Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Fire This Time in Times of Fire

Kelley Girod, Photo by Christine Jean Chambers

Almost 8 years ago when a group of us black theatre artists met in The Red Room (in the same building that houses the Kraine Theatre) to discuss, and eventually found The Fire This Time Festival, we were supposedly living in what people kept terming "a post-racial society" because Barack Obama had been elected president. We discussed what this meant, amongst other things that we felt needed to be addressed, like how we as black artists were going to make our own definition of what black theater is and can be. 

Fast forward to our sixth season of the festival. I am almost nine months pregnant with my first child and have just attended the opening night of our famous ten minute showcase. A man finds me outside the theater and asks if I am the producer. He is unhappy with some of the things that he saw onstage and has a real problem with it. I tell him that our artists are free to express themselves as they wish. We do not censor. We do not edit. That is the point of the festival: to be free in expression. He gets aggressive with me despite seeing a huge pregnancy bump between us and calls me a "coon" and a "nigger." Little did he know that I grew up in the South. Words don't hurt me, and I do what I learned best from living with 6 brothers, and passively aggressively wish him "a good night boo," in the sweetest voice I can muster. It's an art of the Southern woman to curse out and delete someone completely with the most charming accent and phrases. And it worked. He got even more angry and I walked away.

Now, to the present, we will be kicking off Season 8 days before Trump's inauguration. One thing that I have found remarkable about The Fire This Time Festival is that year over year, the playwrights, who have carte blanche to write whatever they please with no theme or restriction, and without knowing what their fellow playwrights have written until tech, all end up writing pieces that boldly and beautifully and oftentimes uncomfortably reflect the present issues in our society. Season 8 work is no exception, and never has it been more necessary. And the producers of The Fire This Time will always stand behind the artists' freedom to express themselves as they see fit because we cannot nor will not allow anyone or anything to suppress our voices. We've been there before, we aren't going back.

I sincerely hope that you will join us for Season 8. Details about programming will soon be released. But this isn't a call to fill seats. This is our official statement in the wake of our current social climate to say that we too are standing up and committed to the cause of freedom. This is The Fire This Time saying that we have been and will continue to be a safe space. That we have been and will continue to work our butts off to empower black voices. That we have been and will continue to unsettle, shake up, and disturb any attempts at normalization of oppression. This is who we are and who we always have been. There are many out there like us with this same dedication, to name a few, New Black Fest, Harlem 9, The Movement Theatre Co., Now Africa Playwrights Festival, and many more all over NYC, that you can and should get to know if you don't already. Or, you know what? There has never been a more urgent time to start your own creative movement.

I went into the arts to make a change, and many times that comes with huge sacrifices on time, energy and finances, but it is the most rewarding feeling to present work that promotes healing, understanding, hope and change. To all the artists out there right now, in whatever mental space you may be in, don't give up, and if you feel the urge to, please know that you have a family with The Fire This Time Festival. Anyone is welcome to come to us for anything, anytime. The red doors at 85 East 4th street are literally always open (God bless Erez Ziv).

Our love to all of you.

Kelley, Kevin and AJ