On Her Shoulders will present a virtual reading program: ON THE THIN CRUST OF CIVILIZATION: The Plays of Marita Bonner, Directed by Magaly Colimon-Christopher, via NPTC’s YouTube channel: NewPerspectivesTC.
Arminda Thomas provides dramaturgy through The Play in Context, which places the scenarios in their historical time and place. The broadcast begins at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday April 9 and will be available until midnight on April 13, 2022. Admission is by donation.
MARITA BONNER (1899-1971) was born in Boston and attended Brookline High School, where she excelled in German and music, and was a talented pianist. She enrolled at Radcliffe in 1918 and was an accomplished student, participating in many music clubs (she twice won the Radcliffe Song Contest) and founding the Radcliffe Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. After graduating, Bonner began teaching, first at the Bluefield Colored Institute in West Virginia, then at Armstrong High School in Washington, D.C. While in DC, Bonner’s first plays began to appear in periodicals, and she became closely associated with the poet, playwright and composer. Georgia Douglas Johnson, whose “S Street salon” was a gathering place for writers and artists involved in what would become the Harlem Renaissance. In 1930 Bonner married William Occamy, and soon after the couple moved to Chicago and she continued to write under her married name.
Throughout his life, Bonner wrote numerous short stories, essays, and plays, and was a frequent contributor to The Crisis (the magazine of the NAACP) and Opportunity (official publication of the National Urban League) between 1925 and 1940. Her first essay, “On Being Young-A Woman-And Colored” (1925), highlighted the limitations imposed on black Americans at that time, especially black women; he won the first essay contest sponsored by The Crisis. Bonner regularly discussed poverty, family relationships, city life, colorism, feminism, and racism in her works. She also often wrote about multi-ethnic communities and fiercely opposed generalizations of the black experience, making her an early advocate of intersectionality. Bonner wrote three plays: The Pot Maker (1927), The Purple Flower – A Play (1928) and Exit, an Illusion (1929). Variously described as allegorical, surreal, expressionist or simply abstract, The Purple Flower is considered his masterpiece. It won the 1927 Crisis Prize for “Literary Art and Expression”, but it was never produced, perhaps because the play’s radical message is more in line with black theater of the 1960s and 1970s, rather than to “folk” or “propaganda”. Harlem Renaissance plays. It has only recently been recognized as a singular contribution to African-American theater. In 2017 Bonner was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.
Magaly Colimon-CHRISTOPHER (Director) is a first generation Haitian American actress/writer/director/producer. As Artistic Director Producer and Founder of Conch Shell Productions, her mission is to develop, showcase and produce new works by Caribbean Diaspora and Caribbean writers who have a passion for innovative storytelling that inspires social change. Directing credits include: Dark Skinned Kid Who Hopped the Turnstile, by Tylie Rider; Until hell freezes over Tonya Pinkin; The Nonessentials by Lynda Crawford and her own works: Yes Madame (Official selection at the Pan African Film Fest, Martha’s Vineyard Film Fest, ReelSisters); BN4Real; Its curator; Confusing pictures. She is the recipient of a Fox Foundation 2021 City Artist Corps Grant, and her plays The Hunting Season and Silent Truth were semi-finalists in the O’Neill National Playwright Conference. Magaly holds a BA from Columbia University, an MBA from Binghamton University, and an MFA from Yale School of Drama.
ARMINDA THOMAS (Playwright). A playwright, director and archivist, she is currently a co-producer and playwright for CLASSIX, which seeks to expand the classical canon through an exploration of the dramatic works of black writers. She was associate artistic director and resident playwright for the Going to the River Festival and Writer’s Unit and archivist and literary manager for Dee-Davis Enterprises, where she was executive producer of the Grammy-winning audiobook, “With Ossie and Ruby : In This Life Together” and consultant for the film “Life’s Essentials with Ruby DeeShe has been playwright-in-residence with NPTC’s ON HER SHOULDERS program since 2016. Other playwrighting work with various theaters includes Theater for New Audiences, Baltimore Central Stage, New Federal Theater, Harlem Classic Theater and Signature Theatre. Thomas is also the writer/adaptor of Shakespeare’s Women, a ‘remix’ of several Shakespearean works, which premiered at the Hattiloo Theatre. She received her BA in Theater and Comparative Literary Studies from Occidental College and his master’s degree in playwriting and dramatic criticism from Columbia University.
ON HER SHOULDERS was founded in May 2013 to present rehearsed and staged readings of plays by women from all walks of life, with contemporary playwrights contextualizing them for modern audiences. The program was incorporated into the NPTC Women’s Work Project in August 2013 and continues to work to prevent producers and theater companies from denying or ignoring the 1000 year history and value of contribution women with a theatrical cannon. To date, the program has featured 60 plays by 47 writers from the ca. 955 to 1970.
NEW PERSPECTIVES THEATER COMPANY (NPTC) is an award-winning, multi-racial company that has performed for 30 years in Midtown Manhattan, New York communities and, since 2015, internationally. The Company’s mission is to: develop and produce new plays and playwrights, especially by women and people of color; present classic plays in a style that addresses contemporary issues and restores women’s theater practitioners to the Canon; and extending the benefits of theater to young people and communities in need. Our goal is not to exclude, but to widen the net. www.nptnyc.org
The Play in Context, the dramaturgical and scholarly presentation component of the program, is sponsored in part by the League of Professional Theater Women, a non-profit organization that has promoted visibility and increased opportunities for women in theater since 1982. www.theatrewomen.org