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  • Cathy H. Burroughs

Two World Premieres in Atlanta at Actor's Express and Sychronicity

Two Important World Premieres in Atlanta Theaters this Month Propel the Concerns of Black Lives Matter Front and Center: Actor's Express with Janine Naber's thriller Serial Black Face, a compelling and edgy new drama during Atlanta's 1970's child murders running April 2 - 24, 2016 and Synchonicity Theatre's debut of Beyond Reasonable Doubt: The Troy Davis Project from April 8 through May 1, 2016 which takes a Seering Look at Racial Injustice.

Black Lives Matter takes center stage this month in Atlanta at Actor’s Express continues its 2015-2016 season with the world premiere of "Serial Black Face" directed by Artistic Director Freddie Ashely and Assistant Directed by Clifton Guterman, National New Play Network Producer in Residence. The play runs from April 2 through 24, 2016.

At the same time Synchronicity Theatre makes the world premiere of the important and sometimes disturbing "Beyond Reasonable Doubt: The Troy Davis Project" from April 8 through May 1, 2016 in association with Inverness Productions and directed by Producing Artistic Director Rachel May.

This wrenching look at racial injustice and the penal system could not be more timely and a discussion will follow every show. For tickets go to synchrotheatre.com or call the box office at 404-484-8636. Check out Synchronicity's beautiful new venue at 1545 Peachtree Street N.W. at One Peachtree Pointe. Actor's Express Theatre Company is located at The King Plough Arts Center, 887 West Marietta St, NW.

"Serial Black Face" was named the winner of the 2014 Yale Drama Series and its incredibly productive young playwright Janine Nabers is described by fellow playwright Marsha Norman as "an extraordinary writer – powerful and funny and brave.” For tickets go online at actors-express.com or call 404-607-7469. Here Nabers provides an insider look at the heady and, at times, "scary" perspective of a playwright.

You have a very illustrious history as a playwright and screen writer. How did all this happen to one so young?

I wrote my first play when I was in college and used that play to get into graduate school as a writer. I moved to NYC at 22 and spent three years of my life writing plays as an MFA grad at the New School for Drama and then was lucky enough to get into Juilliard where I was a playwriting fellow for two years. I came to NYC and worked three jobs while I was at both schools. I honestly wouldn’t change it for anything. Being a young writer in NYC is the best thing. I learned so much from watching people and seeing other plays. I grew up very quickly. I was also fortunate to have writer’s groups around the city like Ars Nova, Soho Rep, Primary stages and so on to really help me channel a lot of my ideas into plays. It takes a village to raise a NYC playwright. I am forever grateful.

Why the 1970’s child murders in Atlanta? What drew you to this topic?

I’ve always wanted to write a story about a complicated mother/ daughter relationship. I had read about the Atlanta Child Murders many years ago. They happened before I was born but my brother and sister were both young and living in the south (where I was born) when black kids started going missing and turned up dead in really horrific ways. I wrote Serial Black Face as a meditation on sadness and longing. I wanted to examine a mother who is grieving over the loss of her son and a daughter who is acting out because she’s lost her brother. In my play a strange man enters their home and the mother and daughter are deeply changed. The play is a metaphor for what was happening at the time in Atlanta. Many black mothers were losing children right from under the noses. None of them had concrete answers. And none of them ever thought someone black was causing their people so much harm. I tried to imagine a mother’s restlessness at that time. A mother’s need to feel loved when she can no longer love herself. The man in my play is a metaphor for danger, and also, hope after destruction.

Why Serial Black Face? What is the meaning of your title, and how does it play out?

Serial Black Face is about repetition. Black people; black faces were repetitively being taken at that time and no one had the means to stop it. Vivian, the mother in my play, is longing for some sort of closer. Her home has been forever changed and she is spinning more and more out of control with each murder. I’m also a huge believer in history repeating itself. The Atlanta Child murders were a representation of black children being slaughtered in the streets. Questions answered. Restless families. That’s still happening today. Only now it’s Black Lives Matter. Yesterday it was this.

How is it to see your play fleshed out and developed with actors in the roles and a director's interpretation? Is that hard or fulfilling or complicated?

When you write a play you spend so many months or years by yourself in a room with your characters. To be able to have the actors and Freddie make this play a reality is very fulfilling but also complicated because you want to do the story justice. At some point I have to let go and let the designers, actors and director tell their version of the story I’ve had in my head for the last four years. That’s an amazing thing. And also very scary!

How is it to work with Actor's Express?

Working with Actors Express has been amazing. I love Atlanta. I have family here and feel very close to the city but Freddie Ashley has Atlanta in his bones in a way I don’t. So working with him on this play is really thrilling. I feel so welcomed and accepted by the community. To be able to launch the world premiere of this play in Atlanta is a dream.

We understand you are working on a show under an assumed name on Bravo? How is that and how did it come to pass?

I recently moved from NYC to LA to write for two TV shows: Girlfriends’Guide to Divorce on Bravo and UnREAL on Lifetime. Both shows are female driven/created shows I’m incredibly proud of. Writing for TV is something I’ve always wanted to do and I think it honestly makes you a better story teller. I’m usually very careful with my plays. I have to write a few drafts before really getting it right. It takes me an average of three years to really nail down a play. With TV you have a handful of months to tell 10 to 22 episodes of story. You push out story so fast. That’s the only way TV gets made. Right now I have play commissions that I know I will finish faster because it’s simply in my DNA now. But that being said, I think it’s a luxury to be able to take your time with a play. I know so many peers that push out plays so quickly. Theaters pressure them. It’s not a race. Honor your voice. Take time with your play. It’s the only thing in show business you’ll ever write that’s yours.

It seems almost impossible to break into television? How did this happen?

TV weirdly loves playwrights. We are everywhere. It’s amazing. Some show runners read plays as samples, some don’t. I think if you are a playwright or novelist it helps to have an original pilot sample. I honestly think it’s the luck of the draw. Hollywood is a lot of things but it needs more women, more LGBT people, and more minorities telling stories. America is changing so fast and Hollywood, theater and film need to catch up, already. It’s time.

Why should someone come and see "Serial Black Face"?

It’s an entertaining thriller and the actors are really so so good.

What's next for you? How are you so prolific? How do you find a topic? How long does it take you to write and why plays?

I have a couple play commissions that are due this year. I also have a Sylvia Plath/Ted Hughes musical that I’ve been working on for a few years that’s almost done and a musical with Kate Nash and the Hamilton chorographer Andy Blankenbuehler. Everything is pretty much due at the same time so check back in a few months from now. I’ll let you know if I’m still breathing!

Cathy H. Burroughs covers the SE for Backstage Magazine and writes about arts, culture, food, travel, the metaphysics and more for a variety of publications including The Aquarius Magazine, Atlanta Intown, Bold Favor Magazine, www.journeypod and others. Stay tuned as she currently has a television series on the arts and more in the works. For more about Cathy check out www.psychicsolutions.tv or call/text: (404) 543-1080.

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