Elon Performing Arts helps launch Amplify Black Voices theater festival

Elon is among eight colleges and universities in the Greater Greensboro Theater Consortium, which in April is staging four plays based on Black lives and experiences in the inaugural Amplify Black Voices Festival.

Elon’s Department of Performing Arts is part of a university theater consortium launching the inaugural Amplify Black Voices Festival, which will present four plays on Guilford County stages this month.

The plays focus on Black stories and experiences in America, and three of the four are written by Greensboro-based playwrights.

The festival was created by the Greater Greensboro Theater Consortium, a collaboration among performing arts programs at eight colleges and universities in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and desire to share resources across campuses. Leaders from those schools, led by Anne Hayes of Bennett College and including Elon faculty members Professor of Dance Lauren Kearns and Assistant Professor of Arts Administration David McGraw, received a $20,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant to launch the festival.

“Too often universities are set in competition with each other. It has been invigorating to work with faculty, staff and students from our neighboring institutions to make something much bigger than anything we could have created on our own,” McGraw said.

The Amplify Black Voices Festival includes performances of:

  • “Mend a City: The Movement,” April 8 through April 10 at Bennett College’s Little Theatre. Written by Vanecia Boone, Tabia Mawusi and Philip J. Lightfoot and directed by Boone.
  • “Periphery,” April 11 through April 13, High Point University’s Pauline Theatre. Written by Ed Simpson and directed by Doug Brown and Ken Elston.
  • “Nick and the Prizefighter,” April 22 through April 24, UNC-Greensboro. Written by Kamilah Bush and directed by Natalie Sowell.
  • “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” April 28 through May 1, Paul Robeson Theatre, N.C. A&T.
    Written by August Wilson and directed by Miller Lucky Jr.

The eight schools in the consortium are N.C. A&T, Bennett College, Greensboro College, Guilford College, the University of North Carolina – Greensboro, Guilford Technical Community College, High Point University and Elon University. A March 23 preview event at Bennett College featured scenes from each of the plays as well as commentary from directors and others in the consortium on how unique this collaboration is.

“As far as we know, this is the first multi-university festival collaboration of this scale. There have been other projects in which one university tours to another campus, but all four of our productions are being created by students from multiple universities in collaboration,” McGraw said.

Elon’s Arts Administration Program is assisting the inaugural festival through promotion and media support. Students in the arts administration senior seminar this spring built a website and developed marketing and social media campaigns to support the festival, exercising principles they’ve learned as undergraduates in service to the community.

“I am very proud that the Arts Administration Program was selected to represent Elon within this festival,” McGraw said. “We have been able to apply projects from all of our courses — audience engagement, strategic planning, press releases, grants, social media management, and event logistics — to this festival as the culmination of the seniors’ studies.”

Hannah Hubbard ’22, an arts administration and music theatre double major, developed press materials for the festival.

“Elon being included in this festival is so special. It gives our community a unique opportunity to explore art from other people’s perspectives, especially since three of the four shows they’re presenting are by local playwrights. We’re getting to see and hear the experiences of Black artists and Greensboro residents over the last half-century,” Hubbard said.

Arts administration courses typically include projects around launching hypothetical performing arts and community events. The direct application of those skills toward creating a new regional theater festival and lifting the expression of Black experiences is something Hubbard greatly appreciates.

“I don’t think I would have had an experience like this anywhere else,” she said. “I want to be a performer, but now I know I can be successful if I work at a museum or behind the scenes examining legal contracts because of the arts administration program. It’s exciting to see how artists are given a purpose through this major.”