National Black Theatre has unveiled its 2021–2022 season programming, which will include welcoming back in-person audiences. Among the highlights are a queer take on Hamlet, a new work directed by upcoming Broadway auteur Lileana Blain-Cruz, and a chamber musical rooted in the ritual of ring shout.
“This season of work is exceptionally meaningful as NBT’s return to in-person programming is forged out of a vision to amplify the needs of our community at this catalytic moment in time,” says CEO Sade Lythcott. “This season is reflective of our listening and desire to produce unique and diverse offerings that lean into art as a healing tool to anchor our resilience.”
In early 2022, NBT will present two digital commissions in partnership with AllArts. The collaboration launches with The First Twenty, by Ngozi Anyanwu and Lelund Thompson, which explores the shift in the collective American consciousness during the first two decades of the 21st century and how that has impacted American culture and art.
Next up is The Roll Call: The Roots to Strange Fruit, conceived and directed by Jonathan McCrory. As a visual, sonic opera, this commission looks at weaving auction block notices, fugitive notices, and find-your-family notices together from the institution of slavery. The work looks at these historical documents as a space of reclamation, healing, and as an intervention to unearth the indelible impact of the journey of Black people.
The NYC premiere of Fat Ham, written by James Ijames and directed by Saheem Ali, will open in May 2022 as a co-production with The Public. In this dramedy-esque take on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a young queer man seeks to avenge his father’s death.
Also in May is The Gathering: A Collective Sonic Ring Shout, co-presented by the American Composers Orchestra and the Apollo Theatre and co-curated by NBT. Conceived and directed by Jonathan McCrory, the chamber musical is rooted in the ritual of ring shout. The religious ritual was first practiced by enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and in the United States, in which worshipers move in a circle while shuffling, stomping, and clapping. The program features Carlos Simon’s Amen!, Courtney Bryan’s Sanctum, and Joel Thompson’s Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.
The season concludes in June with the New York Theatre Workshop co-production of Dreaming Zenzile. The modern jazz play is based on the life of late South African singer and political activist Miriam Makeba, written by and starring Grammy winner Somi Kakoma and directed by Blain-Cruz. The show is already underway as a rolling world premiere after playing at Repertory Theatre of St. Louis earlier this year before heading to McCarter Theatre Center (January 15–February 13, 2022) and Arts Emerson (February 23-27). Apollo Theater and Octopus Theatricals also serve as co-presenters.
Earlier works this year included NBT’s Stage for Healing and Resilience as part of The Public Theater’s Mobile Unit and the radio play Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments. In addition, NBT has selected Jordan Flemming as fifth Soul Producing Resident, who will work with the company during this season.