You know how the saying goes: If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Veteran playwright Nicole Kearney took that phrase to heart when she founded OnyxFest, one of the state’s only theater festivals for Black dramatists.
Following DivaFest, a festival produced by Indy Fringe that highlights female writers, Kearney approached Pauline Moffat, Indy Fringe’s executive director, about the possibility of producing something for Black artists. Moffatt liked the idea and did Kearney one better by challenging her to create it herself. Five years and several sold-out shows later, the annual event continues to thrill audiences.
“We always say there’s nothing to celebrate us,” said Kearney. “If you want to see more Black art in the city, you have to support what’s out there.”
This year’s lineup includes four plays: “Esther,” a musical about the biblical heroine of the same name; “The Lipstick Monologues: Traces of Her Lipstick” by Ardre Ordie; “Single, Saved and Playing Spades” by Lisa Michelle; and “Gil, One Man Musical,” which details the life of artist/activist Gil Scott-Heron.
The one-man show, written by Kearney and directed by Chandra Lynch, stars Bashiri Asad, a national recording artist and Indy music scene fixture, as Scott-Heron.
“Bashiri called me up and talked to me in February about this idea he had to do a one-man show about Gil. I started working on a draft and got something together. It was changed over time, and in late September, we had our final script,” said Kearney. Soon thereafter, the team was assembled. Uzuri Asad, an artist and wardrobe stylist, came on as the production/costume designer, singer/actress Megan Simonton as stage manager, and Angelo Bridges Sr. as musical director for the live band accompanying Bashiri Asad.
“This play has an incredible lineup of talent,” said Kearney. “‘Gil’ is a timely show; even though it’s set in the 1960s and moves over his life, a lot of the things that occurred are relevant now.”
“Gil” begins with Scott-Heron’s last release from prison and gives a retrospective account of his childhood in Tennessee, his infamous drug use and time with Arista Records. Bashiri Asad will perform well-known pieces “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” “Ain’t No New Thing,” “Home is Where the Hatred is” and others. The performer and poet is regarded by many as the progenitor of modern day rap and hip-hop music, as his poignant lyrics were often accompanied by rhythmic, driving beats. During his career, he produced dozens of albums and touched audiences all over the world. He passed away in 2011 due to complications from a previous HIV/AIDS diagnosis. Kearney shared that the goal with “Gil” is to not shy away from the tough aspects of his life while celebrating the fact that he was “a champion of the African-American voice.”
Though OnyxFest is typically held in May, this year it will run Nov.11–13 and 18–20.
For more information on ticket sales and showtimes, visit indyfringe.org.
“Single, Saved, and Playing Spades” by Lisa Michelle
Mike and his friends get together every month for a friendly game of spades. This month, Kim brings a co-worker, Jasmine, to the game. Roland is having major life issues and doesn’t want to hear anything about God, but Jasmine makes sure everyone knows what God can do.
“The Lipstick Monologues: Traces of Her Lipstick” by Ardre Orie
With the rise of feminism, women are the most powerful force in the world. Our voices cannot be silenced. Journey to a place where women say goodbye to the double standards and take matters into their own hands. Will love live or die? You be the judge.
“Esther” by Arttacgo Luckett
Esther is a musical drama based on the biblical book of Esther, who is chosen by King Xerxes to become the new queen of Persia. When Haman, the king’s advisor, devises a plot to kill all of the Jews in the kingdom, Esther’s faith, courage and loyalty are tested.