Recently, the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) asked me to write a regional spotlight on what I see happening in Michigan theatre. My short article is below. Enjoy!

Regional Spotlight: Midwest – Michigan
Spot Op: Amanda Grace Ewing

“I keep a variety of quotes from this year’s LMDA Conference on my phone, which I revisit when I’m feeling stuck or need some motivation. In the past couple of months, I’ve begun to look for a note as I scroll: “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Affliction: trouble, burden, distress, oppress. Comfort: console, solace, support, uplift. Both of these verbs suggest a physical act of resistance and remind me that bodies carry text. As the national conversation around equity and diversity becomes more robust, theatre companies in my region, Southeastern Michigan, are more purposefully considering the dramaturgy of bodies: who gets to tell what stories and how? Who is afflicted and who is comfortable?

My artistic home is BoxFest Detroit (BFD), an annual one-act theatre festival that showcases local female-identifying directors. BFD has, and continues to, function as a springboard for local women and their directing careers. This year, when the organizers met to plan the festival, we began with strategizing how to leverage our visibility as an organization in order to serve more directors. In response to this challenge, we launched a new mentorship program. In this inaugural year, there were two mentorship opportunities available: Assistant Directing for Frannie Shepherd-Bates and the Tipping Point Theatre Sandbox Directorship. The first award granted a director a stipend and the opportunity to shadow, learn, and collaborate with a regional, experienced, female-identifying director at an Equity theatre; and the later award granted a director a stipend and the opportunity to direct a one-act play at an Equity theatre house. Our goals for this program are to: connect BFD directors with the greater Metro Detroit professional theatrical community, support the education of female directors, connect BFD directors with other female directors working in the community, remove challenges for BFD directors and professional theaters associated with the cost of education, travel, and artist salaries. While we are still in our pilot year – we’re excited to see how this program will affect hiring and visibility of female-identifying directors in Michigan.

Another Southeastern Michigan theatre company looking to create opportunities for marginalized communities is Black and Brown Theatre (BandB). BandB was founded in the summer of 2016 to address the inequity of casting in Michigan theatre. Like many other regions, white artists dominate Michigan theatre, and when considering casting, white is synonymous with neutral. Despite the Detroit area’s diverse population, oftentimes actors of color are only considered in casting when the script breakdown specifically calls for a certain race. Since their founding, BandB has worked to interrupt this narrative by presenting staged readings, showcases, productions, outreach, and education for and with communities of color – each action driving BandB towards the goal of becoming extinct in the next five to ten years. One valuable act of BandB is a humble Google Drive of headshots and resumes of actors of color, that casting directors can ask for access to. Currently, the database is viewable by 64 directors and has the information for 84 actors of color. This simple task has completely negated any claim of, I don’t know any actors of color, I can’t find anyone for this role, etc., and generated access for actors and casting directors to each other.

I’m excited that BFD and BandB are challenging narratives around who is in the room doing the work, that there are more companies in our region asking questions about access and equity, and that theatres and artists are using the resources that companies like BoxFest Detroit and Black and Brown Theatre provide. I hope that as all of us connect with each other we can be a force to afflict those comfortable in the white narrative, and comfort those looking to see themselves in the texts we present.”

 

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Nyjae Maria in “Valerie: A Cosplay Monologue” written by Asher Wyndham, directed by Amanda Grace Ewing. Photo courtesy of Kelly Rossi. (BoxFest Detroit 2017)

 

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I’m really excited to announce that this year I will be directing at BoxFest Detroit! After taking a few years off to serve primarily as a producer of the festival, this year I am happy that I will be able to do both.

This year I’m working on a one-act called, “Valerie: A Cosplay Monologue”. I’m thrilled to be working with this play that challenges the culture of sexual assault at comic cons through the voice of a single female character. I start rehearsals soon and I’m really looking forward to playing with the comic book style of this play. As an educator, I’m also really passionate about sharing this information on rape culture.

As a producer of BoxFest Detroit, I am happy to announce that the festival is returning again this year! Now the longest running theatre festival in the Detroit area, BoxFest is an annual theatre festival that showcases and creates opportunities for women directors. This year the festival runs Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons and evenings, August 19 – 27, at Planet Ant Theatre.

Planet Ant Theatre is located at 2357 Caniff, Hamtramck, MI, 48212. Admission is payable by cash only at the door with day passes for $10.

