Roundabout Theatre Company has joined forces with Black Theatre United to launch a multi-year initiative seeking to elevate and restore marginalized plays to the American canon. The Refocus Project will encompass Broadway productions, play readings, resource libraries, panel discussions and more. The first year of the project will focus on 20th-century Black playwrights Alice Childress, Shirley Graham Du Bois, Angelina Weld Grimké, Zora Neale Hurston, and Samm-Art Williams. The second year of the project will focus on Latinx playwrights.
Along with Roundabout's previously announced Broadway production of Childress' Trouble in Mind directed by Charles Randolp-Wright, the initiative will include a free reading series that spotlights works by all of the first year playwrights, with suggested donations benefiting Black Theatre United.
The series opens with Grimké's Rachel, directed by Roundabout Resident Director Miranda Haymon, April 23. Written in 2016, the work focuses on young woman who must confront what it means to bring a Black child into the world after her mother shares a brutal story from the family's past.
Williams' 1979 play Home will be presented April 30, directed by Roundabout Senior Resident Director and Tony winner Kenny Leon. The work tells the story of Cephus Miles, an orphan who's forced to move up north from North Carolina after being imprisoned for dodging the Vietnam draft.
Steve H. Broadnax III will direct Du Bois' 1939 play I Gotta Home, about a destitute Reverend who learns his long-lost sister might be the heir to a celebrity fortune, May 7.
Hurston's Spunk, to be directed by Lili-Anne Brown May 14, centers a guitar-playing transient who becomes the talk of a rural Florida town when he develops a love affair with a married woman. Based on her 1925 short story, Hurston penned the theatrical adaptation a decade later, but it was never published and considered lost until 1997.
The series concludes with Childress' 1969 play Wine in the Wilderness , directed by Dominique Rider May 21. The work centers on artist Bill Jameson and a model that rocks his notion of Black womanhood.
The reading series will be accompanied by a resource library to encourage and assist future productions of each title, available to the public beginning April 23. Plays were selected by a committee that included Roundabout Associate Artistic Director Jill Rafson, Leon, Roundabout Literary Manager Anna Morton, Haymon, Roundabout Tow Playwright-in-Residence Dave Harris, and Roundabout Senior Producer Nicole Tingir, with help from artist recommendations and volunteer script readers.
The Refocus Project will also offer historical information, educational tools, panel discussions, a "Literary Ancestry" essay series curated by Harris, and a series finale community conversation. Further engagement opportunities will be made available through Roundabout's partnership with The New York Public Library, including the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Library of Performing Arts.
“We are thrilled to participate in Roundabout’s Refocus program this spring since our focus at Black Theatre United encompasses inclusion, education and making necessary changes in the business of theatre,” shares BTU founding member and Roundabout board member Vanessa Williams.
"We know these writers will inspire playwrights and audiences today if they are simply given the chance to be seen, both through this series and at theatres across the country," adds Rafson.
The Refocus Project is made possible through leadership support from the Ford Foundation and additional support from Bank of America. For more information, visit RoundaboutTheatre.org/Refocus.