Metro Weekly

Editor’s Pick: A First Look: Reading Series at Ford’s Theatre

The month of February kicks off with a free, three-day public festival of play readings at Ford's Theatre.

The Ford's Theatre Legacy Commission's A First Look:  Rickerby Hines
The Ford’s Theatre Legacy Commission’s A First Look: Rickerby Hines

The month of February kicks off with a free, three-day public festival of play readings at Ford’s Theatre, the first tangible product from the organization’s ambitious pandemic-born initiative to support, center, and strengthen BIPOC playwrights, those identifying as Black, Indigenous, or as a Person of Color.

When it was formally launched in June of 2021 as the “Lincoln Legacy Commissions,” the multi-year initiative was touted as one that “will serve as an artistic incubator and amplifier for underrepresented BIPOC American stories, [helping to] expand the canon of American historical drama.”

This weekend, Ford’s offers a preview of three of five new works currently in development. All events in this “First Look” festival start at 7:30 p.m., except where noted, and all readings are followed by post-show conversations with designated creatives.

The festival opens and closes with two readings — on Thursday, Feb. 2, and Saturday, Feb. 4 — of Something Moving: A Meditation on Maynard by Pearl Cleage, the Playwright-In-Residence at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre whose previous plays include Flyin’ West and Blues for an Alabama Sky.

An examination of the legacy and election of Maynard Jackson in 1973 as Atlanta’s first Black mayor, Cleage refers to the work as “a mirror as well as a meditation; a memory of a moment when our town was ‘wholly human, and that was enough.'” Both readings will be followed by post-show conversations with director Seema Sueko.

The Ford's Theatre Legacy Commission's A First Look: Dominic Taylor
The Ford’s Theatre Legacy Commission’s A First Look: Dominic Taylor

The next evening, Friday, Feb. 3, kicks off at 6:30 p.m. with “Taking Center Stage: Undertold Stories in the American Theatre,” a panel discussion featuring two Howard University professors — Edna Greene Medford, professor of history emerita, and Denise J. Hart, professor of playwriting and dramaturgy — exploring core themes of the initiative, from “the value of adding more stories to our historical narrative” to “the research as well as creative investments required to honor the people and the movements behind them.”

Following the panel on Friday, Feb. 3, comes a reading of Young and Just by Dominic Taylor, a work shining a light on the life and work of pioneering African-American biologist Dr. Ernest Everett Just, the first Black graduate of Dartmouth College who has been commemorated with his own U.S. postage stamp, as well as that of his lead researcher Dr. Roger Arliner Young, dubbed the “Black Apollo of Science.” Previous plays by Taylor, a professor of theater and African-American studies at UCLA, include I Wish You Love and Hype Hero. Donald Douglass directs.

The third play reading in the festival comes Saturday, Feb. 4, at 2:30 p.m. with Blackbox by Rickerby Hinds, a work of “magic, musicality, and movement” exploring the remarkable life of abolitionist Henry Box Brown, who was also known as an illusionist.

Considered a pioneer of hip-hop theater whose previous works include Blackballin’ and Dreamscape, Hinds, with his new work, aims to recreate Brown’s real-life feat in 1849, when “he arranged to have himself mailed in a wooden crate from Virginia to abolitionist contacts in Philadelphia.”

That 27-hour period of confinement is intended as the frame for this hip-hop-fueled theatrical production, directed by Thomas F. DeFrantz of Duke University’s interdisciplinary performance research group SLIPPAGE whose theater credits include Queer Theory! An Academic Travesty, co-commissioned by The Theater Offensive, Boston’s queer people of color-focused arts organization.

“We are elated to provide our audiences with a first look at the plays in development and share space with our artists at this stage in their process,” says José Carrasquillo, director of artistic programming at Ford’s, who co-leads the Legacy Commissions initiative with Sheldon Epps and Sydné Mahone.

Playwrights Nambi E. Kelley and Charlayne Woodard are also part of the inaugural Legacy Commissions cohort, and the two new plays they’re each developing are expected to be previewed and presented by Ford’s at a later time.

Ford’s Theatre is at 511 10th St. NW. Tickets are free with reservations. Visit www.fords.org or call 202-347-4833.

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