Nine Queer Black Theatremakers to Celebrate

Happy Pride Month! This month might look different than previous Junes, but we should still take this opportunity to celebrate LGBT history and the vibrant community that makes up the Pride flag. (Here’s a brief history of Pride.)

I’m always thinking about the marginalized people who make up the theatre. The recent uprisings against police brutality in Minneapolis, Louisville, and across the nation have me thinking about my black community first and foremost. This month, I’m centering queer black folks and their contributions to the theatre.

In recent years, queer black men like Billy Porter, Jeremy Pope, Titus Burgess, Robert O’Hara, Tarrell Alvin McCraney, Jeremy O. Harris, and more have reached more prominence in the theatre. We owe so much incredible work to them, and they’ve paved the way for queer people in the theatre. I’m so grateful to exist on the same plane as them.

Black women, black trans and gender nonconforming people, and other folks with marginalized genders are sorely underrepresented in the queer community and in the theatre. Our stories deserve to be told too. Here are nine of the folks to know, celebrate, and amplify.

Nissy Aya

Nissy Aya via The Lark

Nissy Aya is a black femme playwright from the Bronx who I had the pleasure of knowing and working with in college. She is a writer, educator, and cultural worker who believes in the transformative nature of storytelling and sees theatre as a tool to create social change by empowering disenfranchised communities to unapologetically portray their whole selves on stage. She is a trained facilitator on topics surrounding the intersections of identity, power and privilege and how those intersections influence structures of oppression. As an artist, her work centers the voices of Black women, explores the lines between history and memory, details both the presence and absence of love and recounts extremely tall tales.

Rasheedat Badejo

Rasheedat Badejo via Coterie Theatre

Rasheedat “Ras” Badejo is generative theatre artist born and raised in Kansas City. They received a BA in Theatrical Performance from UMKC in 2015. Ras has had the pleasure of working with many theatre companies in KC like Kansas City Actors Theatre, Kansas City Rep, the Unicorn Theatre, The Coterie, Fishtank Theatre, The Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City, and The One-Minute-Play Festival in positions ranging from crewing and stage managing to acting, directing, and playwrighting. They are also a teaching artist for the Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s Summer Youth Theatre Ensemble. Ras has been a teaching artist with The Coterie since the summer of 2016, and loves empowering children and teens through art. 

Tanya Barfield

Tany Barfield via Juilliard

Tanya Barfield’s plays include: Of Equal Measure (Center Theatre Group), Blue Door (Playwrights Horizons, South Coast Repertory; Seattle Repertory, Berkeley Repertory and additional theaters), Dent, The Quick, The Houdini Act and 121 Degrees WEST. She wrote the book for the Theatreworks/USA children’s musical: Civil War: The First Black Regiment. Ms. Barfield was a recipient of the 2003 Helen Merrill Award for Emerging Playwrights, 2005 Honorable Mention for the Kesselring Prize for Drama, a 2006 Lark Play Development/NYSCA grant and she has been twice been a Finalist for the Princess Grace Award. She has been commissioned by Playwrights Horizons, Center Theatre Group, South Coast Repertory, Primary Stages and Geva Theatre Center. She is a member of New Dramatists and serves on the membership committee at The Dramatist Guild.

Ariana Debose

Ariana Debose via IMDB

Ariana Debose is an actor, singer, and dancer best known for her role as “The Bullet” in Hamilton. She had her breakthrough in 2009 on So You Think You Can Dance when she made the Top 20. In addition to Hamilton, her Broadway credits include Bring It On The Musical, Motown the Musical, Pippin, A Bronx Tale The Musical, and Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. Ariana will also appear in the upcoming film versions of West Side Story as Anita and The Prom as Alyssa.

Prisca Jebett Kendagor

Prisca Jebett Kendagor via New Play Exchange

Prisca Jebett Kendagor is a playwright and producer based out of Kansas City, MO. She has taught playwriting with The Coterie Theatre and The KC Black Rep. Having started writing when she was twelves years old, she has 20+ years of writing experience, along with her acting experience on the stage. In 2018 her play “Adulting: A Parody” won Best of Venue at the Kansas City Fringe Festival, and ranked number three on the most attended list at the festival. In 2019 her play “T Money Is Cancelled” was critically acclaimed at the same festival. In the spring of that same year her play “Seven and Ten” was chosen to be part of The Last Frontier New Play Festival in Valdez, AK and her play “The Matriarchy” was received at the Women’s Theatre Festival in Raleigh, NC that same summer. She is a proud member of the Dramatist Guild, and loves what she does.

