CASSIS, FRANCE — In 2018, eight accomplished black playwrights—four from Africa and four from the U.S.—convened in Cassis, France, for four extraordinary weeks, to participate in the Camargo Foundation’s Cultural Diaspora residency, conceived and curated by award-winning Minneapolis based playwright Carlyle Brown. Realized with generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts, Jerome Foundation, Ford Foundation, and FACE (French American Cultural Exchange), the residency’s goal was to bring together mid-career and established African and African-American theater artists, in Brown’s words, “from opposite ends of the Africanist Diaspora,” engaging them in debates about identity and authenticity and exploring the different ways in which international boundaries shape the African experience.
The eight winners, selected from 72 applications from 25 African nations and dozens of U.S. cities, included: Bode Asinyabi (Benin City, Nigeria), France-Luce Benson (New York City, U.S.), Kara Lee Corthron (New York City, U.S.), Kimberly Ellis (Pittsburgh, U.S.), Blessing Hungwe (Harare, Zimbabwe), Zainabu Jallo (Bern, Switzerland/Nigeria), Genevieve Jessee (San Francisco, U.S.), and Femi Osofisan (Ibadan, Nigeria). The residency was co-directed by acclaimed theater director Chuck Mike, who described the experience as a chance to “explore one’s craft, voice, and African-ness in a picturesque and encouraging atmosphere with kindred spirits.” As a measure of the residency’s success, the Cultural Diaspora has inspired the Afro-Atlantic Playwright Festival (Minneapolis, July 12–14, 2019). A collaboration of the Camargo Foundation, the Playwrights’ Center, and Carlyle Brown & Company, the festival will feature workshops, a panel discussion on theater and Afro-Atlantic culture, and stage readings of the works completed at Camargo by fellows Osofisan, Jallo, and Benson. The festival is made possible with kind support from the Venturous Theater Fund.
The Cultural Diaspora residency and Afro-Atlantic Playwright Festival are timely, given the intensifying debate on race and identity in contemporary culture and politics. Brown, whose work consistently provokes conversations about race, cites as inspiration for these programs the West African griots—the storytellers, praise singers, poets who carry on a culture’s oral traditions and serve as repositories of African people’s histories. He notes, “In African-American culture I consider preachers, spoken-word artists, stand-up comics, blues singers, and playwrights as part of that tradition. I have long been fascinated by the mysteries of the transference of those traditions from Africa to the New World, and how they managed to survive through subversion and rebellion, transforming itself into one of the major cultural influences in the world.”
The festival, free and open to the public, will take place at the Playwrights’ Center, renowned for supporting playwrights and promoting new plays to production at theaters across the U.S. While at Camargo, fellows had the opportunity to meet African-European artists, work with local theater students, and participate in a roundtable discussion entitled “African and Afro-Descendent Writing,” which was presented as part of the Festival de Marseille and Massilia Afropea. In Minneapolis, they will discuss the impact of these experiences on their work and debate various conceptual and cultural facets of African diaspora studies. A second event will take place in New York in Fall 2019, in collaboration with NYU’s Department of Literature and Tisch Theatre Studies program.
The Camargo Foundation plans to reprise the Cultural Diaspora program in 2021, expanding the residency to six weeks and broadening the open call to include playwrights of African descent (mid-career or established) from all over the world, not just Africa and the U.S.; all playwrights who identify themselves as part of the diaspora are eligible to apply. The Foundation hopes to establish the Cultural Diaspora as a recurring program, signaling an important new chapter for the Camargo, which has been offering residencies to artists, thinkers, and scholars since 1971. By organizing residencies along thematic lines, the Foundation provides artists with diverse backgrounds, working along shared lines of thought, the chance to exchange of perspectives and opportunities to network and collaborate. Importantly, the Cultural Diaspora offered its participants “a safe haven, free of occidental screening and judgment with no self-explanations and no obligations to represent anyone but oneself,” as residency co-facilitator and theater director Chuck Mike put it. The Camargo Foundation is currently seeking grants and other funding to launch the next Cultural Diaspora residency, which will include follow-up events in the U.S. and Africa in 2021-2022.
ABOUT THE CAMARGO FOUNDATION
Since 1971, the Camargo Foundation has welcomed hundreds of artists, thinkers, and scholars to its stunning campus in Cassis, South of France. The artist residency program grew out of a series of experimental music and theater festivals organized by Camargo Foundation founder Jerome Hill in the 1950s and 1960s, which included commissions from the New York–based Living Theater, French composer Oliver Messiaen, and others. His Cassis estate became a refuge for artists, attracting avantgarde filmmaker Jonas Mekas, actress Brigitte Bardot, and many others. Through international open calls and a rigorous selection process, the Camargo Foundation supports groundbreaking research and experimentation in the arts and humanities. Notable past fellows include theater director Lee Breuer, experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer, composer Fabrizio Cassol, choreographer Wen Hui, and also scholars Ben Kiernan or Alice Kaplan. The Camargo Foundation is a U.S.-registered 501c3 nonprofit and contributions are tax deductible.
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHTS’ CENTER
Founded in 1971 by five writers seeking artistic and professional support, the Playwrights’ Center today serves more playwrights in more ways than any other organization in the U.S. The Center focuses on supporting playwrights and promoting new plays to production, helping to launch the careers of numerous nationally recognized artists, notably August Wilson, Lee Blessing, Suzan-Lori Parks, Jordan Harrison, Carlyle Brown, Craig Lucas, Jeffrey Hatcher, Melanie Marnich, and Kira Obolensky. Works developed through Center programs have been realized on such stages as the Yale Rep, Woolly Mammoth, Guthrie, Goodman, and many others. Its Core Writer Program gives 25–30 of the most exciting playwrights from across the U.S. the time and tools to develop new work for the stage.
ABOUT CARLYLE BROWN & COMPANY
Carlyle Brown & Company was founded by playwright, performer, and theater director Carlyle Brown in 2002 around a constellation of culturally and ethnically diverse artists dedicated to the
performance of his work in an atmosphere of collaborative co-creation. The company is interested in innovations in dramatic form, rich storytelling, and shaping ideas into theatrical events. The
Company has produced Are you now or have you ever been…, Abe Lincoln and Uncle Tom in the White House, Therapy and Resistance, Finding Fish, Down in Mississippi, Talking Masks, The Fula From America, The Masks of Othello, and Acting Black: Demystifying Racism. The latter is one-man show performed by Brown, styled like a TED talk, created to spark honest conversations about race and diversity. Brown’s works have been presented at theaters across the U.S.
For more information, artist portraits, or to schedule interviews, please contact:
Muriel Rose, Development and Communication Coordinator
Camargo Foundation, Cassis, France
To learn more about how to support the Camargo Foundation, please contact:
Cathy Lang Ho, Director of U.S. Development and Partnerships
Camargo Foundation, New York, NY
For more information about the Playwrights’ Center, please contact:
Gregory Collins, Director of Marketing and Communications
Playwrights’ Center, Minneapolis, MN