New Federal Theatre’s Kickstarter for Production of Amiri Baraka’s Last Play Off to Good Start; Making History in Proces
Exclusive to Our Time Press
Launched January 16, campaign has reached 34% of $40K Goal in Five Days on way to May 28 world premiere of “Most Dangerous Man in America”
The date was January 15, 2015 – the anniversary of the 86th birthday of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The locale was the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem – the research library and archive repository for information on peoples of African descent worldwide. Gathered were press from across the spectrum of the Black and mainstream media.
The occasion — one that will most likely be chronicled in Black historical documents for years to come – was the announcement by Woodie King, Jr., producing director of the New Federal Theatre, of the launch of a Kickstarter Campaign to raise the balance of the funds needed – $40,000 – to produce Amiri Baraka’s last play, “The Most Dangerous Man in America” (WEB DuBois), set for a world premiere May 28 at the Castillo Theatre in New York City.
Baraka joined the ancestors a year ago on January 9, 2014, and King explained that this inititive was part of a major public and personal homage to the the great playwright/poet, his friend of some 50 years.
Launched on Friday, January 16, the NFT’s Kickstarter campaign is making Black Theatre history on the social media stage. Having already raised an initial $60,000 of the $100,000 needed to produce the play, King and the NFT Board of Directors are offering more than 200 premiums to potential “backers” for Kickstarter contributions of $10.00 or more to reach the $40K by March 1. The gifts include performance tickets, original artwork by Baraka, first edition books, theatrical posters, DVD’s, cast albums, spoken word albums, and more. Now, in its fifth day as of this printing — the campaign has reached 34% of its goal. It also is one the Kickstarter site’s most popular — and fast-moving — projects in the theater category.
Gone are such premiums as Baraka’s “Dolls” art; the 1903 first edition of WEB DuBois’ “Souls of Black Folk;” one of four co-producer spots for “The Most Dangerous Man in America”; an out-of-print copy of Langston Hughes’ “Writers of the Revolution” album; the original Broadway poster of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” by Paul Davis; one copy of the out-of-print “Poetry of Maya Angelou” album, and more. For $25, a potential backer’s name can be listed as a contributor in the May 28 world premiere program destined to be a collectible. To see the premiums and participate, visit: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1577742797/most-dangerous-man-in-america-web-dubois-by-amiri .
At the January 15 press event, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, executive director of the Schomburg, spoke glowingly of the historical significance of launching the Kickstarter Campaign at the Schomburg, the largest repository of Black literature and center for research on Black history and culture. “This is an historical moment and we are proud to be a part of it.”
Mr. King graciously acknowledged the significance of the event taking place in the Schomburg’s American Negro Theatre, and reminded media later that one of the goals of ANT, now in its 75th year, was to produce plays that “honestly and with integrity interpreted the concerns of black people.” (The ANT’s original constitution, King later told Our Time Press, drew upon W.E.B.DuBois’ belief that African-American theatre should be by, about, for African Americans.)
On hand to show support was actor, artist and activist Danny Glover, who stated that Baraka was the inspiration behind his becoming an actor and the activist he is today. “When I think about Dr. DuBois, I think about Amiri who I met for the first as a 20-year-old student in 1967 (at San Francisoco State College). We invited him there to develop a community communications program. Amiri talked about the use of art as a means of revolution. It was the beginning of my transformation.” Glover is featured in a moving video clip on the Kickstarter site, along with poet Jessica Care Moore and actor Glynn Turman.)
Also present at the event were Art McFarland, formerly of WABC-TV News, and award-winning actress/producer Petronia Paley, who will portray, respectively, WEB DuBois and the scholar’s second wife, Shirley Graham DuBois.
McFarland’s mellifluous voice filled the room as he spoke of having once been an actor and having dreamed of once again returning to his first love. “Never did I imagine that I would be playing the most iconic man in Black history, or that I would be doing it with one of the most important theatre groups in New York City – or the world – the New Federal Theatre; this is a big jump-start to my dream. Now, the opportunity to work with Petronia Paley is even more awesome.”
Ms. Paley, who had been collaborating with Woodie King for quite some time in bringing this play to the stage, said she was honored to be part of this process and historical moment. Ms. Paley’s background reads like a page from the life of Ms. DuBois. Ms. DuBois was a writer, playwright, composer and activist. And so is Ms. Paley as a modernday renaissance woman of community and regional theatre.
Amsterdam News columnist/journalist and distinguished author Herb Boyd urged the media to read the read Baraka’s script, and offered scholarly comments on the relationship between Du Bois and Baraka, as “dangerous” men, thought leaders who loved humanity and spoke out for equality.
Brooklyn’s beloved actor-activist Ralph Carter engaged the audience in an original song “I’m a Fighter” and spoke of the absolute necessity of the community coming together to support the arts.
Bernice Elizabeth Green, an NFT Board member who served as event host with McFarland, spoke of the broad significance of Woodie King’s effort as a tribute to the legacy of Amiri Baraka. Mr. King is directing, and bringing to life Baraka’s first and his last play. “The Most Dangerous Man in America” set for its world premiere in late spring, follows the presentation of the King-directed February-March presentation of Baraka’s 1964 Obie-winning first play Dutchman.. She noted that is was important to continue celebrations of Baraka, who has contributed so much to culture and community, locally and globally.
The playwright Karima who also is on the staff of the New Federal Theatre and was one of the architects of NFT’s impressive Kickstarter site, offered a humorous lesson on the Kickstarter process through her “Kickstarter for Dummies” spontaneous presentation. She offered instructions to visit www.kickstarter.com ‘s Theater category and navigate to “The Most Dangerous Man in America (WEB DuBois).
In closing, she said, “The mission of Kickstarter is to help creative people — artists, musicians, filmmakers, designers — fund their own creative projects.” And one of the great things about utilizing Kickstarter for this effort is that it raises awareness of the greatness of Amiri Baraka, WEB DuBois, and Black culture, and it also gives the community “ownership” or involvement in the successful production of a legacy event.
A second NFT press event is scheduled to take place in Amiri Baraka’s hometown of Newark, N.J., mid-February.
ABOUT “THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA” (WEB DUBOIS) by Amiri Baraka
Baraka’s last play pinpoints a time in WEB DuBois’ life when, at age 81, he was persecuted by during the days the McCarthy era witch-hunts; anyone who had any independent thought (whatsoever) was branded as being a member of the Communist Party, and therefore an enemy of the US. Among those hauled into Congress and excoriated were DuBois, Paul Robeson and other activist/artists, Black and white. Many lives were ruined during this dark period of American History.
DuBois, a founder of the NAACP, and the organization’s Crisis Magazine, held tight to a life-long mission to actively research what, if anything, Black people could do to extricate themselves from the stranglehold of racism in a post-slavery society.
For additional information, contact www.newfederaltheatre.com or call 212-353-1176 or check them out and like them on FaceBook. Share this news with family and friends, and urge them to go to be an investor and link to history: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1577742797/most-dangerous-man-in-america-web-dubois-by-amiri.
The cover photo of Amiri Baraka writing is credited to C. Danny Dawson.