If there's one thing that's become clear to Terrence Pride during his tenure as producing artistic director of Miami's Brévo Theatre, it's that there seems to be a virtually endless amount of playwrights eager for a space to share their work.
"When we started this theater company, we never thought that we'd get the response we got from playwrights wanting to connect with us," says Pride, referring to himself and cofounder Zaylin Yates.
Pride and Yates first developed what would become Brévo Theatre as a passion project during their undergraduate years at Florida A&M University. They reignited it in 2020 after both were ready to take an artistic and personal leap. The venture began with an innovative student dinner theater production and has expanded to include online protest art, community discussions, two full-scale productions, and a youth-theater program.
Now, having noticed an enormous demand, the company, which is interested in showcasing works by Black playwrights and focusing on the Black experience, is expanding its horizons into new work with the upcoming launch of its "Freshly Rooted" series. The series features staged readings meant to engage with audiences and introduce community members to "brave new voices, telling stories in innovative and bold new ways."
The creative space, the founders say, will provide an opportunity for the company to showcase the work of up-and-coming artists, particularly those who may belong to underrepresented groups and lack other avenues to share their voices — those "who aren't necessarily as experienced in the profession, but they have a desire," explains Pride.
"If it's relevant and something that we want the community to think about, we will bring it to the light in our plays," he says.
The series, which has been a year in the making, will begin with a presentation of four new plays by Cleveland-based playwright Michael Oatman. The prolific playwright is the former playwright-in-residence at Cleveland's Karamu Theater, the oldest African-American theater in the country. He is only the second person to hold the honor in the long history of Karamu, the first being Langston Hughes.
Oatman's plays will be presented on Friday, March 31, and Saturday, April 1, with one play read in an hour beginning at 6 p.m. each night.
"Michael has such a passion for what he does, with him being a minority playwright and with his plays... we ultimately landed on his work because it's relevant to now," says Pride about Oatman.
One of the works featured has obvious relevance to current events, given the recent repeal of Roe v. Wade. Titled Not a Uterus in Sight, it follows a female college professor arrested by a Black FBI agent after giving an incendiary speech at an abortion protest.
Another on the roster, The Slap, was directly inspired by the infamous Will Smith/Chris Rock Oscar incident, and focuses on Jada Pinkett Smith's memories of a confrontation between her now husband and the late Tupac Shakur as both sought to win her heart.
Though it may not be as obviously current as the others, Far from a Distant Shore explores topics incredibly relevant to life today. It centers on three historical characters at work on an anti-lynching petition, which clearly ties into issues of today's racial injustice. In The Benediction, a man confronts a troubled pastor in search of a crucial piece of information.
This post-show discussion, called "Pour it Out," will be made available to the public via streaming on Facebook Live and Zoom and to in-person audience members. Since plays are seldom altered after they've been published or, in some cases, even after a definitive first production, Pride hopes that this advance feedback could help improve new plays by unique playwrights before they hit the stage — ultimately making those plays stronger and more marketable, thereby increasing visibility and opportunity for the playwrights in our community.
Pride hopes to expand the series into a full-fledged festival, showcasing various works in one action-packed weekend and providing workshops and networking opportunities for fledgling playwrights and the other artists involved. He's also eager to take the work explored in the series even further — for example, by presenting theater that would not necessarily be delivered in English.
"I want to create space on the stage to be able to reflect the South Florida community as a whole, and I think that embracing other cultures and their languages is how we go about doing that," he says.
While Pride is hopeful that audience members will respond positively to "Freshly Rooted," even ahead of these upcoming performances, it is already evident that the project will have incredible benefits for the artists involved.
"Every time I am offered a platform, a stage, in front of audiences, it is an opportunity to convince, persuade, cajole, or entertain," says Oatman.
"I literally live for these moments. The stage is how I enter the world, the place where I am allowed to pour it all out,' and have it still be okay," he says.
– Ilana Rothman, ArtburstMiami.com
"Freshly Rooted" Reading of Four Plays by Michael Oatman. 6 p.m. Friday, March 31, and Saturday, April 1, at Little Haiti Cultural Complex's Proscenium Theatre, 212 NE 59th Ter., Miami; 661-547-2815; brevotheatre.org. Tickets cost $20.