Urbanite Addresses the Moment with New Play Commissions

Arts & Culture

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY JUN 12, 2020

Urbanite Theatre seeks to elevate the voices of playwrights of color through a pair of new annual play commissions, named in honor of one of the theater’s earliest and staunchest supporters, Charles Rowan Beye, who passed last month. And for this inaugural year, the theater has guaranteed that both commissions will be awarded to people of color and at least one will be a black playwright.

“Making a statement in solidarity is not enough right now,” says Brendan Ragan, co-founder of Urbanite Theatre. “It’s really easy to put together a statement and put it online and consider yourself a part of the solution, but let’s put our money where our mouth is.”

Currently accepting submissions, the Charles Rowan Beye New Play Commissions promise $2,000 for each of the two chosen playwrights, as well as access to Urbanite resources in developing their new play, including regular feedback and even readings with professional actors. Like all Urbanite commissions, submitted proposals must account for the theater’s blackbox style—such as utilizing only four actors or fewer and a set design compatible with blackbox theater—but further guidelines will be open to change each year, adapting to what voices or stories seem urgent or absent at the time, giving the yearly Beye Commissions the ability to be both responsive and proactive, according to the needs of the moment.

In this moment, Ragan says, that decision was an easy one. “As the world has turned,” he says, “it made perfect sense to dedicate this year’s commissions to lifting up playwrights of color. It’s our duty to tell those stories.”

And although Urbanite began by elevating the voices of women playwrights and although the theater has made a conscious effort to include playwrights of color in its season line-ups before this, Ragan freely admits that Urbanite can do more and is not free from criticism. “We’ve gotten better in the last few years and we’re not perfect,” he says, “but we’re striving to be as equitable as we can.” With the Beye Commissions, he hopes Urbanite can better live up to its own ideals.

“We’re always the theater that does the stories Sarasota needs more than doing the stories that Sarasota wants,” he says, “and Sarasota needs to keep hearing diverse perspectives from people around the country. That’s what we’re dedicated to bringing. That’s when your empathy grows.”

“And if theater’s not about exercising empathy, what is it for?”

Pictured: DeAnna Wright and L. James in Ike Holter's Sender at Urbanite Theatre this year. Photo by Dylan Jon Wade Cox.

The deadline for submissions is July 14, 2020. For more details about submission guidelines, follow the link below.

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