To the disappointment of many, the original Loud ‘N’ Unchained Black Theater Festival in Madison was canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, in reality, it has just been delayed, as the event — a new festival focused exclusively on producing the works of African-American artists — will be held this Friday-Saturday, April 29-30.
“There is nothing like this in Madison and I would say almost across the nation,” Dana Pellebon, executive producer and co-founder of Loud ‘N’ Unchained Black Theater Festival, tells Madison365. “When I was doing research the first time around I found that at that point, before Milwaukee put together theirs, there had only been five Black Theater Festivals ever done.
“This is literally the sixth Black Theater Festival done ever,” she adds.
Loud ‘N Unchained is a theater company, publishing house, and a community for Black creatives in Madison. According to their mission, they are “bold and unapologetic and dedicated to gender justice, queer justice and disability justice.”
This weekend’s Black Theater Festival is a two-day online presentation of Black theater and performance artists. The founders include T.S. Banks, Doug Reed, Janine Gardner and Pellebon.
“This is T. Banks’ brainchild and I was brought in after T. Banks had already made connections with Broom Street Theater,” Pellebon remembers.
At the event, LNU Black Theater Festival will present monologues and spoken word, one-person shows, a play reading, and drag artists. The event is free.
“One of the things that is very important to me and to T. is access. The thing that we are conscious of is who has access to theater? Who has access to stages? Who has access to all of these things that people are just generally used to? And we did not want to create barriers for anyone so we are hosting this event for free,” Pellebon says.
The show will open on Friday with “I Know My Robe Gonna Fit Me Well; I Tried It On at the Gates of Hell: Atlantic Voices of Enslaved Black Women,” written & directed by Quanda Johnson.
“She is amazing. She is a doctoral candidate and she is doing this piece that highlights the voices of women who are enslaved all through the Americas – so not just here in the United States, but Latin America, Canada,” Pellebon says. “That is an incredibly powerful piece.”
That will be followed by a collection of spoken word pieces and monologues presented by Madison-based artists and directed by Banks. There will also be performances by local drag artists in Madison and Milwaukee.
“We will be doing what I call ‘Black Expressions,’ an evening of poetry, monologue and drag,” Pellebon says. “We wanted to expand the idea of what Black theater means and make sure that we include different performing expressions of that.”
On Saturday, there will be three shows. Pellebon says that most of the people in this year’s Black Theater Festival had submitted to the first call for submissions back when the festival was supposed to take place in 2020. That includes SkinnyBlk, written & directed by Sean Avery
“In the time that Sean had submitted the script to the festival, they actually were able to put up a production of it. We just love the script and we will be doing an encore presentation of that,” Pellebon says.
Also on Saturday, attendees will get to see Pellebon do a reading of “Good Bad People” by Rachel Lynett.
“Rachel is an up-and-coming playwright who just won the Yale Drama Award. She is amazing,” Pellebon says. “She’s really, really good.”
Also, Austin Dean Ashford re-imagines and directs “(I)sland T(rap); The Epic Remixology of The Odyssey.
“He is an artist that is out in California that we are connected with through Madison College and Austin does a reimagining of Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’ and he includes rap and movement,” Pellebon says. “A couple of weeks ago he went to L.A. and filmed it for me so we will be streaming that. That’s our last show.”
According to the Loud ‘N’ Unchained Black Theater Festival Facebook event page, actors that will be featured at the two-day Black ‘n’ Unchained include Theola Carter, Nikko Murphy, Maia Pearson, Kailea Saplan, and Sarah Streich
Monologue and spoken-word artists will include T.S. Banks, Erick Blue, Charles Edward Payne, Adrianna Shanklin, Rene Simon, and Lexy Ware. Drag artists will include Anya Knees, Jasper Madison, SunShine Raynebow, and Mimi $anchez.
Madison College and Loud ‘N Unchained Theater are the sponsors of the event
“Part of the reason the Black Theater Festival came back to life was because Madison College contacted me at the beginning of the year and said, ‘Hey, how can we be supportive of one of your projects?’ and I was like, ‘How about the Black Theater Festival?’” Pellebon says.
“I think it’s just amazing to have a Black Theater Festival done by Black curators. That’s important,” Pellebon adds. “It’s one thing to have a Black person on a show. It’s another thing to have a show that is done and curated by Black creators. I think this festival allows for that and it allows for access. It’s going to be fun. We hope a lot of people will watch on Friday and Saturday.”
Loud ‘N Unchained (LNU) Black Theater Festival is free and will take place Friday-Saturday, April 30-May 1. All shows will be streamed online at www.BlackTheaterFestival.com