Juneteenth Theatre Justice Project

In the American theater we are guided by the principle that we can “change the world, one play at a time.” What if it was also one day at a time with the same play? On Friday, Juneteenth, (June 19th), theater communities around the country will provide their response to the current moment – the civil uprising that has come as a reaction to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others before them. The need for collective action and a collective commitment to speak the truth has never greater. Now more than ever there is a tremendous opportunity to dismantle systemic racism. This is true everywhere, including the American theater. This spark of an opportunity, coupled with Vincent Terrell Durham’s writing, has erupted in simultaneous free readings of Durham’s new play, Polar Bears, Black Boys, & Prairie Fringed Orchids.

A finalist for the 2019 National New Play Network’s National Showcase of New Plays, with a surprising amount of humor the play speaks to gentrification, white fragility, the Black Lives Matter movement, and police violence against Black bodies.

Jobsite and Stageworks teamed up with Rory Lawrence Productions on a video reading that premiered on Juneteenth, Fri., June 19, made available through their websites and social media platforms. The six-person cast (Emily Belvo, Johnny Garde, Patrick A. Jackson, Nancy Mizzell, Andresia Moseley, Derrick Phillips) appeared socially-distanced on the Stageworks stage under the direction of Jobsite Producing Artistic Director David M. Jenkins.

The stream is free, but viewers are encouraged to donate to one of these worthy charities:

We’re proud to have joined over 40 theaters around the country in offering this play. In the San Francisco Bay Area alone over 30 theaters have joined together under the auspice of the PlayGround Zoom Fest and in partnership with SAG-AFTRA.

Polar Bears, Black Boys & Prairie Fringed Orchids from Jobsite Theater on Vimeo.

Virtual Talkback: Polar Bears, Black Boys & Prairie Fringed Orchids from Jobsite Theater on Vimeo.

Creative Team

  • Emily Belvo: Molly Castle
  • Miles Brady: Voice of Elijah Dupree
  • Johnny Garde: Tom/Office Lennox
  • Patrick A. Jackson: Jaquan Wallace
  • Andresia Moseley: Shemeka Davis
  • Nancy Mizzell: Rita Dupree
  • Derrick Phillips: Peter Castle
  • David Jenkins: Direction and Sound

About the Play
A liberal white couple open the doors of their renovated Harlem brownstone to host a cocktail party for a Black Lives Matter activist, his gay white lover, and the mother of a slain 12-year-old black boy. A night of cocktails and conversation spark emotional debates ranging from under-weight polar bears, Lana Turner, saving the planet, gentrification, racial identity, and protecting the lives of black boys. The run time is approximately 75 minutes.

About the Playwright
Vincent Terrell Durham is a scriptwriter, author and poet who first honed his storytelling skills as a stand-up comic in comedy clubs across the country. His plays include The Fertile River, Vol. 1, A Post Racial America, and Polar Bears, Black Boys & Prairie Fringed Orchids, among others. Polar Bears, Black Boys & Prairie Fringed Orchids was co-commissioned and developed by PlayGround and Planet Earth Arts and is a 2019 NNPN National Showcase of New Plays finalist.

About the Juneteenth Theatre Justice Project
The Juneteenth Theatre Justice Project was launched by Aldo Billingslea to center Black theatre artists and new voices, address systemic racism in the theater industry, and help raise much-needed funds in support of Black theaters around the country.



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5 Responses

  1. First, I had to listen to the play twice because it was difficult to hear some of the dialogue.
    I am now listening to your discussion.

    One point that I would like to make is that the white couple’s characters need to be rewritten. They didn’t ring true to me as a white woman. I mean… really… she got her husband, who apparently doesn’t really like nor fully support his wife’s causes, to move to Harlem where they spend $100,000 over budget???

    They should have had so many discussions involving race before they adopted a black baby. Wouldn’t the adoption agency have forced some of those discussions???
    The husband is being used as a foil to show his wife’s naive point of view. She is supposed to be someone who really cares, but it seems that she only cares on a surface level. While that could work, I really can’t see a white couple moving to Harlem to renovate a house. They should be aware that that move is gentrification, a major issue in itself.
    Another line was the husband questioning if their guests were going to be black. Why wouldn’t one expect at least some of the guests to be black when one lives in Harlem????

    Molly also tries to set up her black friend, who she did not realize was the owner of a local bookstore. The fact that she had not realized this when she had been to the store many times… that could happen… but it just shows how shallow she is. This is compounded by the fact that she also didn’t realized that the man she wanted to set-up her “new friend” with was actually a gay man.

    The ending was the best part. The gun falling out of a pocket and the assumption was that it must have been Jaquan’s gun… it MUST have belonged to the black man. I thought that that was the end… but the police knocking on the door because someone reported a gunshot…. then Jaquan was killed … again because of the assumption was that if there was a problem involving a gun… it must have been with the black man.

    But the listing of the names… wow… I could just see that being projected in a screen. The ending is powerful!!!!

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