of the eight playwrights whose plays will be perfomed at “The Fire This Time” festival at Kraine Theater Jan. 21–Feb. 3.
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The annual “The Fire this Time” festival returns for its 10th season at the Kraine Theater in East Village on Jan. 21. The two-week event, which celebrates the work of black playwrights, is featuring eight writers this year — the most the festival has seen, according to its founder and producer Kelley Girod. To honor the milestone anniversary, organizers will celebrate it with a panel discussion on pertinent current issues, and all the stories to come out of the festival

“Every year we start with a panel addressing a topic in the theatre or the black theatre community, and the black community and a variation of all things,” said Girod. “This year, our panel will be on the retrospective and the past 10 years.”

The festival was birthed after the election of former President Barack Obama in 2009. Now a decade later and a new president, Girod said there are many stories to reflect on and analyze what hass changed with the work that black writers have created since.

“When we formed the festival, Obama had just been elected, and 10 years later we have the Trump administration,” she said. “So we’re going to have some playwrights from over the years speak about their involvement with the festival and also how the festival has captured these critical past 10 years of the black experience.”

The discussion titled, “From Obama to Trump: The Fire This Time Festival and Ten Significant Years of Telling Black Stories,” will serve as a tool to look back at how the festival has acted as a megaphone of sorts, detailing the course of issues that were important during that period.

“You’ll know what was going on politically and socially at that time and I feel like it’s a great opportunity to talk about the formation of the festival having so much hope with one administration, and fast forward to the administration we have now, which is actively trying to rollback civil rights,” said Girod.

She said exploring a timeline of the festival will allow people to see what shifted, and the many ways playwrights opted to stay current by acknowledging national and global issues in their work.

“The amazing thing in these past 10 years is to see how all of a sudden the writing got way more urgent and we started to see more plays about Black Lives Matter, gun violence, and white privilege,” said Girod. “So it’s great to look at the catalog because we really do see a reflection of the times.”

Along with the panel, the festival features play readings and the on-stage performances of plays in the 10-Minute Play Program. The creators of the these plays include Kezia Waters, York Walker, Bernard Tarver, Garlia Cornelia Jones, Adrienne Dawes, Francisca Da Silveira, and Kendra Augustin and Samantha Godfrey, who are of Caribbean descent.

Girod said when she created the festival her main goal was to showcase the diversity in black voices, and provide a platform for black writers. That goal remains the same because there continues to be limitations that in turn can put a strain on the up-and-coming black playwrights, she said. But with the festival, playwrights can be as open with their creativity as they want and do not necessarily have to write a ‘black story,’ or one that caters to mainstream.

“As writers, our frustration with the industry is there seems to be an expectation of what a black playwright can write, and if they can identify with what we write on some level, but a lot of things we are writing simply just didn’t fall into that,” said Girod. “So we created this space for ourselves and our motto then and now is that any play written by a black person is a black experience, even if its about two white people in love — because the idea is that there are no bounds to our storytelling.”

She expressed the hope that audiences look at the festival as an opportunity to grasp the ways playwrights are currently exploring current topics, and the stories important to these emerging playwrights.

“They’re going to be great — there’s such a wide variety and ‘The Fire This Time’ it’s like a sample menu,” said Girod. ”You get to come and be in eight different worlds in these types of plays, and it’s just fascinating and fun.”

“This Fire This Time” festival at Kraine Theater [85 E. 4th St. at Second Avenue in East Village, (212) 777–6088, www.horsetrade.info]. Jan. 21–26 at 7 pm, Jan. 27 at 3 pm, Jan. 28-Feb. 1 at 7 pm, Feb. 2 at 3 pm and 7 pm, and Feb. 3 at 3 pm. $5-$25.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimo[email protected]local.com. Follow her on Twitter @AS1mon.

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