ABOUT THE PROJECT
City Theatre celebrates Black History Month 2022 by highlighting an historic season of Black theatre makers who have helped shape our re-opening and lovingly held us to the fire of our core values of Community, Creativity, Collaboration and EDIA. Black History Month offers us a moment to honor the immeasurable contributions of African- Americans to the fabric of our country. While looking at our past gives us a direct path to our future, it is imperative that we also focus on the present by uplifting those who currently contribute to that long history of resilience. After years of social unrest, major industry changes and challenges, art shines as vibrantly as a star in the night guiding us to refuge. We thank the following directors and lead artists for their contribution to our company and audiences and for the indelible mark they have made on the American Theatre. Their art is bold, nuanced, and lives in a truth that stands the test of time. They are Black History in the making!
Steven Sapp– Co- Founder of Universes and performer in Live from the Edge
Linda Haston– Director of the Young Playwrights Festival 2021
Reginald L. Douglas– Director of An Untitled New Play by Justin Timberlake
Kent Gash– Director of Paradise Blue
REGINALD L. DOUGLAS
A note from Reginald:
As an African American director and Artistic Director, I have the honor of standing on the shoulders of African American artists and arts leaders who spoke truth to power through their creativity and craft, often in the face of discrimination and disrespect. Their resilience and determination to create art that reflects the truth, joy, and pain of our history and our future has opened doors for me and I strive to open more for the next few generation of artists. When I walk into the rehearsal room and Board rooms now, I bring those ancestors and dreamers with me and pull up more chairs for the next Reg Douglas’ to take their rightful seats in.
A note about Reginald from Co-Artistic Director Clare Drobot:
Joy and rigor are hallmarks of Reg Douglas’ artistry. On each process, he builds a true community around a production and leads a room with an incredible amount of heart. His passion is infectious and vision inspiring. He is also a consummate collaborator with a keen eye for new play development which was wildly evident in his work on An Untitled New Play By Justin Timberlake. Working closely with playwright and composter Matt Schatz, he shepherded the play’s journey from a script with a few songs to a world premiere musical over the course of several years and a global pandemic. We are fortunate that City theater has been an artistic home for him and beyond excited to see how his leadership will continue to shape the American Theatrical landscape.
A Poem by Steven Sapp
Can you define Blackness?
Is it what Webster says?
Is it a definition too complicated to define?
Too many skeletons in its closet
Does it cling to an afro?
Wrap itself around Aretha’s voice?
Does it hang from a tree,
Choking on its own blood
Does it use its blackness to gain access to high-risk neighborhoods?
How black does black have to be before it shows how black it is?
Does it walk with a bop?
Does it have a jheri curl, or dread locks?
Is it braided or have a weave down its back?
Can it dunk a basketball?
Will it march and march and march
Asking to be considered equal
Is it related to Niggers, Coons and colored folks?
Does it consider suicide,
When its blackness isn’t enough?
Does it carry a gun,
Riding in a car looking to shoot itself?
Does black even want to be black anymore?
Is black still beautiful?
Or is it the boogieman
Boogieing late into the night
Keeping the beat
Is it Miles Davis/ Black
Or Aunt Jemima/ Black
Is it O.J. Simpson/ Black
Or Nina Simone/ Black
Chitterlings/ moonwalk/ Panthers/ Black
What is its color?
Is it Al Green/ James Brown/ Barry White/ Black?
Is it a don’t ask don’t tell Marvin Gaye/ Black?
Or does black simply exist
Needing no introduction?
Maybe it just is
And you’ll know it when you see it.
A note about Steven by Co-Artistic Director Marc Masterson
Steven Sapp made his own path in the American Theatre and he made it his way. Starting in the hip-hop poetry scene at Nuyorican Poet’s Café in the 1990’s he formed the ensemble Universes with Mildred Ruiz and others to great acclaim. Performing at many of the country’s leading not-for-profit theatres for three decades his work has been seen by tens of thousands of audience members all over the country. His writing is energetic, funny, political, and hard hitting. It is also personal.
A note from Linda:
My quote for other artists of color in my field is this: Never stop pursuing what you know to be is your destiny no matter how many disappointments. Do not depend your success on because you are of color or of the female persuasion, DO THE WORK!!! Always learn from people who are smarter than you. Speak up for diversity wherever you find there is a disparity. As an artist do more than one discipline and always assist others in their pursuit of success.
