International theater movement supporting local Black artists comes virtually to Kalamazoo

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International theatre movement supporting local Black artists comes virtually to Kalamazoo. (WWMT/ Courtesy of Face Off Theatre Company)

The Western Michigan University Theatre Department partnered with Face Off Theatre Company to host an international movement designed to create equal opportunities for Black artists.

Black Lives, Black Words was founded in 2015 by award-winning Chicago playwright Reginald Edmund. The international project aims to provide healing, support and inspiration for artists of color across America.

Western's Department of Theatre Chair Joan Herrington said the university joined the Black Lives, Black Words movement in 2018, to raise up local Black artists.

"So artists in our community have been asked 'Do black lives matter?' and they have responded in plays, they have responded in song, they have responded in spoken word, they have responded in poetry," Herrington said.

She said the project provides artists a platform to speak up and demand change.

“The Black Lives Matter movement has really activated a lot of theater artists to again point out to our industry that there is systemic racism," Herrington said. "That there is not equal opportunity, that artists of color are marginalized consistently in the American theater.”

Western alum and Face Off Theatre Company founding member Marissa Harrington said she created her company five and a half years ago to offer Black artists a space to create, something she said was lacking in Kalamazoo.

“We are challenging our industry because our industry is historically very white and very male and very exclusionary to any others," Harrington said.

She said black and white artists should not have separate spaces, but be able to come together. She said she wants help make that change.

"We need to rethink everything. We need to rethink our system. We need to rethink who is coming to our shows," Harrington said. "Do we have a safe space for artists of color? Are we being as inclusive as possible? Do we have everyone at the table, that has a voice?Those are the kinds of changes that need to happen.”

Black Lives, Black Words kicks off with a panel discussion on the Black Lives Matter Movement at 7 p.m. Friday, July 31, 2020. The discussion will be streamed live on Face Off Theatre Company's Facebook Page. The movement continues Saturday, Aug. 1, with a two-hour talent showcase starting at 7 p.m., featuring poetry, short plays, music and more by black artists with ties to the Kalamazoo community.

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