BoxFest Detroit produces festivals that allow women directors the opportunities to direct original shows of their choice and win awards to help further their careers in directing. Proceeds from each festival are given to one or more directors as a scholarship to help further her career. The winning director of the audience vote competition is given the opportunity to direct a show with Planet Ant Theatre’s Late Night Series.

Over the two weekends long festival, BoxFest Detroit 2016 presents the work of 13 local women theatre artists. Directors reshaping the box this year are Mycah Leigh Artis, Dyan Bailey, Yolanda Fleischer, Emily Harpe, Wendy Katz Hiller, Shannon Hurst, RoNeesha Jackson, Michelle Resnick, Frannie Shepherd-Bates, Andaiye Spencer, Terie Spencer, Jennifer Ward, and Megan Wright. The producing team for BoxFest Detroit 2016 includes Molly McMahon, Kelly Rossi, and Amanda Grace Ewing.

“Once again, the BoxFest Detroit festival will feature exciting new work directed by a few of Michigan’s hardest-working and dynamic theatre artists,” said Molly McMahon, Artistic Director. While some women are new to directing or are just beginning professional careers, others are established artists with decades of experience. “Whether she is directing for the first time or whether she is a seasoned professional, each of our directors bring to their work the creative spark and vision necessary for success,” continued McMahon.

“We cannot wait to see the plays that were selected brought to life this year by our talented directors and actors,” said Kelly Rossi, Executive Director. “With over 500 play submissions, the selection process was tougher than ever before, and we look forward to audiences enjoying new plays by playwrights from across the U.S. and Canada.”

BoxFest Detroit, the only theatre festival of its kind in the U.S., is an annual theatre festival that showcases the work of and provides opportunities for women directors. BoxFest Detroit has served and continues to function as a springboard for many women and their directing careers. Directors who have participated in past festivals have gone on to pursue graduate studies at highly competitive universities, become directors at professional theatres, and form their own successful theatre and production companies. For more information, visit www.boxfestdetroit.com. BoxFest Detroit 2016 is sponsored by Planet Ant Theatre.

Press Release:

That’s right, folks! We’re back and BoxFest Detroit 2015 is happening! We’re really excited to be hosted by Planet Ant Theatre, Fridays and Saturdays, August 21 – 29. This is Molly McMahon, Artistic Director, excitedly typing away the good news.

Last year we regrouped and with more resources, we’re looking forward to our 2015 festival. We’ve gotten financial support from some generous people including Jerry Belanger and Park Bar Detroit, and Kennikki Jones-Jones and Edmund Alyn Jones and their company, Dramatically Richer Productions. We are so grateful for their support and want to shout our thanks from the rooftops. If you see these folks around town, give them a hug, a high five, or just say “You’re awesome!” to them. They really deserve it.

But wait, there’s more! We’re also adding a new face to the producing team! Amanda Ewing, a fantastic director in the Detroit area and past BFD director, has joined us as a producer this year. She will be a great asset to the festival and a great resource for newer directors looking for guidance.

We’re really looking forward to returning to Planet Ant Theatre where our 2005 – 2007 festivals were held. They have always been one of our biggest supporters and allies and we are overjoyed that they are hosting us at their space in the lovely City of Hamtramck.

Right now, we’re accepting submissions from directors, playwrights, and actors. Would you like to submit for this year’s festival? Just click on the Participate tab above for more information! We’d love to have you join us this year!

Sixteen Jackies by Emma Miller
Directed By: Amanda Grace Ewing
Jackie: Vanessa Sawson
BoxFest 2014

Showtimes
Saturday, September 20th @ 7:00PM

BoxFest Detroit is an annual theatre festival that showcases and creates opportunities for women directors.  Though the main focus of the event is the directors, BoxFest Detroit creates a festive energy by including special opening and closing night events and by using the lobby to create an art gallery for female inspired art.  Proceeds from the event are normally given to two directors as a scholarship to help further her career and the winner of the audience vote competition is given the opportunity to direct a show with Planet Ant Theatre’s Late Night Series. This season because of financial difficulties the workshop scaled back to staged readings.

About the changes on BoxFest 2014 from EncoreMichigan.com.

“Sixteen Jackies”  is a one woman, one act, play chronicling the experiences of former first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy. RUMPUSROOM has plans to mount a full production of “Sixteen Jackies” this autumn.

Sixteen Jackies