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Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe
IU Department of Theatre and Drama

Last modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The IU Black Play Lab is seeking participants

April 30, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The IU Black Play Lab is seeking participation from scholars and practitioners of Black theater and performance for this summer's mini-conference.

The Black Play Lab at Indiana University Bloomington sets out to address the dearth of attention given to Black theater, its development and scholarship, according to IU faculty member Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe. With initial funding from IU's New Frontiers in the Arts, Black Play Lab will take place July 18-Aug. 3 in Bloomington.


Photo by: Donya Maleto

Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe (left) gives instruction to a performer.

Print-Quality Photo

IU's Department of Theatre & Drama will host two Black playwrights who will develop a new play with a dramaturge (playwright), director and professional and student actors. The plays will be presented the final weekend of the workshop, Aug. 1-3. Papers, panel presentations, poets and storytellers are now being sought to participate in the conference, which seeks to stimulate new scholarship on Black theater and strengthen Black theater and the connection of performances to the larger field of Black popular culture.

The participating playwrights are Robert Alexander and 'Niyi Coker Jr. Alexander -- co-author of the anthologies Colored Contradictions and The Fire This Time -- will work on Bulletproof Hearts, which is about the brutal effects of job stress on an Oakland police officer and his family.

Coker will work on a play about 1950s Black St. Louis, titled The Seamstress of St. Francis. Originally from Nigeria, Coker will work on his play about St. Louis life. He is the E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of African/African-American Theatre in the Center for International Studies at University of Missouri, St. Louis.

Cooper-Anifowoshe will direct Alexander and Coker and will be assisted by international director Segun Ojewuyi, who garnered high praise for his recent staging of Soyinka's Death & the King's Horseman at The Black Rep -- the nation's largest professional African American theater company located in St. Louis.

Those who are interested in participating in the IU Black Play Lab should contact Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe at

The IU Black Play Lab is funded by the New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities. Created through a generous gift from the Lilly Endowment Inc., the New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities Program helps IU faculty expand their work into disciplinary or interdisciplinary frontiers that promise new insights into the human condition or pursue innovative directions in artistic creativity. Administrative and financial oversight is provided by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research.

About Robert Alexander

Robert Alexander is the author of 29 plays including Servant of The People (a play about the rise and fall of Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party) and the widely seen I Ain't Yo' Uncle: The New Jack Revisionist Uncle Tom's Cabin and Secrets in The Sands, the latter two originally written for the San Francisco Mime Troupe. He is also the author of the very popular and much produced The Hourglass. As the playwright-in-residence at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, he wrote several world premieres for that company including Air Guitar (a rock opera) and We Almost Made it to The Super Bowl (a tragicomedy about racism in the NFL.) His works have been produced by some of the top regional theatres in the country including the Kennedy Center, Inner City Cultural Center, Los Angeles Theatre Center, The Hartford Stage Company, Jomandi Productions, St. Louis Black Repertory Company, Crossroads Theatre Company, Oakland Ensemble Theatre Company, The Mark Taper Forum, Karamu House, The Arena Players, Trinity Repertory Company, San Diego Repertory Theatre, Horizon Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, The Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and the National Pastime Theatre of Chicago. His most recent plays are Alien Motel 29, which together with Freak of Nature and A Preface to The Alient Garden (Broadway Play Publishing 2001) constitute the Erotic Justice Trilogy; Bulletproof Hearts; Gravity Pulls at The Speed of Darkness; The Neighbor's Dog is Always Barking; Home Free; Hatemachine; The Last Orbit of Billy Mars; Will he Bop, Will he Drop?; On a Street with No Name; and Forty Acres. These latter plays have come to be known as the Erotic Justice Play Cycle. Many of Alexander's early plays have been printed in various anthologies and l AIN'T YO' UNCLE is now available through Dramatic Publishing Company. Alexander has edited several play anthologies including Plays From Woolly Mammoth (Broadway Play Publishing, 1999) and The Fire This Time with Harry Elam for TCG Books, which was published in 2004 and includes plays by Alexander, August Wilson, Suzan-Lori Parks and Lynn Nottage among others. Alexander is the recipient of numerous writing awards and fellowships including grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gerbode Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Alexander is the former NEA/TCG resident playwright at Jomandi Productions in Atlanta, Ga., and the former playwright-in-residence at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. -- thanks to a residency made possible by TCG and the Pew Charitable Trusts' National Theatre Artist Residency Program. A graduate of Oberlin College, Alexander also holds an M.F.A. in theatre (playwriting) from the University of Iowa, where he was a Patricia Roberts Harris Fellow.

About 'Niyi Coker Jr.

'Niyi Coker Jr. received the B.A. in Dramatic Arts from the University of Ife in Nigeria, where he studied under Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka. He received the M.F.A. in Directing from Brooklyn College CUNY, and studied with Academy Award Winner F. Murray Abrahams. He received the Ph.D in African American Studies from Temple University, under the tutelage of social critic Molefi Asante and Pulitzer winner Charles Fuller. 'Niyi Coker has served as artistic director at the National Theatre of Nigeria, Malmo Hogskola in Sweden, and "The" theatre in Bermuda. He is the founding artistic director of the African Arts Ensemble in New York City. His theatre directing credits include Ola Rotimi's The Gods Are Not to Blame at the Nat Horne Theatre-Off Broadway in New York City, Lewis Nkosi's The Psychiatrist at the John Houseman Theatre in New York City (Theatre Row), and at King Alfreds Theatre in Winchester, England. He has also received the Kennedy Center Award and recognition for directing. He received British Council Grant and Support in writing the play, Endangered Species, which was also performed at John Houseman Theatre in New York and toured several theatres in the United Kingdom. In association with the Southern Ute Tribal Council in Colorado, he wrote the historical play, Ouray. This is a play based on the 19th century struggles of the Utes in Colorado, against European encroachment. His writing, directing and producing film credits include Black Studies USA, which won best short documentary at the Berlin Black Film Festival in Germany in 2005. He also produced The Black 14 for FERPA/PBS through the University of Wyoming Television. He has served as consultant for Black Canyon/HBO Productions' Emmy-nominated documentary Fields of Fire. His other films include Happy Birthday Gerome, The Gate, which is written by Arnold Baker and will soon be released. He has published two books: A Study of the Music and Social Criticism of African Musician Fela Kuti and Ola Rotimi's African Theatre: The Development of an Indigenous Aesthetic -- both published by Mellen Press. His articles have appeared in the NYU Renaissance Journal and Journal for Black Studies. He has a book chapter in the forthcoming Handbook for Black Studies, which was edited by Molefi Asante and Maulana Karenga and published by Sage Press.