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Africana Repertory Theatre spotlights Black playwrights in annual OnyxFest

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Onyx Fest is entering its 12th year showcasing Black playwrights in Indiana. Organizers say it was developed out of necessity, but it’s became more than that.

It has helped create a much-needed avenue for Black story telling.

Historically theater has been considered a not so diverse space. With limited playwrights and actors of color, organizers say this annual event is important to help tell stories from an honest perspective while opening up people eyes to potential career opportunities.

Celeste Williams is no stranger to writing, but instead of columns in the newspaper her current story is laid out in acts. It’s a play called: Black is My Color.

“It has two generations of black women coming together and being inspired by the words of Mari Evans,” Williams said.

She’s one of six playwrights selected from roughly 50 submissions, to headline the annual IUPUI Africana Repertory Theatre IUPUI Onyx fest.

“To present things that not only reflect our strife, which there has been a lot in the black community. But joy, comedy and pathos.”

Vernon Williams is a featured playwright this season but he’s also the Onyx fest director. It’s the first season fully back without COVID-19 restrictions and says this is exclusively designed to showcase Black playwright stories.

“When there are too few venues to which Black play writers can go to have their work seen, this was an answer to that situation,” said Vernon.

But there’s quite a bit more to it. Exposure, and education. showcasing it takes more than the writer or actors. The people working behind the scenes managing the lights, set design and more count as much.

“The emphasis on exposing young people to the art not just from the standpoint of if they want to go into it for a career but to go in and hear stories that reflect their lives,” Vernon said. “Stories they can relate to and characters to look like them.”

Grant funding from the Central Indiana Community Foundation and the Indiana University office of diversity equity and multicultural affairs will fund production and student youth group exposure to the arts.

The first of the six plays open next week. Tickets are available right now.