At the core of the Obsidian Theatre Festival is the desire to amplify the diversity of Black stories across the African diaspora. The free virtual three-day festival debuts March 25-27 in Detroit, and features the works of emerging Black actors, directors and playwrights from the city.
“When we were thinking about the Obsidian Fest, it was ‘how do we use theater as an art form to uplift underrepresented voices, to give voice to artists who have not had the same equitable access to resources and opportunities,’” says John Sloan III, co-executive producer and producing artistic director. “The idea to produce a theater fest that focuses on Black stories and push back against the idea that there is such a thing as a monolithic minority and that Black theater is not a sub-genre but has within us all of those diversities … our art needs to represent that.”
The festival comprises six featured plays, musicals and nightly cabaret performances that further celebrate the talent and voices within the Black community and goes beyond stereotypical portraits of Black life often produced in mass and mainstream platforms.
“[Theater] is teaching as well. It’s aspirational. It shows not just the gang on the corner and the drug dealer; the stereotypical entertainment that gets produced about us,” says Detroit actress Nicole Marie Hunt, who is part of the festival production “20/20” about love. “Seeing Black artists working, succeeding as human beings in the community and then telling your story and all of a sudden you’re being seen, that type of validation is immeasurable and it [has the] ability to create a strong foundation for people to grow on.”
Metaphor in Three Acts, a performance written by a self-identified “radical Black feminist writer,” is a philosophical and meditative production set against the backdrop of the current socio-political state of society and addresses conformity with questions: “When do we agitate, when do we push on the system, and how do we take steps to see change?”
“Art has the power of doing one of three things,” says Sloan III. “It can show us who we were, who we are and then show us who we can be. Theater has the unique ability to do that.”
Listen: Artistic director John Sloan III and actress Nicole Marie Hunt discuss reimagining theater during a pandemic.