"The idea behind the Afro Solo Festival," Executive Director Thomas Robert Simpson explains, "was to give African-American artists a chance to tell our own stories from our own perspectives and to showcase African-American performers." People of color and women are still regularly overlooked and underutilized in theater and especially in solo work. "The fesival participants, 12 artists in three programs, run a wide range, male and female, gay and straight, and the stories they tell cover a wide range as well," he says. "Luana performs a dance piece based on the memoirs of her mother. Alison Wright explores the reaction of two black families to the passing of their matriarch."
Simpson's own segment, Brainwashed ..., explores black self-hatred as he plays a telephone counselor for AAA, African-American Anonymous. "The work is mostly theater-based," he says, "but there are also some dance pieces. The styles vary as widely as the subjects." A highlight of this year's festival is a free symposium, "Reaching Landings, Turning Corners, and Sometimes Going Into the Dark: How Black Theater Reflects Black Culture," which features discussions of the Harlem Renaissance and the history of black solo performance. And if that's not enough, Dick Gregory performs his solo show, Dick Gregory Live!!! Simpson hopes that "people from different cultures will attend the festival. African-Americans need to tell our stories to our own people, but we need also to tell each other. I hope people will see our common bonds and feel less separate from one another."
The festival runs Aug. 22-24 at ODC Performance Gallery, 3153 17th St. Dick Gregory performs at First Congregational Church, 432 Post, Aug. 25. Call 621-7797 for tickets.
ACT's Young Conservatory commissions a new play each year, written by a professional playwright, to be performed by young actors. By giving voice to the concerns of children and young adults, the conservatory hopes that teens and younger kids will see theater as an art form that reflects their lives. This year's play, A Bird of Prey, by Jim Grimsley, explores the dangers of urban life, and the pain of being the new kid on the block. Performances are free, and run Aug. 23-25 at the Hastings Studio Theater, 30 Grant Ave. Seating is limited; call 439-2444 for reservations. ... The Marin Shakespeare Festival takes a non-Shakespearean flight of fancy and brings Peter Pan to its outdoor stage in San Rafael. The pay-what-you-can preview is Aug. 22. MSF also offers special student shows and pre-show discussions. It's not the musical, but Peter and pals do fly. Come early, and bring a picnic. Call 456-8104.