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Black Women Playwrights Group Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Edith Billups | 6/25/2009, 5:56 a.m.

The Black Women Playwrights Group (BWPG) celebrated its 20th anniversary June 22- 23 with a staged reading and benefit performance at the Studio Theatre in Northwest.

Founded by African American playwright Karen L.B. Evans, the 24-member group is an advocacy group for playwrights of color. For its 20th anniversary celebration, the group featured excerpts from plays by Betty Miller Buttram, Gail Parrish, and Evans, president of the group.

€It€s important to have a collaborative group that can give you feedback and be a sounding board,€ Evans said.

€Our membership has really grown over the last three years. We meet monthly, and if you are writing in the D.C. area, we can offer support in a non-evasive way. We have high respect for the writer, and we are willing to follow their progress.€

Evans noted that Essence Magazine published an article about the small number of African American female playwrights on Broadway last year.

€It€s really hard, because your plays have to be chosen, and the people making those decisions are primarily White men,€ Evans said.

€There is a big gap in sensitivity that has to be overcome. Our story is always the exception as opposed to being accepted for being a good play. The feeling is, €Aren€t we gracious to give you this opportunity?€ I am constantly advocating for women writers of color.€

For this year€s anniversary, audience members saw excerpts from three plays that Evans and other members had been working on for seven to eight months.

€One of the issues is that women tend to write short plays, and we€re happy that the National Endowment gave us money recently to write full length plays,€ Evans said.
Excerpts were read from Buttram€s €Ask Me No Questions;€ Parrish€s €Rankin;€ and Evans€ €We Miss You Stink.€

Evans said 150 artistic directors from across the country were invited to view the new works.

€If they couldn€t come to D.C. this year because of the economic situation, we€ll send them the scripts. After that, it just depends on who it appeals to and what they are looking for,€ Evans said.

Evans said BWPG has lasted 20 years because they believe in supporting the artist.

€A lot of women€s groups split apart because of politics, but we have persevered because we are mainly here for the artist and what they have written. Women feel safe here. It€s a safe place to come and grow. This is a gift to a writer,€ she said.

As part of BWPG€s outreach activities, the group last year coordinated and produced The First National Congress Meeting of Women of Color Writing Drama that was held in Chicago, Ill.

In the D.C. area, the group performs other activities that have included teaching Chinese sixth, seventh, and eighth graders how to write plays.

€For five years, we were located in Chinatown, and we wanted to give back to that area,€ Evans said.

For the future, Evans would like to see the group become a national group that helps women writers in a variety of ways.

For many who attended the 20th anniversary celebration, the event was important.

€There still are too few Black women playwrights,€ said actor Erik Kilpatrick, starring in the Studio Theatre€s current production, €Radio Golf.€

€There is Pearl Cleage, but there [are] a wealth of stories that need to be told by African American women€s voices. Currently, the prominent African American male playwrights write plays mainly about men.€