Black Creatives Aotearoa Playwrights’ Lab

You only have to look at the list of names at the Black Creatives Aotearoa Playwrights’ Lab Showcase to realise you’re in for something special. The full line-up is displayed on a sign in the foyer at Auckland Theatre Company Studios in Balmoral, where the 2022 showcase is set to take place. The list includes nationally-recognised writers, directors, actors; those at the helm of smash hit seasons at iconic venues across Tāmaki Makaurau, including the BCA-led Po’ Boys and Oysters; emerging creatives, practitioners, multidisciplinary artists galore.

Time by Keagan Fransch with Ashleigh Williams and Layla Pitt, directed by Lynnette Harris.

Over the course of the day, we’re treated to scripts by Alex de Vries (a fellow bad apple theatre correspondent!), Alvie McKree, Ayo Becksley-Adesanya, Dione Joseph, Estelle Chout, Kauthar Eckstein, Keagan Carr Fransch, and Tawanda Manyimo, brought to life by four directors and a cast of 14 actors. The range of talent on display is impressive on multiple levels. There’s great variety in the scripts: we’re spanning centuries past, present, and future; imagined realms, re-imagined worlds, determinedly grounded ones. The eight scripts traverse genres readily, and with ease, and where there are thematic similarities between texts, each writer charts the path uniquely.

Creative roles prove continually fluid throughout the afternoon: some playwrights are also directing; some are facilitating Q&A panels (a very welcome recurring element of the showcase). Actors and directors will ask questions of their fellows; deep understanding, deep laughter, will roll through the room. Even in between sessions, this is an atmosphere alive: connected, kinetic, open. It’s this way right from the moment I walk in: clear appreciation for each other as people, as creatives, and for the contributions made to these works both past and present. It doesn’t feel trite. There’s a real sense of company, cultivated with care.

The River Queen with Genevieve Lenon and Ashleigh Williams, directed By Alvie McKree

There are several moments throughout the day—some of which hold, crackling and electric, for many minutes at a time—in which I can see beyond the unadorned room we’re in at ATC Studios, like some sort of prophetic superimposition. The skill on display in these scripts, in the direction of them, in the actors’ performances, transports us into spacecrafts and salons, into futures where these works are fully realised: onstage, with sets, with score. By and large, they prove themselves ready to be. The rest of the audience seems to share the sentiment: the woman next to me says one of the plays was rendered so vividly she felt like it was a movie; another audience member asks a playwright what happens post-extract, throughout the rest of the script.

Gondwanaland by Tawanda Manyimo with Fathe Tesfamariam, Mohamad Abdilahi, Beatriz Karina Quinones and Jane Benney Kelly, directed by Alvie McKree.

Showcases are an invaluable environment for developing artists and projects, for getting work up on its feet. They provide creatives space in which to collaborate, to present, and to engage in dialogue surrounding their work as it continues building. To play audience to this part of the process feels like a gift. And in the audience on this early November Saturday there is a distinct sense of delight and propulsion. There’s abundance. There’s impact. We can all feel a sense of wanting more, more, more. Space for the full picture. For the hilarious; visceral; hard-hitting; heartwarming; heightened; triumphant work.

In hindsight, I find myself thinking about who else was in that room with me. Who has the resources to programme these scripts, and get them into theatres. Because the talent is there, across the board. The work produced by the team at BCA has, and would—and will—light up mainstages (one emphatic scrawl in my notebook from the afternoon literally reads ‘STAR’). I suppose, really, the question ought to fall not on who will programme the work, but rather who will get there first. Who will front up for the fourth-wall-breaking conference room? For the space shuttle? For the office at the gates of heaven? 

Black Maori Girl with Mukuka Musowa, Amina Farah, DK Verrian and Serena Mani, directed by Sandra Zvenyika.

The feeling I get in the room is that BCA will be more than ready when the moment comes. That, in many ways, with these showcases, and with their demonstrated dedication to their kaupapa, they’re creating the moments themselves. And having spent five hours in the steady ebb and flow of the ATC Studios audience, I can promise this: theatregoers will be right there with them.

The following playwrights, directors and actors were involved in the success of the BCA showcase:

PLAYWRIGHTS: Alex de Vries, Alvie McKree, Ayo Becksley-Adesanya, Estelle Chout, Kauthar Eckstein, Keagan Carr-Fransch, Tawanda Manyimo, Dione Joseph

DIRECTORS: Alvie McKree, Keven Souza, Lynnette Harris and Sandra Zvenyika

ACTORS: Amina Farah, Ashleigh Williams, Beatriz Karina Quinones, Chika Adeosun, Doroteia Verrian, Fathe Tesfamariam, Genevieve Lenon, Jane Benney Kelly, Ladi Ajayi, Layla Pitt, Mohamed Abdillahi, Mūkuka Musowa, Serena Mani and Tane Williams Accra.

Black Creatives Aotearoa have asked us to share some context for the lab for readers to better understand the work put in across the last few years.

“BCA’s playwrights’ lab began in 2019 with three emerging playwrights (Alvie McKree, Ayo Beckley-Adesanya and Munashe Tapfuya) who received three dramaturgical sessions from industry professionals Annette Morehu, Nathan Joe and Albert Belz prior to a weekend workshop with actors Sandra Zvenyika, Batanai Mashingaidze and Otis Donovan-Herring, and all three readings directed by Dione Joseph. The weekend culminated in a showcase at Auckland Theatre Company’s Studio in Balmoral. Due to COVID the playwrights’ lab ran online growing to six (2020) and then eight (2021) playwrights from around the country who developed their scripts with industry professionals. In 2022, eight scripts were selected to have their excerpts shared as part of the BCA Playwrights Lab showcase that also coincided with the launch of the BCA Emerging Directors Program. This year also involved 14 rotating actors and four directors, a massive undertaking. The lab is helmed by Artistic Director Dione Joseph (also directing mentor to the four directors), Producer Daisy Remington, Production Coordinator Kauthar Eckstein and was supported by Stage Manager Marie Valu.”

Featured photos by Michael Loh courtesy of Black Creatives Aotearoa.


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