With the theme of “The Black Family: Generations Speak!” the third annual Milwaukee Black Theater Festival is all about family ties.
Presented by generations of Black artists, the event acknowledges community challenges and encourages everyone to come together to celebrate Black theater, healing and unity.
The weeklong celebration of Black arts and culture will take place Wednesday through Sunday. It features free and ticketed events each day, including an R&B and gospel fundraiser concert, spoken word and dance performances as well as talk-back and panel discussions.
“For the first time, the festival will be held across multiple venues, in an effort to expose more of the city to rich cross-disciplinary artistic and cultural activity produced by Milwaukee-based Black artists,” said Cory Nettles, the board chair for Black Arts MKE. “We’re proud to produce Milwaukee Black Theater Festival to share more of our stories and put a spotlight on emerging young Black playwrights and professional theater organizations, including Bronzeville Arts Ensemble and Lights! Camera! Soul!.”
There also will be events at the Marcus Performing Arts Center, St. Ann Center’s Indaba Community Band Shell, Milwaukee Youth Arts Center and The Table Vocational Center.
“We really wanted to make this accessible,” said Ashley Jordan, the artistic associate for Black Arts MKE, which is leading this year’s festival. “Which is why it’s spread across the city and affordable. We’re hoping to reach a bit of everybody.”
Black Arts MKE, an organization that provides Milwaukee-based artists of color with employment, access, visibility, and development opportunities through public performances, will be leading the event for the first time.
The organization also has partnered with the Pink Umbrella Theater Co., to make the youth and family night accessible to youth with disabilities.
“Disabilities can be invisible,” said Katie Cummings the executive director. “We want to make sure that kids with those disabilities are able to enjoy theater as well.”
The festival is supported by the United Performing Arts Fund, or UPA), Wisconsin Humanities, The Black Seed, National Endowment for the Arts and BMO Harris Bank.
In 2020, the first festival took place virtually.
“During that initial stretch of the pandemic, stages went dark but we wanted to continue the tradition of storytelling even through the pandemic,” said Sheri Williams Pannell, co-founder of Milwaukee Black Theater Festival and Bronzeville Arts Ensemble producing artistic director. “This was a way to ensure that the voices of Black playwrights are heard and amplified.”