‘Black Lives Black Words’ festival debuts on the university level at Northwestern

Hayley Krolik, Reporter

A 10-minute play festival called “Black Lives, Black Words” will analyze the question, “Do black lives matter today?” through Northwestern student work on Monday.

The event will be held at 8 p.m. in the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts. It will feature eight student pieces ranging from monologues to musical performances. Student contributor Amira Danan said the show portrays blackness in a different way than it is typically presented at Northwestern.

“Sometimes it does feel like black actors at Northwestern are pigeonholed into certain parts,” Danan said. “It’s great to have pieces where blackness is celebrated.”

“Black Lives, Black Words” started in Chicago in 2015, and the festival, which exhibits the work of several black playwrights, has since expanded to Minneapolis, Baltimore, London and other cities around the world.

Monday’s performance will be the first time the festival is presented at a university level. Theater Prof. Aaron Douglas said he came up with idea to bring “Black Lives, Black Words” to NU after working with the founder of the program, Reginald Edmund, on the initial exhibition in Chicago. Douglas said they plan to replicate the project at other universities in the future.

Laura Schellhardt, who heads the Northwestern Playwriting Program, worked with Douglas and Edmund to recruit student artists for the event. Both Douglas and Schellhardt feel that the event fills a need in the NU community that has existed for a long time.

“It’s easy for African-American students to feel pretty disenfranchised and isolated at a mainstream university like Northwestern,” Douglas said. “One of my main goals was to give a voice to the voiceless artists and the voiceless students in our campus community and turn them loose.”

To begin putting together the festival, Edmund sat down with the student writers to look at past pieces from the event and do an exercise based on the prompt, “do black lives matter today,” Schellhardt said. The writers then had a week to write the first draft and three weeks to put together a director, cast and rehearsal.

Schellhardt said the preparation for the event was a community effort and that she hopes it will bring the community together. Each student artist was matched with a faculty member to serve as an additional source of feedback, Schellhardt said. Schellhardt and Douglas also enlisted students to help with marketing and reached out to the Evanston community to promote the event.

“I’m excited about watching a community come together to see works that are all in a different genre,” Schellhardt said. “It feels as much of a community gathering as it does a play festival.”

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