Art Forms and Theatre Concepts begins expansion with provocative play; MOJA production explores female stereotypes in black community
Art Forms and Theatre Concepts is trying to shake things up.
If you go
WHAT: “The Trial of One Short-Sighted Black Woman vs. Mammy Louise and Safreeta Mae” by Karani Marcia Leslie and produced by Art Forms and Theatre Concepts
WHEN: 8 p.m. Sept. 27, 10 a.m. Sept. 28, 3 p.m. Sept. 29
WHERE: Dock Street Theatre, 135 Church St.
COST: $25 adults; $20 seniors and students
MORE INFO: For tickets, go to www.mojafestival.com.
WHAT: MAZE featuring Frankie Beverly and Joe
WHEN: 8 p.m. Oct. 6 (gates open at 7 p.m.)
WHERE: Johnson Hagood Stadium, 68 Hagood Ave.
COST: $80 club level, $60 table seat, $40 reserved seat
MORE INFO: Tickets available only by calling (877) 993-8499 or visiting www.ez-tixx.com.
WHAT: Classical Encounter with Denyce Graves
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sept. 30
WHERE: Dock Street Theatre, 135 Church St.
MORE INFO: Tickets available only by calling 866-811-4111 or visiting www.opera charlestonsc.org. If tickets remain, you can purchase them at the door the night of the concert.
WHAT: An Evening of Jazz Under the Stars With Will Downing
WHEN: 8 p.m. Sept. 29
WHERE: Family Circle Stadium, 161 Seven Farms Drive, Daniel Island
COST: $21 general admission seating on 1st Tier; $36 reserved table seating on the Court
MORE INFO: For tickets, call 866-811-4111.
Information on additional events, including children’s programs, art shows, language and literature workshops and outdoor activities, can be found at www.moja festival.com.
Founded 15 years ago by Art Gilliard, Art Forms bills itself as the premier African-American theater company in the Lowcountry. It has managed to produce a couple of shows a year, usually during the Piccolo Spoleto or MOJA festivals.
But that’s not enough, Gilliard and new board chairman Victor Owens said. It’s time to broaden the scope and reach of the Charleston theater group.
It begins with “The Trial of One Short-Sighted Black Woman vs. Mammy Louise and Safreeta Mae,” a play by Karani Marcia Leslie that’s part of this year’s MOJA Festival. The show opens Thursday at the Dock Street Theatre and runs for three performances.
The long title alludes to a gnawing issue within the black community: how its women are stereotyped.
Donna Lee Williams, guest director, said the show is about “the struggle of one black woman to come to terms with images of our history that have the potential to affect our future.” Reconciliation leads to a respect for history and a will to move forward with dignity, she said.
Williams has worked with Art Forms the past two years, starring in its production of “Mahalia,” but this is the first time she’s assumed the director’s chair.
Owens, Gilliard and others running the company invited her to mix things up a bit and take charge of this MOJA production, she said. “(‘The Trial’) is one of the plays that certainly spoke to some of the issues (in) our community,” and presented Art Forms in a different light.
Black women have struggled with two basic representations: the sexless mammy, maternal and nurturing but always cautious and on her guard, and the oversexed vixen, thin, pretty and often light-skinned.
Both types of women have their challenges, Williams said. Historically, the matriarch adopted a persona that guarded her from harm at the hands of the white landowner. She was nonthreatening, unobtrusive, gentle in mixed company. The vixen, instead, was on guard for other reasons. Both whites and blacks were after her, and she was forced to use her charms in defensive ways.
As the play notes: “It’s not a good thing to be born a slave and pretty, for you never got any rest.”
The themes in the play address long-standing issues of concern that continue to affect blacks, Williams said.
“We chose it for just that reason. The topic is difficult to talk about.”
But families today include all kinds of people, mammies, vixens and everything in between. Racism continues to influence attitudes, both outside and inside the black community, Williams said.
“We need to talk about these issues. We want to bring some healing because it’s still necessary.”
Owens said “The Trial” marks the beginning of Art Forms’ new phase.
Founded in 1995, the company has mostly presented its plays during the two city festivals. Over the years, the board of directors has grown and shrunk, Owens said. Currently, there are 12 members, and the organization is looking to add more.
The goal is to do more, he said. Next year, the group likely will produce four shows, adding one at Christmastime and another during Black History Month in February. By 2014, Art Forms aims to offer six productions and sell season packages to patrons, Owens said.
He hopes to increase ticket sale revenue so it covers about half the operating budget and to collect the rest from grants, corporate sponsorships and individual donations, he said.
Art Forms will rely increasingly on a “guest-director mode of operating,” Owens said. “We need a fresh breeze of talent flowing through the organization.”
The purpose of the company must be to do more than sell a night’s entertainment to customers; it must offer an opportunity to showcase talent, raise important questions and engage with the public both in the theater and in the community.
“This way it becomes more a vehicle than a product,” Owens said.
Other MOJA events
Denyce Graves: The mezzo-soprano returns to Charleston for a gala recital Sept. 30 at the Dock Street Theatre. The performance, dubbed a “Classical Encounter,” is a MOJA showcase made possible by Opera Charleston, which got its start last year with a production of George Bizet’s “Carmen,” starring Graves in the title role. This time, the acclaimed singer, accompanied at the piano by Louis Salemno, will present a program of arias and art songs.
Will Downing: “An Evening of Jazz Under the Stars with Will Downing” presents the Brooklyn-born contemporary jazz and R&B singer on Saturday at the Family Circle Stadium on Daniel Island. The show will open with Charleston’s own Oscar Rivers Jazz Quintet.
The MAZE: The group, featuring Frankie Beverly, offers up a distinctly soulful sound Oct. 6 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The MAZE, founded in San Francisco in 1970 and originally called Raw Soul, will be joined by R&B singer-songwriter Joe.
Seth Gilliard: The violinist, a Furman graduate, will play at 6 p.m. Oct. 4 at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park in a program called “From Classical to Contemporary.”
A Gospel Explosion: The choirs of Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, Royal Missionary Baptist Church, Bethel AME Church and Greater Zion AME Church combine forces, joined by gospel singer Mario Desaussure, in a concert at 4 p.m. Sept. 30 at Trinity United Methodist Church, 273 Meeting St.
The MOJA Festival includes other concerts, readings, stage productions and family-friendly free events such as Friday’s Caribbean Street Parade and the Oct. 7 Reggae Block Dance (both at Hampton Park). A juried art exhibition at the College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center for African-American History and Culture will run through Oct. 30.
MOJA runs Sept. 27-Oct. 7. For tickets, call 866-811-4111.
Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902.