Tony, Grammy, Emmy Winner and HADESTOWN Star André De Shields, Dominique Morisseau and More Join The Black Theatre Network’s Virtual BLACK THEATRE WEEK

The Black Theatre Network (BTN) has been at the forefront of ensuring the survival of Black Theatre since 1986. Today, the nation’s premier organization of actors, playwrights, designers, technicians, academics, students and theatre lovers announced Black Theatre Week: A Virtual Event.

Dominique Morisseau and André De Shields. Photo by Lia Chang

From July 27 to July 31, 2020, the organization will celebrate established and emerging voices from the Black Theatre community, nationally and internationally with panel discussions, conversations, readings, and performances. The week is free and open to the public, but registration is required for all events. Those interested can register for BTW here.

BTN’s 34th annual conference was scheduled for Detroit, MI July 24 – July 27, 2020. In addition to exploring best practices, the conference was to honor the city’s massive contribution to Black Theatre. The devastating effect of COVID-19 on the entire country forced BTN to postpone the conference and to plan a series of “virtual” events instead.

“We are pleased to continue supporting Black Theatre scholars, performers, designers, technicians, and all practitioners with our virtual convening #blacktheatreweek, BTN President André Harrington said. We will miss our face to face presence planned for Detroit 2020, but we are honored to be able to broaden our exposure and reach across the globe as we celebrate the rich and the beautiful world of Black Theatre, including Black Theatre artists from the city of Detroit.”

The Black Theatre Week schedule is as follows:*

Monday, July 27, 2020
2:00 pm -2:15 pm
Welcome from BTN President André Harrington and Vice President and
Conference Planner Chris Berry.

2:30 pm-3:30 pm
New Federal Theatre 50th Anniversary. Tony, Emmy, Grammy Award winner and Hadestown star André De Shields hosts this celebration! Select artists come together to honor NFT Founder and Artistic Director Woodie King, Jr. on his birthday and the anniversary of NFT.

7:00 pm-8:30 pm
BTN/BTW Zoom Kick-Off Party.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020
2:00 pm-3:30 pm
Developmental Workshop Reading: BrokenHearted, a new play by Michael Dinwiddie. Based on the E. Lynn Harris memoir WHAT BECOMES OF THE BROKENHEARTED, the play explores the sensational life of the bestselling author whose books exposed the “down-low” lifestyle to millions of readers. Proteus Spann directs.

5:00 pm-6:00 pm
BTN General Business Meeting #1 (BTN Members Only)

7:00 pm-8:00 pm
“Black Theatre: Radical Longevity:” A conversation between Detroit-born luminaries Tony-nominated playwright Dominique Morisseau (Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Time of the Temptations) and award-winning scholar, NYT best-selling author, and political analyst Dr. Michael Eric Dyson (“Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America”). Playwright, NYU Associate Professor, and fellow Detroiter Michael Dinwiddie moderates this marquee event.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020
2:00 pm-4:00 pm
Voices From The Black: LGBTQAI+. Curated by Dr. John Shevin Foster, Voices From The Black: LGBTQAI+ is a presentation of monologues and 2-person plays that shed light on areas and subjects which are relevant today but usually hidden from the mainstream. Playwrights and casts to be announced.

7:00 pm- 8:00 pm
Kamilah Forbes, Executive Producer of the Apollo Theater moderates a conversation between Tarik Trotter (aka Black Thought) of the Grammy-winning Hip-Hop band The Roots and Academy and Academy Award winner John Ridley (Twelve Years A Slave) about their upcoming collaboration on the new musical Black No More. With music and lyrics by Trotter and a book by Ridley, the musical is based on the 1931 novel of the same name, a satire on race relations, by George S. Schuyler. The New Group is scheduled to produce the musical in 2021.

Thursday, July 30, 2020
2:00 pm-3:30 pm
BTN highlights its student scholar and design competition winners. The session offers presentations by Jazmine Logan (Randolph S. Edmonds Young Scholars Winner) and Judy Dearing Design Competition awardees Harold Horsley (Costume Design), Antonio Ferron (Scenic Design), and Rachael Blackwell (Lighting Design).

