The Fulton Theatre hosted its inaugural in-person playwriting festival “Stories of Diversity” July 16-18. The festival featured three distinct and diverse plays engaging the Lancaster community in a much-needed conversation surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Submissions were open to playwrights throughout Lancaster County and beyond, with dozens of plays submitted from throughout the United States. A team of more than 30, including The Fulton’s newly formed Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility (IDEA) Committee, read the plays in three qualifying rounds.
The finalists read at the Festival included FOR COLORED BOYZ on the verge of a nervous breakdown/ when freedom ain’t enuff by Bryan-Keyth Wilson (He/Him/His), L’Hôtel by Marisol Medina, and Lev of Leningrad by Noah Schoenberg.
The audience and panel of judges selected FOR COLORED BOYZ as the Festival’s winner. The Fulton will professionally produce the play in a future Groff Studio Series production in the Tell Studio Theatre.
I had the chance to chat with the three finalists before the festival kicked off on Friday.
Stories of Diversity Festival Finalists
FOR COLORED BOYZ
Wilson’s FOR COLORED BOYZ explores the stories of black men from slavery to the present. It truly shows audiences the dark realities of what it means to be a man of color in America. The choreopoem highlights five nameless men who share stories about toxic masculinity, homophobia, systematic racism, mental issues, police brutality, colorism, racial stereotypes, the black family, and politics.
Wilson both agrees and disagrees with the obvious comparison to Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf.
“FOR COLORED BOYZ definitely pays homage to the choreopoem style, which is so important in artistic culture and we’re proud to do that,” Wilson said. “However, it’s important to take that idea further and share what black men are struggling with day to day.”
“People place ‘black history’ in its own category, but it really is American history,” Wilson said about sharing his piece in an area that normally sways conservatively. “These may be uncomfortable topics, but we are proud to share our struggles and triumphs.”
“The theatre really is like church. You come in thinking one way or as one person, and you leave changed,” Wilson said.
L’Hôtel by Marisol Medina is a “dark comedy about a modern American woman and her religiously conservative, Cuban-born mother. During a hopeless attempt at a bonding trip to Paris, the mother’s greatest fear — a terrorist attack — traps the women in their luxury hotel room with a handsome and helpful Algerian-Parisian bell boy; causing the women’s fluctuating morals, misleading prejudices, violent need to survive, and closely guarded secrets to come to light.”
Medina openly shared that L’Hotel spotlights her own life experiences.
Medina comes to the stage with a background in comedy, a lifestyle she loved but felt wasn’t necessarily completely fulfilling.
“I loved doing comedy, and I did it hard, but once I got into writing, it was like ‘Oh! This is it, this is what I’ve been missing’,” she said. “I was able to bring in so many more topics and emotions that I was exploring from screenwriting and writing my screenplay. I found myself digging into the more serious side of myself and being OK with that and recognizing that. It’s OK to be a weirdo and go into some deep topics, but it’s OK to make that shift to help you grow.”
She also finds the story to be extremely relevant to current events and climate.
“It blew my mind when I started realizing we hurt each other in all these little ways, but we’re worried about someone different than us?,” she shared. “We need to really look at ourselves.
Lev of Leningrad
Lev of Leningrad by Noah Schoenberg follows Jewish “refusnik” Lev Furman and his family as they assimilate into American culture after leaving the Soviet Union. The story uses faith and humor to demonstrate the challenges the Furmans face in their new home.
Schoenberg said he “accidentally” wrote the play after he enrolled in an online playwriting course. He wasn’t completely sure of his concept but found inspiration in the Furmans’ – who are lifelong family friends – story.
Taking on such a personal story is a huge commitment for even a veteran writer, “I of course feel pressure. No one has told this great story, and this is their first shot at the stage,” Schoenberg said. “I’m honored to share their story.”
Schoenberg is especially proud to share Karine’s story, as she is a member of the LGTBQ+ and Philadelphia police communities. “If there’s anyone who can affect change, it’s her,” he said.
The future for Stories of Diversity
The Fulton is committed to supporting the many diverse artistic communities. Additional stories of diversity will be featured in its upcoming Marquee season.
Despite their varying backgrounds and stores, the finalists all agreed that The Fulton’s festival is ahead of the curve.
“The Fulton says they are starting the conversation about diversity in the arts, but they really are leading it,” said Wilson. “This Festival – and the rest of the work The Fulton is doing – is a wonderful platform for artists.”
Find more information on the 2021-2022 season on The Fulton’s website.
More about the playwright finalists
Dubbed the Literary Prince, Bryan-Keyth Wilson is a noted multi-hyphenate in the theatre and publishing arena. He is a contributor for Broadway World and freelance journalist. BKW is an activist and believes that his work should be reflective of the times we live. He studied Musical Theatre with a Dance emphasis at Sam Houston State University, and serves as the founding artistic director of The Creative Co-Lab TX|NYC. BKW is now in development of his first comic book series THE TALENTED TENTH. He is a faculty member of The Black Writers Reunion & Conference and creator of the LIFT EV’RY VOICE International Playwright & Spoken World Virtual Festival.
Marisol Medina is a playwright and nonfiction writer of stories on identity and the destructive nature of societal and familial norms. She is a first-generation Cuban-American from Texas who lives in Los Angeles. Marisol acted in Houston and Seattle before moving to LA where she went into comedy (Groundlings, UCB, Comedy Store, Los Angeles Comedy Festival, and SF Sketchfest), had a child, and now writes. Marisol was a semi-finalist for the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s 2019 National Playwright Conference, a finalist for 2019 LAB Local Theater in Boulder, CO, and a finalist for Athena Project’s 2020 Plays in Progress Series.
Noah Schoenberg grew up and attended school in Philadelphia. He shipped off to St. Paul/Minneapolis for college, where he earned degrees in applied mathematics and neuroscience. He returned to Philadelphia after college to work in financial services. Lev of Leningrad is Noah’s first play. He wrote Lev accidentally at the age of 26.