In Boston, the Black theater community is celebrating more stories of diversity, more leaders of color and more prestigious awards.

During the 40th annual Eliot Norton Awards,the Front Porch Arts Collective collected 13 prizes and their co-production of "K-I-S-S-I-N-G” with the Huntington Theatre Company, was the most celebrated production with eight awards.

Historically, Black theater has transformed since the Jim Crow era, where African American performers were segregated to the 'Chitlin’ Circuit,'a limited run of venues across the U.S. for Black culture and entertainment. Since then, the Black theater community has expanded to include more BIPOC artists and their life stories.

Yet, the Black theater community is still feeling the devasting effect of the pandemic, and theater leaders are working to improve and increase public interest with their plays celebrating Black joy and life, in hopes of bringing back the love of theater within communities of color.

This week on Basic Black, senior investigative reporter for GBH News and host Phillip Martin, is joined by artists of color — working behind the scenes and on stage — to discuss the rise in theatrical performances featuring stories about African American life.

Dawn Meredith Simmons, co-founder and co-producing artistic director of The Front Porch Arts Collective said, “There are more opportunities for stories about our joys and triumphs as well as our struggles and so we’re seeing a fullness of representation of who we are as people of the Africa diaspora, but could it be better? And could it be more hospitable so that artists can continue to stay here and make a living?”

Boston is one of the ten most expensive cities in the country to live in. Lyndsay Allyn Cox, producing director at The Huntington Theatre Company, worked as a freelance actor and director for years and said it was tough to be away from home for several nights a week trying to piece together jobs as a freelancer.

“As an actor it’s really hard. There are only a certain number of roles available and a certain number of actors and characters that look like me,” said Cox.

But that’s slowly changing. The Front Porch Art Collective is a Black theater company committed to ensuring the theatrical landscape reflects the diversity of Boston. Their hope is to encourage and promote other Black theater companies to follow suit.

Olawumi Akinwumi, the deputy director of programs at Arts Boston and founder of AfroDesiaCity, said it’s important these diverse stories are told. “There’s Black and brown artists and playwrights who can actually make a sound in Boston,” said Akinwumi.

One of those playwrights making a sound is Lenelle Moïse. Her award-winning play, K-I-S-S-I-N-G, explores teenage romance and has become an audience favorite. Simmons, who directed the play said, “Lenelle’s play is a love letter to Boston and all the little touchstones of the city are in there. The play shows a slice of Black life that we don’t often get to see.”

Kirsten Greenidge, a playwright and associate professor at Boston University and an artist-in-residence at Company One Theater, is interested in stories that make people wiggle in their seat.

“My job is to highlight and foster discussion amongst audience members and community. There is not another choice,” said Greenridge. “I think as a playwright of color in the United States right now you are stepping into that choice to amplify stories that people might not feel are that important.”

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