7:00 pm-8:30 pm
BTN partners with the Obie Award-winning Harlem9 for an evening of new exhilarating voices in Black Theatre. Founded in 2010, Harlem9 is a collaborative producing organization, comprised of a group of Black Theatre professionals from various backgrounds. The mission is to produce together, exploring the past, present, and future of Black culture, celebrating its rich and diverse history of storytelling.

Friday, July 31, 2020
2:00 pm-3:30 pm
The Black Theatre Preview! Culturally Black Theatres from across the country provide an exclusive look at how the global pandemic and the racial uprisings have affected their upcoming seasons.

“The Black Theatre Network is so happy to present Black Theatre Week! We have postponed our formal conference convening for Black Theatre Week as a service to the Black Theatre Community and to take a moment to celebrate Black Theatrical Excellence throughout the field, said Chris Berry, BTN Vice-President/Conference Planner. During these unprecedented times, the Black Theatre Network will continue to be a service organization for the Black Theatre. We hope that a broad audience will join us for the diverse programming during our first Black Theatre Week.”

Black Theatre Week: A Virtual Event is sponsored in part by DTE Energy Foundation.

The story of the creation and development of the Black Theatre Network (BTN) can hardly be told with full accuracy by any one individual. BTN is an organization where the labor of many has come together to form the whole, where individual contributions are too numerous to fully recount. We stand on the shoulders of the many selfless artists & academics who have made BTN what it is today.

The seeds of BTN were planted by the African American educators of the National Association of Dramatic and Speech Arts (NADSA).

These educators joined the American Theatre Association (ATA) when it became more receptive to people of color. In 1965, the Afro-Asian Theatre Project was founded under the ATA. Subsequently, the group within the Project interested in Black Theatre formed the African Theatre Project, which ultimately became the Black Theatre Program (BTP). It was 1985, at the ATA meeting in Toronto, Canada, that talk of ATA’s structural problems became a concern for members of the BTP.

In 1986, the inevitable happened: ATA folded. A group of Black Theatre devotees met in New York City at the National Education Theatre Conference (NETC), to bemoan ATA’s demise and to excitedly debate the future of the defunct BTP. Against the backdrop of the lobby bar of the Milford Hotel, these pioneers pondered the feasibility of creating a new Black theatre organization. This new organization would rise like the Phoenix to provide a service to those facing displacement while securing a haven for future artists and scholars.

As strategy sessions moved to New York University, the group faced its first major decision: to follow the safe path by joining forces with the newly created Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE), or to tread on what was perceived as uncharted territory and build a separate nationalistic organization. During the 1986 meeting, as the hours passed and the debate raged on, the revolutionaries were determined to strike out on their own, and after much fiery wrangling, the decision was made to form the “Black Theatre Network.” Those who brought this vision to life were: Addell Austin-Anderson, George Bass, Buddy Butler, Don Evans, Kathryn Ervin, Winona Fletcher, Coleman Freeman, Floyd Gaffney, Errol Hill, Woodie King, Jr., Bill Lewis, J.W. Lewis, Vernell Lillie, Barbara Molette, Carlton Molette, Louis Rivers, Freda Scott-Giles, Archie Simpson, Marvin Sims, Lundeana Thomas, Barbara Votja, Rhonnie Washington, Von Washington, Ethel Pitts-Walker, Phillip Walker, and Allen Williams.

A communal position paper was drafted and adopted, officers were elected, and the Black Theatre Network came to light. The first officers were Ethel Pitts-Walker (President), Rhonnie Washington (Vice President), Addell Austin-Anderson (Secretary), William Lewis (Treasurer), Von H. Washington (Newsletter Editor), Marvin Sims (Program Chair/ Conference Planner), and an Advisory Board that included Winona Fletcher, Errol Hill, Vernell Lillie, and Margaret Wilkerson.

For more information about the Black Theatre Network, visit

*Program subject to change.

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman. She stars in and served as Executive Producer for the short independent films Hide and Seek, Balancing Act, Rom-Com Gone Wrong, Belongingness and When the World was Young. She is also the Executive Producer for The Cactus, The Language Lesson, The Writer and Cream and 2 Shugahs.

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