The legendary National Black Theatre (NBT) hosted a special evening of the community gathering on Slave Play on Monday as it convened a town hall to discuss the critically acclaimed Broadway phenomenon by playwright Jeremy O. Harris. The intimate event, which included nationally recognized notables, was designed to create an opportunity for New Yorkers who had seen the controversial show to discuss the play and its themes.
National Black Theatre CEO Sade Lythcott kicked off the evening with a candid interview with Harris on his show, his life, and influences, and his hopes to use the success of Slave Play to help bring more diverse and inclusive work by other playwrights to wider audiences.
“NBT has long been a space for healing discourse and dialogue for our community around the most pressing issues of the time,” said Lythcott. “We strive to bring our community together around work that examines the complexity of the Black experience so that they feel seen, safe, heard and valued. This was precisely our desire with the Slave Play town hall.”
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The conversation continued with GQ’s Deputy Fashion Director Nikki Ogunnaike, activist and author DeRay Mckesson and NBT’s Artistic Director Jonathan McCrory joining Harris and Lythcott for a lively panel discussion on their own reactions to the play and how it has caused a shift in the current discourse on art, community, and representation.
Founded by visionary Dr. Barbara Ann Teer in 1968, National Black Theatre (NBT) is a nationally recognized cultural and educational institution. Dr. Teer pioneered “the healing art of Black theater as an instrument for wholeness in urban communities where entrepreneurial artists of African descent live and work.” In 1983, Dr. Teer expanded the vision of NBT by purchasing a 64,000-square-foot building on 125th Street and Fifth Avenue (renamed “National Black Theatre Way” by local law in 1994). This was the first revenue-generating Black arts complex in the country, an innovative arrangement through which for-profit businesses who shared NBT’s spiritual and aesthetic values rented retail space to subsidize the arts. Out of her vision, NBT houses the largest collection of Nigerian New Sacred Art in the Western hemisphere and is considered the authentic representation of a model whose time has come. NBT is supported by grants from the Ford Foundation, New York Community Trust, Time Warner Corporation. Howard Gilman Foundation, Jerome Foundation, Andrew Mellon Foundation, City Council of New York, City of New York Department of Cultural Affairs, Columbia Service Society and private donations. Visit www.nationalblacktheatre.org or follow NBT on Facebook (@NationalBlackTheatre) and Twitter/Instagram (@NatBlackTheatre).
The old South lives on at the MacGregor Plantation—in the breeze, in the cotton fields…and in the crack of the whip. It’s an antebellum fever-dream, where fear and desire entwine in the looming shadow of the Master’s House. Jim trembles as Kaneisha handles melons in the cottage, Alana perspires in time with the plucking of Phillip’s fiddle in the boudoir, while Dustin cowers at the heel of Gary’s big, black boot in the barn. Nothing is as it seems, and yet everything is as it seems.
In this provocative and explosive new play, Jeremy O. Harris rips apart history to shed new light on the nexus of race, gender, and sexuality in 21st century America. Obie Award winner Robert O’Hara directs.
Slave Play is the recipient of the Rosa Parks Playwriting Award, the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award, The Lotos Foundation Prize in the Arts and Sciences and the 2018 Paula Vogel Award.
The evening concluded with an audience Q&A where participants engaged on the topics of the night.
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Slave Play through January 19, 2020, at the Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street, Manhattan, New York, www.goldentheatre.tickets, 212.239.6200
Photo credit: 1) Jeremy O. Harris and Sade Lythcott. 2) (l-r) DeRay McKesson, Nikki Ogunnaike, Jeremy O. Harris, Sade Lythcott and Jonathan McCrory at NBT’s Dec. 9 Town Hall Convening on Slave Play (photo credit Loreto Jamlig).