'So much untapped talent': Black Box Blackout celebrates artistic diversity
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Inspired by Black History Month, Kristen Warren has organized a month-long program of cultural events - including theater, stand-up comedy and opera concerts - designed to showcase the talents of Black artists. Black Box Blackout will take place throughout the month of February in the Eau Gallie Arts District.
Many may recognize Warren as a Melbourne jazz singer, and with Black Box Blackout, she hopes to provide opportunities for other artists of color. "This is an idea I've had for many years," she said. "There is so much untapped talent in Brevard, and I want to use Blackbox to showcase the amazing diversity of our creative community."
The project has been a labor of love for Warren. "This means the world to me as someone who has been an artist in Melbourne for years now," she said. "I love my home town and I see so much room for growth and progress."
"It's important to me to celebrate artists of color and to create a space for them to tell their stories," she said.
Kathie Elias, the event's program manager, agrees that it is a great opportunity to highlight artists whose work may be unfamiliar to some audience members.
"Black Box Blackout serves as a platform for underrepresented artists to showcase their talent, while providing the community an immense opportunity to experience the broad creativity of Black artists," she said.
Black History Month:Events on the Space Coast
Last year when the event premiered, it showcased the creative work of 60 Black artists, and reached more than 300 audience members. This year, Black Box Blackout will increase its reach, serving an audience of more than 900 people and featuring 85 Black artists.
The event organizers also hope to raise a minimum of $1,000 for the Children's Hunger Project. A portion of the ticket sales will benefit the organization, which helps provide weekend meals for elementary school-aged children.
One of the highlights of Black Box Blackout will be a studio production of Katori Hall's play "The Mountaintop," starring Kristen Warren and Mark Anthony Kelley, on Feb. 24-26. The play imagines the night before Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. After delivering one of his most memorable speeches, an exhausted Dr. King is forced to confront his destiny and his legacy to his people.
Pam Harbaugh, the play's director, thinks the show will resonate with viewers.
"I believe audiences will be moved by Hall's play, as we come away with an even deeper appreciation of Dr. King, his faith and his sacrifice to make the world better for everyone," she said. "In it, we experience real human connection laced with moments of levity and, eventually, the glory of passing on the baton.
Harbaugh knew she needed actors who could bring the characters to life, and Warren and Kelley were the right choices.
"People who only know Kristen as a jazz singer will be amazed at the range of her performance skills," she said. "Rather than a look-alike, sound-alike impersonation of Dr. King, Mark, a Jamaican-born, Meisner-trained actor with a fresh, lively stage presence, gives us a human portrayal of the iconic civil rights hero."
Most of the Black Box Blackout events will take place at Funky Dog Improv. Aaron McFarland Karnes, the venue's artistic director, was quick to offer the space for various programs throughout the month.
"Because of what Black Box Blackout stands for, their mission and their goals, our area needs that," he said. "We need more of that, to push the arts and the community and challenge ‘the norm,’"
Harbaugh agrees. "This is an important initiative," she said. "Showcasing the fine artistic talents in the area’s Black community is crucial. The arts are for everyone and those in the position to affect change are charged with broadening the collective voice."
"To my knowledge, Blackbox is the first festival of it's kind in this area," said Warren. "To participate in it in any capacity means you are a part of something unprecedented. Come make history with us."
Black Box Blackout event schedule
Unless otherwise noted, all events will take place at Funky Dog Improv, 587 W. Eau Gallie Blvd., #101.
Wednesday, Feb. 1 at 5 p.m.: Opening Ceremony featuring African dance in Eau Gallie Square, 1453 Highland Ave.
Friday, Feb. 3 at 8 p.m.: Black Punk Rock Show. Punk Black will bring their lineup of bands. Food will be provided by Chumley's. Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door.
Sunday, Feb. 5 at 5 p.m.: Sunday Dinner. Plant-based Southern chef Constance “Maisha” and vegan pastry chef Uniqua will serve a 3-course meal representative of their African roots. (This event is sold out.)
Monday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m.: Comedy Night. Hosted by Philip Rivera, the show will feature established and emerging comedians. Food will be by Philibert Kitchen. Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door.
Wednesdays, Feb. 8, 15 and 22 at 8 p.m.: Black and White Movie Nights at Chumley's Depot, 1929 Depot Drive, Melbourne. Admission is free.
Friday, Feb. 10 at 8 p.m.: Lo-fi/Live Art. Hosted by spoken word artist Faithful Hazel Walker, this night of creative expression will feature the talents of local poets, lyricists, painters and DJ Thump Connect. Food will be provided by Chez Quan's. Tickets are $10 at the door.
Saturday, Feb. 11 at 7 p.m.: Onyx Opera. Classical vocalists Shara Kyles, LeRoy Darby, Joshua Johnson, TKO and Nina Jones will perform music celebrating love, friendship and affection in our community. This event will take place in Eau Gallie Square Park, 1453 Highland Ave. Admission is free.
Saturday, Feb. 18 at 1 p.m.: The Writers' Room. Guests are invited to a reading of an unfinished play by screenwriter Mike Roy, featuring actor and playwright Andrea Wukitsch. There will be a discussion following the reading. Baker Daisy Raymond will serve refreshments. There is a suggested donation of $5 at the door.
Friday through Sunday, Feb. 24-26: 'The Mountaintop'. Actors Mark Anthony Kelly and Kristen Warren star in Katori Hall's celebrated 90-minute play about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., directed by Pam Harbaugh. There will be a discussion with the cast and director following each show. Performance times are 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $25.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit blackboxblackout.com.
Christina LaFortune is the Entertainment and TGIF Editor at FLORIDA TODAY. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/christinalafortune or send her an email at email@example.com.
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This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Artists of color celebrated at EGAD's Black Box Blackout