KALAMAZOO, Mich.— "Do Black lives matter?"That’s the question local artists aim to answer with the upcoming three-part series "Black Lives, Black Words." Part of an international theatre movement started by renowned playwright Reginald Edmund, the event is a partnership between Western Michigan University’s Department of Theatre and the Black Arts and Cultural Center’s Face Off Theatre Company.
In 2018, WMU was just the second university in the nation to join the movement. Two years later, amid nationwide protests and outcry to end racial injustice, the project is particularly relevant.
"We wanted to take the opportunity to reignite the project this summer, particularly in light of the important work that's happening (with the Black Lives Matter movement) and the real need across the arts industry to ensure that there are places for people of color and that they have equitable opportunities and their voices are heard," says Joan Herrington, chair of WMU's Department of Theatre. “I think there is more energy, more urgency for this work, and not just for this work, but really for us to look at institutional racism as it expresses itself in the arts.”
Marissa Harrington, a WMU alumna and co-founder of Face Off Theatre, says it's important to give artists of color a space to express their feelings about what's going on in the world and educate them in how to use their art for activism.
"The movement here has been so inspiring. I don't see people letting up, and that's a good thing," she says. "I hope that people are inspired by what they see and what they hear and are encouraged to keep going."
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to provide more opportunities for the Kalamazoo community to talk about the Black Lives Matter movement, “Black Lives, Black Words” will look a little different this year. Organizers developed a three-part virtual series that includes:
An "art as activism" workshop hosted by Edmund Tuesday, July 14.
A panel discussion on Friday, July 31, about the Black Lives Matter movement in Kalamazoo and efforts to address systemic racism.
A curated talent showcase on Saturday, Aug. 1, featuring poetry, short plays, spoken word and music by Black artists who live in Kalamazoo or have ties to the city.
“It’s about impact. We want this showing to be strong and powerful,” says Marissa Harrington. “I feel it, change is in the air, but we all have to do our part.”
Both the panel discussion and talent showcase are free to the public and begin at 7 p.m. on their respective dates. They’ll be livestreamed on Face Off Theatre’s Facebook page.
For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.