By Karen Stokes
Black Arts MKE presents the 2023 MKE Black Theatre Festival, August 9-27, 2023. This year’s festival is expanding from one week to a three-week-long celebration of Black arts and culture.
“The mission is to expose Black theater to all communities in Milwaukee. To let people know that Black theater exists, it’s a real thing, it’s tangible,” said Creative Director, Vato Vergara. “It’s also to bridge a gap between community people, theater people and just people in Milwaukee in general. There are a lot of people who don’t even know this is something they can access.”
Experience this threeweek theater festival with ticketed and free events, including two full-production plays, auditions, play development workshops, a Black history presentation, youth and family night, a poetry set, and more. Events will be held at various venues including Marquette University, The Table at Alice’s Garden, Wisconsin Black Historical Society and Museum, and Studio 4A at Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
Aspiring actors will have the opportunity to audition for the holiday play, Black Nativity.
“There’s a family night where all generations come together to celebrate theater. You’ll have some dancing, performances, food trucks, vendors, it’s an amazing kick off. Participate in our workshops for guidance on head shots and knowledge of audition techniques,” Vergara said.
At the festival, you’ll have the chance to experience the power of two compelling full-production plays, “Mud Row” and “The Meeting.”
“Mud Row” directed by Marti Gobel unravels the stories of two generations of sisters in the East End of West Chester, Pennsylvania, as they grapple with and understanding the root causes of crime occurring are essential in continuing to make consistent effort in making Milwaukee a safer city. All three community leaders believe that addressing the youth, and providing education, opportunity and housing stability for Milwaukeeans is themes of race, class, love, loss, and family, seeking to redefine generational patterns. This extraordinary production is the result of a unique collaboration with Marquette University’s VIP Theatre Program.
“The Meeting” directed by Denzel Taylor is a fascinating one-act play that depicts the supposed meeting of two of the most important men of modern times: Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Director Denzel Taylor explains, “The Meeting” is a fictitious meeting between Dr. King and Malcolm X, written in 1987 by Jeff Stetson. A lot of the words in the play are inspired by interviews with some of their philosophies and things said about them. It’s primarily a two person play. We get to explore a little more about their philosophies. I don’t think the play takes the direction of one person is right, one person is wrong, it helps to incite thinking.”
The festival is produced by Black Arts MKE, a Black-led performing arts organization that serves predominantly Black communities. Black Arts MKE is committed to increasing the availability and quality of African American arts and culture.
Major supporters and sponsors for the MKE Black Theatre Festival include BMO Harris Bank, National Endowment for the Arts, The Black Seed, Northwestern Mutual, Milwaukee County’s Office of Equity, Katie Heil – Heil Family Foundation and the United Performing Arts Fund. Other supporters include BankFiveNine and Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown LLP and in-kind sponsor Festival Foods.
“At the MKE Black Theatre Festival you are going to see local Milwaukee creatives and on the next level of that, local Black Milwaukee creatives. You’re going to find them hard at work in different areas to bring together this holistic experience for a lot of people,” Taylor said.
When asked about the plans for the future of the MKE Black Theatre Festival, Vergara said, “This needs to be the “Summerfest” of theater. Don’t be afraid to show up, this is for everybody. If you show up for something, you’re going to leave with something.” For more information about the MKE Black Theatre Festival visit www.blackartsmke.org.