Welcome to PlayMakers’ 2022/2023 season opener, Pearl Cleage’s seminal work, “Blues for an Alabama Sky.” Pearl’s writing stirs the soul, and her beautiful exploration of a group of young dreamers in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance resonates with a timelessness that is found only in the best of theatre.
Good plays are always timely. Regardless of when they’re written or where they are set, a really good play chips away at things humanity is always struggling with. I love that Cleage’s “Blues” touches on so many issues that we continue to grapple with as a society—the constructs of race, gender, sexuality, and class—and does so with such empathy and acuity that it artfully reveals our common humanity. This is a fascinating story filled with characters we care about in a world full of life, music, and style—it’s truly a gift for theatre artists to take on this work.
And helming this production, I’m thrilled to welcome back to PlayMakers the brilliant Valerie Curtis-Newton, who last joined us for her production of “Skeleton Crew.” Through an illustrious career as a theatre founder, director, and educator in her home base of Seattle and around the country, Val is truly an inspiring woman of the theatre and among the best in the business. She and her team of collaborators have created an electrifying evening of theatre.
You know, when you program a play as part of a season of theatre, its individual resonances start to multiply. Life imitates art as much as art imitates life. It’s uncanny. Thank you for joining us to kick off our new season of work. The gift of making it is only complete in the sharing of it—with you! I hope you join us on the journey all year.
As chair of the PlayMakers Advisory Council, it is my great pleasure to welcome you back to the Paul Green Theatre for our 2022/23 season.
We are thrilled to offer a six-show Mainstage season that celebrates the best in contemporary and classic theatre, featuring Southern voices, female writers, and directors and a diversity of narratives from the tapestry of cultures that make up the American cultural landscape. We believe that the theatre will have an important role to play in making sense of the complex world in which we find ourselves in, and we endeavor to do this by entertaining, challenging, and inspiring our audiences with the best tools of professional, locally produced performing arts. When I walk out of PlayMakers after a show, I always say how lucky we are to have a theater with such world-class performances right here in Chapel Hill.
In addition to an impressive lineup of powerful performances, PlayMakers continues its work serving the Triangle community and beyond. We are privileged to provide unique learning opportunities for K–12 classrooms and UNC students, creating new ways to engage with our local artists and advocates, and make the power and joy of theatre accessible to underserved communities.
Theatre is and always will be a place for community. And it is up to us—the community—to ensure that PlayMakers continues to thrive. Gifts from patrons like you will be critical to our success as we navigate mapping out a bright future for the theatre ensuring its sustainability for many decades to come. If you enjoy and believe in the power of the theatre as I do, I invite you to become a Friend of PlayMakers. Please make a tax-deductible contribution to the annual fund, pledge a monthly donation as a Sustainer, or offer a campaign gift to strengthen and sustain PlayMakers’ vision for the future.
I truly believe that there has never been a more important time to support the arts. Join me in championing our local theatre—an organization that makes a difference in our community. As Joan Gillings often said, “You will sit a little taller in your theatre seat, knowing you made a difference, too.”
“One of America’s Best Regional Theatres”(American Theatre Magazine), PlayMakers Repertory Company is North Carolina’s premier professional theatre company, proudly in residence on the dynamic campus of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The professional company was founded in 1976, growing out of a storied 100 year tradition of playmaking at Carolina. Our mission is to produce relevant, courageous work that tells stories from and for a multiplicity of perspectives. We believe that theatre can have a transformational impact on individuals and entire communities, and we are committed to the work of becoming an anti-racist organization whose work is accessible to all.
At the very heart of the PlayMakers experience is one of the nation’s last remaining resident theatre companies, made up of accomplished performers, directors, designers, artisans, and technicians, and supported by exceptional graduate students in UNC’s Department of Dramatic Art. Our company works side by side with guest artists from all over the world and our alumni include Pulitzer Prize, Tony®, Emmy®, and Grammy Award® winners.
Creating Tomorrow’s Classics, Today
Producing Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch is continuing PlayMakers’ tradition of producing vibrantly reimagined classics, large-scale musical theatre, and significant contemporary work, but is also broadening the company’s reach to become a home for new play development and a true hub of social and civic discourse in the region. Her first five seasons have already given life to ten important new American plays.
A Hub of Engagement
PlayMakers seeks to provoke thought, stimulate discussion and push the boundaries of the theatrical form in everything we do. Whether through our intimate @Play series, our mainstage offerings or our virtual line-up, we look for opportunities for direct, dynamic engagement between audiences, artists and thinkers. The Vision Series, post-show discussions and a host of unique engagement opportunities – including the continuation of last season’s online PlayMakers Keeping You Company – enrich our audience’s experience of the live arts.
Theatre for the People
PlayMakers Mobile is an initiative that seeks to contribute positively to the civic and social life of our region by taking world-class theatre out of our building and into the community. We create a streamlined production of a play each year and take it to schools, transitional housing facilities, and long-term treatment facilities around the Greater Triangle area. And best of all, it’s all free of charge. We look forward to getting back on the road as soon as we can do so safely.
Passing the Torch
PlayMakers’ award-winning Summer Youth Conservatory is the only professionally supported training program of its kind in the region. The Theatre Quest program provides camps to area middle school students, while the Theatre Intensive and TheatreTech programs allow Triangle high schoolers to apprentice directly with professional directors, choreographers, musical directors, and technicians, culminating in a professional quality production on the PlayMakers mainstage for the whole community to enjoy.