C.A. Johnson

C.A. Johnson via cajohnson.info

C.A. Johnson hails from Metairie Louisiana, but currently lives and writes in Queens, NY. Her plays include ALL THE NATALIE PORTMANS (MCC Theater), THIRST (2017 Kilroys List,The Contemporary American Theater Festival), THE CLIMB (Cherry Lane Mentor Project), AN AMERICAN FEAST (NYU Playwrights Horizons Theater School), and I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW. She is currently the Tow Playwright in Residence at MCC Theater and a Core Writer at the Playwrights Center. She was previously the 2018 P73 Playwriting Fellow, The Lark’s 2016-17 Van Lier Fellow, a Dramatists Guild Fellow, a member of The Civilians R&D Group, a member of The Working Farm at SPACE on Ryder Farm, a Sundance/Ucross Fellow and a 2018 Sundance Theatre Lab Fellow. Her work has been developed with The Lark, PlayPenn, Luna Stage, Open Bar Theatricals, The Dennis and Victoria Ross Foundation, and The Fire This Time Festival. BA: Smith College MFA: NYU.

Teniece Divya Johnson

Teniece Divya Johnson via IMBD

Teniece Divya Johnson, MA (Lehigh University, Sociology), MFA (University of Florida), is a student of life, stunt performer and certified intimacy coordinator and director for television, film and stage. They are a Creative Team Member of (IDC) Intimacy Directors & Coordinators and some of Teniece’s credits include HBO’s Succession, HULU’s Wu-Tang: An American Saga, FX’s POSE, Run the World directed by Millicent Shelton, West Side Story directed by Steven Spielberg and the limited series The Underground Railroad written and directed by Barry Jenkins. Teniece is also honored to have worked with Claire Warden on Slave Play at the Golden Theater and NYTW. And they love working with the students at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts as a fight director and intimacy director. 

Teaching and performing for over a decade, Teniece uses a multidisciplinary approach to cultivating self-healing and creative wellness practices. Driven to keep actors safe but the story dangerous Teniece’s devised theater experience, movement training and spoken word poetry lends for a natural curiosity and commitment to honoring and dissecting what is on the page in order to develop a captivating movement dialogue of action and reaction. They are also an outspoken advocate for diversity, inclusivity, LGBTQ community and consent culture.

You can watch a recent conversation they did with New York Theatre Workshop on Intimacy Direction below.

AeJay Antonis Marquis

Aejay Antonis Marquis via Theatre Rhinoceros

AeJay Antonis Marquis is a non-binary, queer, and black theatre educator, director, choreographer, and scholar based in the Bay Area. (Fun fact, I remember their name from my old career as a performing arts publicist!)

Originally from Louisiana, they studied, performed and taught for the past decade across the United States. They trained in Dance, Theatre, and Music at Wake Forest University in North Carolina and are an alumni of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival’s Apprenticeship Program where they took classes from Monica Bill Barnes, Camille A. Brown, Hofesh Schecter, and Barak Marshall among others. They also worked with dance theatre and performance artists Yin Mei, Tim Miller, Joe Goode, and the Architects.

Their joy is spreading the love of performing arts to students of all ages and they currently teach with the Contra Costa School of Performing Arts. When not educating, you can see them on stage at regional Bay Area theatres, where they serve as a company member Black Artists Contemporary Cultural Experience, Theatre First, as well as a founding member of L’Elite Players based in Louisiana.

AeJay is a proud member of Actor’s Equity Association.

Cristina Pitter

Cristina Pitter via cristinapitter.com

Cristina Pitter is a “queer afro-latinx fat babe. nomad artist. sex educator. hedonist. bruja.” You may have seen her work in “at The Metropolitan Opera, Ensemble Studio Theatre, 59E59, Ars Nova, Classic Stage, JACK, The Bushwick Starr, Vital Joint, New Ohio Theatre, Joe’s Pub, The PIT, The Tank, The Flea Theater, Dixon Place, Bizarre Bushwick, or three separate but specific bathtubs.” Cristina believes in the magic of art and storytelling and is committed to creating work that unapologetically reflects the vast capacity for the joy and pain of humankind.

Love and theatre,
-Krista

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