For the second year in a row, the state’s only live theatre festival for Black playwrights was successfully staged, even in the throes of a pandemic. OnyxFest 2021, exercising all required protocols, staged five productions along with an additional fall presentation.
All six plays sponsored by the Africana Repertory Theatre of IUPUI (ARTI) are now streaming through the end of February on the Butler Arts and Events Center (BAEC) platform. They can be accessed without charge at https://flyrail.butlerartscenter.org/browse.
The 2021 indoor productions drew three times as many people to the live audience as the previous year, which was outdoors. The screening collaboration with the Butler Arts and Events Center and the Jordan College of the Arts extends the production well beyond Indianapolis to a worldwide audience.
This year’s lineup features the following plays:
- “1200 MILES FROM JEROME” written by Crystal V. Rhodes and directed by Deborah Asante. The perilous journey of a 1940’s family driving a teenage Japanese internment camp fugitive from Arkansas to New York.
- “FLY BLACKBIRD FLY/ VOICES WE CAN’T UNHEAR” written and directed by Latrice P. Young. A “choreopoem” recounting traumatic experiences of several Black women at their breaking point.
- “THAT DAY IN FEBRUARY” written by Janice P. Neal and directed by Dena Toler. What happens when adult siblings frozen by childhood trauma are forced to confront their past?
- “THIS BITTER CUP” written and directed by Charla Booth. This is the story of a southern Black family in the 1950’s vying to find balance in their lives as they struggle for peace.
- “RANSOM PLACE” written by Jameel Amir Martin and directed by Shandrea Funnye. A pair of unlikely companions hold on to what is precious to them as they contend with life-changing forces.
- “THE PRICE OF PROGRESS: THE INDIANA AVENUE/IUPUI STORY” written by Vernon A. Williams and directed by McKenya Dilworth. A two act play about the rich culture of Indiana Avenue & the evolution of an urban university in the same Indianapolis community.
The Butler collaboration provides a platform to reach a broad audience.
“OnyxFest offers us an opportunity to bring a diverse voice to our online presence,” states Lisa Brooks, Dean of the Jordan College of the Arts. “We are honored to partner with A.R.T.I., IUPUI, and IndyFringe Theatre to support this important festival.”
The Butler Arts and Events Center (BAEC) serves Butler University, Indianapolis, and the larger Central Indiana community by hosting more than 300,000 patrons annually for a variety of presentations that provide shared experiences in the performing and visual arts.
During the first year of streaming OnyxFest on the BAEC platform, 43% of the viewing audience came from central Indiana. The national audience included Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Antonio, and Atlanta. Globally, viewership came from Austria, Brazil, Finland, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Mexico, Nicaragua, Netherlands, and Singapore.
The collaboration comes at a time when the need to amplify Black voices in the performing arts coincides with rising scrutiny of racism and social injustice. A.R.T.I. leader Dr. Leslie K. Etienne, Interim Director of IUPUI Africana Studies, commented:
“There is a history of Black artists having their work appropriated, dismissed, misinterpreted, and negatively scrutinized. This is expressly related to the perpetuation of anti-Black racism that is endemic in our society. OnyxFest is a vital outlet for narratives about Black life absent in the larger social imaginary.”
OnyxFest 2021 is made possible by funding from a Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF) Fund, IUPUI, IU Office of the Vice President for Research, IU Alumni Association Neal-Marshall Alumni Club, IndyFringe, and Morgan Stanley.
“The Price of Progress: The Indiana Avenue/IUPUI Story” is made possible by funding from IUPUI originally produced to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of IUPUI in 2019.