With a commitment to eliminating barriers for attendance when we host live events, PlayMakers offers All Access performances for our patrons living with disabilities, we offer accessible $20 tickets for all performances, and tickets reduced to just $10 for UNC students and $12 for all other students. Our Spotlight on Service program also offers complimentary tickets to local service organizations. This season, we are proud to offer complimentary tickets to front-line workers in honor of their ongoing service to the community. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
PlayMakers Repertory Company is North Carolina’s premier professional theatre company, proudly in residence on the dynamic campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Our mission is to producde relevant, courageous work that tells stories from and for a multiplicity of perspectives. We believe that theatre can have a transformational impact on individuals and entire communities, and we are committed to the journey of becoming an anti-racist organization whose work is accessible to all. PlayMakers is devoted to nurturing and training future generations of artists and audiences inextricably linked to UNC’s Department of Dramatic Art.
Antiracism Accountability Statement
At the heart of PlayMakers Repertory Company’s mission is the belief that theater has the power to transform individuals and entire communities. There is no more aspirational or urgent a use of that power than working to dismantle the systems of oppression, white supremacy, and racism that pervade American life and consume the American Theatre. PlayMakers continues to assess and evaluate our own practices in order to embed equitable, antiracist policies into strategic planning, our mission, and our operations.
PlayMakers Repertory Company, and those of us who work here, commit to the following:
To work intentionally to create an antiracist culture in our company.
To continually educate ourselves on the ways in which we can combat racism locally and nationally as we move to create an inclusive, diverse, and equitable sense of belonging for every one of our constituents.
To demonstrate our values through action in our policies, practices, and procedures.
As a professional theatre company embedded in, and inextricably linked to the Department of Dramatic Art (DDA) at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, the path forward will be complex and singular. We will therefore be updating our action items and commitments continuously as our work evolves.
We at PlayMakers understand our responsibility not only to the artists, staff, and audiences with which we engage, but significantly, to the many students training here for a career in the theater.
These are not our first steps, and by no means our last. They are not perfect. And they are not enough. But they are steps forward. We invite you to come back to our website and our theater often and monitor our progress. We take our responsibility to this effort seriously and we welcome your involvement and assessment.
We acknowledge that the Center for Dramatic Art is located on the unceded lands of one or more of Abiayala’s (the Americas’) original sovereign nations, the name(s) of which have not yet been affirmed. The unjust acquisition of these Indigenous lands came about through a history of racism, violence, dispossession, displacement, and erasure of cultures by settlers as part of the larger, land-centered project of settler colonialism.
As we look to the future, please join us in acknowledging and learning about the atrocities committed against these Nations and work with us towards inclusion, representation, and a better relationship with citizens of sovereign American Indian and Alaska Native nations.
Why is Land Acknowledgement important?
This statement is part of the continual interrogation of our own participation and complacency in colonial structures and a call for greater awareness, accountability, and intentionality in the work we do. As storytellers we are committed to learning and telling stories in ways that will have transformational impact in our immediate and extended communities.
We are excited by future partnerships with Native Americans and look forward to sharing this journey of knowledge and growth with you.
BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY is presented by special arrangement with
Dramatists Play Service, Inc., New York.
Commissioned by and World Premiered at
ALLIANCE THEATRE COMPANY
Kenny Leon, Artistic Director and Edith Love, Managing Director with support from the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund’s Resident Theatre Institute.
*Indicates members of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
The Professional Theatre of the Department of Dramatic Art
Kathryn Hunter-Williams, Chair
Vivienne Benesch, Producing Artistic Director
Produced in association with The College of Arts and Sciences
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Pearl Cleage is an Atlanta based award-winning playwright, highly acclaimed journalist, and best-selling novelist. Her most well-known plays include “Flyin’ West,” “Bourbon at the Border,” “Pointing at the Moon,” and “What I Learned in Paris.” Her first novel “What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day,” was a New York Times bestseller and a BCALA Literary Award winner. She is also the author of “I Wish I Had a Red Dress,” “Mad at Miles,” and “Deals with the Devil.” Her plays, novels, poems, and essays reveal powerful, poignant truths about the lives of black women and the black community.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Cleage about her life, her career, and her beautiful play, “Blues for an Alabama Sky.” I wanted to know more about her experience as a writer and what to expect from this profession. Here is what she shared with me:
“Writing is a solitary activity. At some point, you have to stop telling your friends how wonderful the work is going to be and go sit down somewhere by yourself and put those words on paper. With a novel, you write it alone and people experience it alone. With a play, you write it alone, but when it goes into production, you become part of a big, exciting, messy collaboration with artists, directors, designers, actors, producers, and, finally, the audience itself. Once it opens, you are able to experience the piece as part of a group of other people. You can hear what works by the live, human responses around you. When it works the way you hoped it would, there is no better feeling.”
Having become a playwright myself, I can say there really is no better feeling. The only other thing that comes close is when audience members tell you that they see themselves and people they know in your characters. I felt this way about “Blues for an Alabama Sky” from the moment I picked it up.
I first read “Blues for an Alabama Sky” during my sophomore year in college. For those who have never read it, the play is set in the summer of 1930. The promises of the Harlem Renaissance are giving way to the dashed dreams of the Great Depression and racial tension is spreading throughout the United State. Angel is a nightclub singer who is suddenly heartbroken and out of a job. Her best friend, Guy, is a costume designer, who dreams of living in Paris and designing dresses for the famous Josephine Baker. Their neighbor Delia is a social worker and activist. She is trying to organize a family planning clinic in Harlem. Their friend Sam, a doctor, works long hours delivering babies but knows how to live life to its fullest. Finally, there is Leland, a conservative, religious young man from Tuskegee, Alabama, who is looking for love and trying to build his life.