Credit: Courtesy of Black Lives, Black Words

This weekend the Goodman Theatre will present the I Am . . . Fest, three days of events and artistic educational programming, including workshops, film screenings, and play readings, to celebrate women of color. It concludes on Monday evening with the International 10-Minute Play Showcase featuring Chicago playwrights Nambi E. Kelley and Loy Webb and the U.S. premiere of The Interrogation of Sandra Bland by Mojisola Adebayo, in which 100 women of color perform the transcript of Sandra Bland’s arrest.

Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway and Reginald Edmund curated the festival in partnership with the Goodman. An author, dramaturg, arts executive, and one of London’s Most Influential People in Theatre of 2018 (according to the Evening Standard), Hodge-Dallaway became frustrated by the lack of people of color in positions of leadership in the theater industry. While working as a project manager at the National Theatre’s Black Play Archive, she began to wonder why the work of Black playwrights and theater artists of yesteryear had not filtered into the mainstream. She also observed that she and other highly talented artists were being called back again and again for temporary roles, yet were never invited to fill permanent, senior management positions in leading artistic institutions. This inspired her to establish Artistic Directors of the Future, an organization that mentors people of color and prepares them for leadership roles in arts organizations in the UK.

Edmund, a playwright and director, was experiencing similar roadblocks in Chicago. He also wanted to find a way to bypass gatekeepers and provide artists of color with a platform. Hodge-Dallaway interviewed him during field research in America, and the Black Lives, Black Words International Project was born out of their conversation. The project brings together playwrights, visual artists, and spoken word performers and asks them to collaborate on short plays based on the theme “Do Black lives matter?” It debuted to a packed house at the Greenhouse Theater Center in Lincoln Park in 2015 and has since traveled to seven other cities in the U.S. and UK.

The I Am . . . Fest is an outgrowth of that project, specifically intended to honor women- of-color activists, artists, and leaders. Some of this year’s highlights include a screening of Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed, a documentary about Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to run for president; Surviving the Mic: Brave Space Making, a performance workshop for survivors of sexual violence led by multidisciplinary artist Nikki Patin; and Making the Artivist, a workshop hosted by Red Clay Dance Company which helps artists understand their agency and power within their communities. Hodge-Dallaway believes that there is beauty and power in activism. “When we talk about activism, people think of big and lavish ways, but actually it’s just speaking out saying, ‘There’s nobody of color in this poster, or on the board.'”

Hodge-Dallaway is particularly excited about The Interrogation of Sandra Bland, which she is directing. “Having 100 women take to the stage to pay homage to Sandra Bland, I would anticipate that they would feel a real sense of unity, and strength in numbers in a way that they haven’t experienced before,” she says. Edmund adds, “It’s especially important and beautiful that it’s women of color, that it’s Middle Eastern, it’s Latina, it’s Asian, the whole gamut. It’s not just one person that has experienced police brutality, it is something that has affected women of color all throughout the spectrum.”

Hodge-Dallaway agrees. “We are the daughters, the sisters, the mothers, the mothers-to-be, the surrogates, the adopted mothers, the adoptive aunties, we are the past, the present, and the future.”   v