Geva presents series of audio plays by Black artists
When Kirsten Greenidge was starting out, there were a lot of emerging Black playwrights like her — but not a lot of opportunities to get their work staged. Theater production companies seldom presented more than one Black-created production in a season, she noted.
"There was the one slot in their season — you got the Black slot," Greenidge recalled. And "if it wasn't February, it was a miracle; if it wasn't Black History Month."
So finding herself taking part in Geva Theatre Center's "Recognition Radio" series — a series of four plays written and directed by Black artists, presented online in an audio format — to begin the Rochester-based theater's 2020-21 season is gratifying for the playwright.
"It's exciting when there's more than one Black voice in a season," she said — and when those Black voices are diverse and nuanced, as in the Geva series. In such circumstances, "I think Black playwrights are allowed to grow, and are allowed to put different stories into the marketplace. ... It allows audiences to enjoy different types of stories as well."
"Recognition Radio: An Audio Play Festival Celebrating Black Voices" begins Oct. 27 with Greenidge's play "Feeding Beatrice," with others beginning Nov. 8, Nov. 24 and Dec. 8. The four plays are adapted into digital audio productions that provide an immersive listening experience; access to a link to the stream is $17 each or $60 for all four, and can be ordered at https://recognition-radio.com.
At this pivotal time for both the country as a whole and the Rochester area, presenting a series like this one — four diverse works by Black playwrights, brought to life by Black directors, actors, sound designers and rehearsal coordinators — is an important step and statement, noted Esther Winter, creative producer for the series.
"(Geva) wanted to really make a statement and use the opportunity to highlight Black plays and artists," Winter said. It's an engagement that will continue beyond the course of the audio productions, she added: "Not only are they wonderful plays, but (Geva) really wanted to enter an ongoing relationship with each playwright. Geva is committing to produce one of their plays in an upcoming season. It's a really great first step as far as creating relationships with each of the playwrights."
Greenidge is particularly happy with the timing: Not only are the plays not relegated to February, but her show opens right before Halloween — appropriate due to the haunting nature of "Feeding Beatrice," about a Black couple renovating their new home in an all-white suburban neighborhood, who find the house is occupied by the demanding, ravenous spirit of a young white girl who died in the 1950s. The couple, June and Lurie, are living on bread and margarine to afford their dream home, a dream that turns increasingly dark as their intruder segues from innocent requests to vicious demands.
For Greenidge, inspired by a story in an old Alfred Hitchcock anthology magazine about a young couple enduring a similar haunting, "I got very interested in the idea: What will you forfeit? How much will you pay to buy into the American dream?" It's a question that moves increasingly to the heart of the play as the level of abuse and indignity at Beatrice's hands ramps up, since abuse rarely is ended by accommodation.
And, she noted, it may be easy for some to view Beatrice's casually racist attitudes as an anachronism, those held by a ghost from America's past — but a more thoughtful consideration will see some of Beatrice in contemporary society, even oneself.
Greenidge is excited to be working with Geva, and with the creative team that presented "Feeding Beatrice" last year at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, including director Daniel Bryant, sound designer David Kelepha Samba and actors Lorene Chesley, Nathan James, Allison Winn and Ronald Emiel. Dramaturg Francisca Da Silveira, assistant literary director for Geva, previously co-ran an emerging writers program with Greenidge. So it's been enjoyable to work with Geva and with people familiar with the work on adapting the play to the audio format, and to be fully engaged in the process.
"The mission of this program is important — and being able to work at this particular time" amid the coronavirus pandemic, Greenidge said. "So many colleagues are not working at this time; so many colleagues may be working and not in as fruitful a way. This was very fulfilling; it did not feel like I'm just mailing in my play and having someone else take it on. It felt like we were building something, and that's very important to me."
Coming next after "Feeding Beatrice" is "The Bleeding Class" (starting Nov. 8), written by Chisa Hutchinson and directed by Jade King Carroll. This socio-political thriller is perhaps particularly timely: A Dominican-American escort from the Bronx and a Black doctor try to save the world from the sudden outbreak of a deadly plague.
The next show, "we are continuous" (starting Nov. 24) is about the relationship between a mother and son, tested first by his coming out and then by his HIV diagnosis. It's written by Harrison David Rivers and directed by Theresa M. Davis.
Closing out the series will be "The Resurrection of Michelle Morgan" (starting Dec. 8), in which the playwright, Christa Anderson, imagines herself in the near future, working 10 gigs just to get by and disillusioned with her art form by a harrowing experience — who's then offered a surprise commission for a new play. Robbie McCauley will direct.
According to Winter, Geva is planning a number of supplemental programs around the productions, some throughout the series and some keyed to specific shows. Ideas being considered include a book club, a virtual blog wall for people to tell their stories, a watch party for a film with a similar theme to one of the plays, and, keyed to "Finding Beatrice," a program on the history of Black horror film.
More online offerings
— Bobby Henrie, joined by Harry Aecto and Trevor Lake as the Reboppers, will play jazz, swing and jump at 7 p.m. Thursdays, Oct. 22 and 29 for the Little Theatre's "Virtual Little Cafe." Link to the stream is at thelittle.org.
— Bristol Valley Theater's "Mystery Radio Theater," featuring four half-hour mysteries from the golden age of radio re-created by BVT performers, began streaming Oct. 16. "Sherlock Holmes: The Problem of Thor Bridge" (1945) and "Lights Out: Ghost Party" (1937) are now available to watch, with "Suspense: Ray Bradbury's Zero Hour" (1955) and "The Shadow: The Long Arm of Death" (1954) going up at 12:01 a.m. Friday, Oct. 23. All four shows can be viewed through Nov. 30. Access can be purchased for $5 per show or $15 for all four; you'll receive a link and password to use. Tickets: bvtnaples.org.
— JCC Centerstage's "Gloria: A Life" by Emily Mann, about the life and work of feminist activist Gloria Steinem along with her Jewish and BIPOC contemporaries, continues through Oct. 25. The show is performed live online at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22; 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25. Tickets are $20 ($35 household, $50 supporter). Get tickets at https://jccrochester.org/centerstage/upcoming-shows/gloria-a-life-performed-live-online; a Zoom webinar link will be sent to you from "JCC Rochester" 24 hours and 1 hour before the event.
— Ward Stare will conduct the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of Schubert's Symphony No. 5 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22, as part of the RPO @ Home series of virtual concerts. The concert also will include Jessie Montgomery's "Starburst" and Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll." Tickets are available at https://my.rpo.org/537/541.
— Writers & Books will host author Kate Reed Petty in a virtual event, reading from her debut novel "True Story," at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22. Admission is free, but registration is required; register at https://wab.org/event/kate-reed-petty-true-story/. Your Zoom link will be sent to you between 5:15 p.m. and one hour before the event starts. On its website, Writers & Books calls the novel "part psychological thriller, part fever dream, and part timely comment on sexual assault, power, and the very nature of truth. Ingeniously constructed and full of twists and turns."
— Golden Link Folk Singing Society will continue to hold its Tuesdayevening virtual Sing-Around at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 27. The link to join the Zoom musical gathering is at goldenlink.org.