A note on Linda from Co-Artistic Director Monteze Freeland
Linda Haston believes in the process. She starts at the beginning with the end in mind, but shortcuts are not allowed. Being around that type of energy can either make one fold or stand up in their power as an artist. As a teacher, she gives space for students to explore within bounds that keeps focus yet allows for imagination to thrive. It only felt right to have Linda direct this year’s Young Playwrights Festival, the first African- American woman to do so, as she brought her signature style of necessity, warmth, infectious laugh, and strength to the room which reminded all of us to go back to the basics and remember our purpose.
A note from Kent:
My name is Kent Gash and my theatrical career began first as an actor in Denver, CO, where I was born and raised. Denver has a thriving Black community and my parents loved music and theatre and took us to all kinds of live performance as children, we studied piano for at least a year and then could do anything else we wanted. I studied piano and eventually singing from the time I was eight until I was eighteen. At fourteen years old, I performed in school as well as professionally in Denver in commercials, plays and musicals. I was accepted in the Carnegie-Mellon School of Drama where I thrived and graduated in 1982! Among my dearest friends and colleagues from CMU are Rob Marshall, Jordan Thaler, Tamara Tunie, the late Gail Grate and my friend and mentor, Mel Shapiro. While here in Pittsburgh I worked with Tome Cousin, Lenora Nemetz, Etta Cox and Joe Franze in THE WIZ and some fledgling Director named… Marc Masterson (!) I have wonderful family here in Pittsburgh, Milt and Nancy Washington, and it was because of my training at Carnegie-Mellon that I was ready to move to NYC and have a thriving career as an actor in plays and musicals, ethnocentric, brand new and classical.
By the time I was in my thirties I had been a working actor for nearly twenty years. But in most of my work I was always directed by White, straight, cisgender male identifying directors. Where were the black Directors, the openly LGBTQIA directors, the female identifying directors, the Latinx, the Indigenous, the Asian? All the voices that I had grown up with in Denver, at CMU and throughout New York, many of them prodigiously gifted, were either missing in action or if included, were never LEADING THE ROOM!
What to do?
BECOME THE CHANGE I WANTED TO SEE! If I became a director, I knew I could make space for other people like me and put them at the center of the stage.
Thanks to Mel Shapiro, who had moved on to UCLA, I went to LA and earned my MFA in directing for theatre and Television.
Every artist who has realized their potential does so because at a critical juncture someone important to them recognized them and their gift and said, “ I SEE YOU! KEEP DOING THAT!” My parents, Lee Webster and Thelma Gash, my sister Lee Kathryn Gash-Maxey, all my family and friends said KEEP DOING THAT! Mel Shapiro said KEEP DOING THAT! Kent Thompson, Susan Booth and Oskar Eustis said KEEP DOING THAT! Elizabeth Bradley, Mary Schmidt Campbell and New York University said KEEP DOING THAT… so we founded The New Studio on Broadway, NYU’s Professional Theatre Training Program in Acting and Musical Theatre where the entire full time faculty is Black, Latinx and Asian. Over seventy percent of the adjunct faculty is BIPOC and LGBTQIA. As of December I have become the Artistic Director of The Acting Company, a theatre company founded by John Houseman and Margot Harley. The former Artistic Directors have included Margot Harley, Ian Belknap, Joe Dowling, Michael Kahn and the great American Regional Theatre pioneer, Zelda Fichandler. I am the first African American to lead the company.
In my work and in my life I have been seen, encouraged and rewarded for my Artistic curiosity, and my love of storytelling. I hope that being Black and Black excellence is celebrated in every play I and every class I’m involved in. If I can make more opportunities for more people, and expand the creative conversation, then I will have made some small difference. That is my fervent hope and my goal.
To every emerging BIPOC and LGBTQIA artist, storyteller and theatre maker, I say…
I SEE YOU!
KEEP DOING THAT!
A note about Kent from Co-Artistic Director Marc Masterson:
Kent Gash has been a leading artist in the American Theatre for four decades. His work has been seen all over the country and he is a champion of the current and next generation of theatre makers. Kent is rigorous in his craft, inspired in his creativity, and a true artist in everything that he touches. His steady hand has guided over a hundred productions, and he has experience in a wide range of styles. We need this kind of visionary to lead us forward.