Artists share a glimpse of the black diaspora
Four international artists paid a recent visit to the USC School of Theatre to share their work and experiences as playwrights and artistic directors from the modern Black Diaspora, which describes the migration and settlement of black people away from their ancestral homeland.
The guest artists were invited to campus by Velina Hasu Houston, associate dean and director of dramatic writing, to speak to students and showcase their work for the theatrical event “Voices From the Black Diaspora: Playwrights Writing Around the World.”
Encouraging writers in an undergraduate playwriting class taught by faculty member Paula Cizmar, the artists gave students advice about surviving the theatre business and creating great work.
“Go to the art first, go to the heart of you that’s coming out, and the clearer, stronger, more precisely ‘you’ it is, the better the work,” said Philip Akin, artistic director of Toronto’s Obsidian Theatre Company.
Akin was joined by playwrights Jane Harrison, an Aboriginal artist of Muruwari descent from Australia; Alemtsehay Wedajo, an exiled Ethiopian artist and founder of Tayitu Entertainment and the Ethiopian Actress Association; and Kwame Kwei-Armah, a British playwright of black Grenadian ancestry and artistic director of Baltimore Center Stage.
“Art, for me, is a catalyst for a debate or it is nothing. It is a mirror or we are nobody,” Kwei-Armah told students. “If we, as writers, are simply there just to reflect our tiny sphere or our tiny bit of light, then we are bastardizing the title of artist. We are only here to be mirrors of society.”
He continued, “I choose to be a writer who says, ‘I wish to investigate the world through the lens of my culture.’ ”
The culmination of the visit came on Jan. 28 at the McClintock Theatre, where the artists presented their work as part of the “Voices From the Black Diaspora” event, a theatrical performance of scenes from their plays, presented by Visions and Voices and organized by the School of Theatre.
The event featured scenes from signature works, such as Wedajo’s Available, directed by Anita Dashiell-Sparks of the School of Theatre; Kwei-Armah’s Elimina’s Kitchen, directed by Akin; and Harrison’s Stolen, also directed by Dashiell-Sparks.
The performance was followed by a discussion that focused on connecting theatrical writing and representation of immigrants and communities of color to society – such as gender studies, history, sociology, political science and more.