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Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe
Department of Theatre and Drama

John Kinzer
Department of Theatre and Drama

Jennifer Piurek
University Communications

Last modified: Tuesday, July 15, 2008

IU presents its first black theatre conference

Event marks culmination of inaugural Black Play Lab

July 15, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind.--To create a space for black voices to be heard artistically and start a meaningful dialogue about black identity in the theatre, Indiana University Bloomington's Department of Theatre and Drama will host the university's first-ever conference (Aug. 1-3) devoted solely to black theatre projects.


Photo by: Donya Maleto

Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe gives instruction to a performer.

Print-Quality Photo

The 2008 IU Mini-Conference on Black Theatre seeks to stimulate scholarship and discussion about theatre by and for people of African descent, said conference organizer Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe.

"We seek to remark on black theatre's relevance, creation and practice," said Cooper-Anifowoshe, a faculty member in IU's Department of Theatre and Drama. "We seek to create definitions of black theatre, both continental and abroad, and integrate it within the context of the black community, the nation and in relationship to other popular culture -- as well as to identify and honor black theatre artists past and present."

The three-day event marks the culmination of IU's inaugural Black Play Lab (July 18 - Aug. 3), a development workshop for black dramatic works. The conference -- which will be attended by a multiethnic array of scholars from as far away as Indonesia -- will feature a keynote address by Obie Award-winning playwright Ed Bullins, a seminal black playwright and distinguished professor at Northeastern University.

Conference highlights will include staged readings of two new, never-before performed plays by playwrights Robert Alexander and Niyi Coker Jr. and a workshop with playwright Amy Evans.

Alexander is a past playwright-in-residence at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre in San Francisco and the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., and his plays have been performed at prestigious venues that include the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Robert Alexander

Robert Alexander

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Niyi Coker Jr. is the endowed chair of African and African American Studies at the Center for International Studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and founding artistic director of the African Arts Ensemble in New York City. Robert Alexander will present his new play, Bulletproof Hearts, and Niyi Coker Jr., will present his new play, Endangered Species.

"This conference offers a tremendous opportunity to bring attention to the development of African American Theatre projects," said Jonathan Michaelsen, chair of IU's Department of Theatre and Drama. "Scholars from across the nation will present papers on black theatre -- which will help start a dialogue that we hope will continue long past the conference, and far beyond the borders of this campus. The fact that playwrights as well-known as Robert Alexander and Niyi Coker Jr. are bringing their never-before produced plays to be read here is a major development for our department."

Taking part in the staged readings (scheduled for the evenings of Aug. 1 and 2) will be Segun Ojewuyi, head of directing at Southern Illinois University Carbondale; guest actors Denise Lee, Ansa Akeya and Algin Ford; and preeminent dramaturge Sydne Mahone, a professor of playwriting at the University of Iowa. Participating IU student actors are Jamaal McCray, Shauna Burris, Aaron Collins and Erin Ehlers.

Playwright Amy Evans, who developed a series of workshops based on real-life events after the 2001 shooting of a young African woman in Germany, will offer a performance writing workshop. Following the incident in Germany, said Evans, black community leaders organized demonstrations, using performance as one way to comment on racially motivated brutality.

"The result was a three-year development process culminating in the world premiere of [the play] Achidi J's Final Hours in London," said Evans. "Afterward, I developed a series of workshops based upon this development process with Humboldt University students in Berlin -- most of them completely new to performance writing -- as part of a multidisciplinary approach to gender and race studies."

The conference, which will take place at the Lee Norvelle Theatre & Drama Center, is made possible through a New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities grant. All events, including presentations of scholarly papers, workshops and presentations by scholars from around the world and from the IU student and faculty community, are free and open to the public.

For a complete schedule of events, see

New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities
Created through a generous gift from the Lilly Endowment Inc., New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities programs help faculty members at Indiana University to 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.