This year wasn’t just full of laugh-out-loud comedies, intense dramas and moving ballets. To me, the highlight reel of the performing arts in 2016 is marked by the powerful voices that had something to say.
This year, I saw productions that gave thoughtful commentary on the Black Lives Matter movement. I saw women rallying together to support one another’s art forms. I saw new artistic creations that were born out of love and friendship. The last 365 days have been an absolute joy to cover.
Kicking off the year in February was the first annual Ruby Slipper Fringe Festival, arranged by Paper Lantern Theatre Company and led by Amy da Luz. My involvement with the festival began with simple coverage of a local event, and soon led to newfound friendships and newfound inspiration to push myself further. The performing arts festival was created to give female artists a free platform to express their creativity and gain valuable insight into their work.
It was free to attend and included everything from film snippets to live storytelling, from modern dance to one-act plays. Not only did it give our local female artists a voice, but it gave them a local support system, too. Each artist was given feedback from the audience and participating professionals alike, so they could improve their piece and gain further confidence in its presentation.
Even covering the event made me feel a part of it. Here I was, a female writer, surrounded by women who were testing their limits, trying new things and pushing themselves beyond their limits. It was hard not to get swept into how much love surrounded the two-week festival, which showcased more than 60 female writers, playwrights, dancers, choreographers, filmmakers, musicians and even craftswomen.
Amy da Luz, co-founder of Paper Lantern Theatre Company, was the lead organizer.
“As a woman who knows how to make my own work and how to make it happen—I mean I started my own theatre company—I get to wake up everyday and know that I have some place to go where I can express myself creatively,” she said. “But that’s not a given for most women. So when we brought this opportunity where women could share a new, original or even in-development piece of work, the response was overwhelming.”
Anyone who has met da Luz knows that she is a force to be reckoned with herself. She certainly made me realize that “being too busy” to fulfill your passions is not an excuse. And that I was thankful for this year. I’m also thankful that they’ll be doing the festival again in 2017.
After the festival, new connections were made and new art forms were created, too. One such example was the work that Winston-Salem painter Tammy Willard created after listening to the story of Blancaflor by oral storyteller Kali Ferguson. The two even hosted their own fusion event, an art showcase coupled by Ferguson’s stories.
In addition to bringing light to our unequal social climate, artists also commented on the hot political climate. It’s important to remember that the performing arts aren’t just for entertainment. In fact, the history of theatre is marked by its influence and ability to deliver powerful messages.
Bennett College’s Little Theatre’s production of WHAT this past November reminded us of that. The play, written by Kamilah Bush, a local UNC Greensboro graduate who also participated in the Ruby Slipper Fringe Festival, examined the personal side of the Black Lives Matter movement.
She wrote the play after the death of Walter Scott in South Carolina as a response to what she believed was a climate of injustice in this country. In her drama, Bush contemplates what Walter Scott was doing, and where he was going, before being stopped for a busted taillight.
“I think the play is just spectacular in its delicateness and boldness of an important topic,” said director Beth Ritson.
Unfortunately, 2016 is marked by the passing of HB2 this past spring and theatres took their stance there as well, not only speaking out, but in some cases cancelling their shows altogether in North Carolina. Cirque du Solei was one such venue that bypassed Greensboro for its tour of OVO.
Other sentiments that were expressed this year were more personal, like paying homage to the passing of some of our local creative influences.
Community Theatre of Greensboro paid tribute to the former Broach Theatre and the late co-founders Stephen Gee, who passed in May, and Hall Parrish, who passed in 2008. The ode manifested in a throwback performance to the theatre’s traditional holiday classic, A Tuna Christmas, this December.
With all of that said, I look forward to hearing what our performing arts venues and artists have to say in 2017.