ABOVE PHOTO: “Home to Homeland” with dancer Sanchel Brown.
From now until May 2, plays, panel discussion and more will be there for all to see during Theater Philadelphia’s Philly Theater Week.
By Denise Clay-Murray
Since March 2020, the marquees on Philadelphia’s theaters have been dark due to shutdowns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, while there won’t be any gatherings at the Wilma Theater as part of the festivities, Theater Philadelphia’s Philly Theater Week returned on Thursday with an opening night kickoff that featured performances from Cirque De Nuit, We’re Trying Up Here Entertainment and the Laurel Tree Theater, among others.
The fourth annual, 11-day event will feature 75 performances from now until Sunday, May 2. The performances include virtual live events, pre-taped events and some events that are on-location and interactive, said LaNeshe Miller-White, Theater Philadelphia’s executive director.
After a year where the theater community was sidelined due to no fault of its own, the chance to share performances with an audience brings back a little bit of normalcy, she said.
“The companies have been figuring out ways that they can produce theater safely,” Miller-White said. “Theater Week gives people a chance to either go to the theater for the first time or try a new company they haven’t seen before.”
But because a cold for mainstream theater companies can be the equivalent of COVID-19 for companies comprised of people of color, Theater Week includes “Places, Please -The Corner,” an event put on by the Black Theater Alliance designed to help Black performers return to the stage, Miller-White said.
“We asked Black artists what they needed in terms of support,” she said. “What we found that they were missing was access to space. Rehearsal and performance space is expensive. We wanted to connect them with the resources they needed.”
There’s something for everyone from the very young to the not-so-young. For young people, there are several outdoor productions including Val Dunn and Jenna Keurzi’s event “The Dumpster Dive.” This event will be held at various locations throughout Theater Week including Clark Park in West Philadelphia and Dickinson Park in South Philadelphia.
Dance partisans, history buffs, and those who like beloved plays performed in different ways, the Wilma Theater is presenting “Fat Ham,” a take on Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Nubienne Production’s “Home to Homeland,” a production that combines the dances of New Orleans, Baltmore and the African Continent, and “Apostle To Freedom,” a one-man show performed by Leonard Dozier of Cineplay Productions that tells the story of Philadelphia’s own Richard Allen, the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
August Wilson was one of America’s foremost playwrights and with cinematic productions of such plays as “Fences” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” his work has been getting a lot of attention lately.
The day-long commemoration of his life, “Celebrating August Wilson” will be held on Tuesday, beginning at 11a.m. on the August Wilson Consortium’s Facebook page. The celebration will focus on Wilson’s American Century Cycle, featuring plays that depict the Black experience in each American decade, said Patrice Armstead, the consortium’s founder.
While Wilson’s work was set in the 60s and 70s, it continues to resonate at a time when Black lives are demanding to matter, Armstead said.
“This is a great time to revisit Wilson’s canon,” she said. “There is a lot that we’re experiencing now that we can view through the prism of the American Century Cycle.”
Many Philly Theater Week events are either free or pay what you can. For others, tickets range between $15 and $30, Miller-White said.
For more information or to purchase tickets, go to: www.phillytheaterweek.com.