"You write in order to change the world," said James Baldwin about the role of the Black American writer in a 1979 New York Times interview. It seems that Baldwin inspired more than just the name of The Fire This Time Festival with his 1963 book The Fire Next Time.
Founded by Kelley Girod in 2009, the annual festival “provides opportunities for talented early career and under-represented playwrights from the African diaspora to write and produce material that reflects diverse perspectives as 21st century artists and showcase this work to diverse audiences.”
And it’s safe to say the playwrights are upholding Baldwin’s manifesto for Black American writers. Over 11 seasons, the Obie-winning NYC organization has worked with a multitude of artists who have gone on to be produced across the country, and win awards along the way. Dominique Morisseau, Katori Hall, Jocelyn Bioh, Jordan E. Cooper, and Marcus Gardley are all alumni, just to name a few. You can see the full list of artists here.
The organization recently gave Playbill Instagram followers a glimpse into its community and initiatives. Enjoy the highlights here and get to know even more about the organization in the Q&A below.
On how The Fire This Time Festival began.
The Fire This Time was founded in 2009 by Kelley Girod to provide a platform for early career playwrights from the African diaspora and to pass the torch from playwrights including James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry on to the next generation of Black playwrights. Since its founding, The Fire This Time has produced the work of 75 playwrights whose works have responded to the Black experience and a range of themes and perspectives, including the ongoing fight for social justice, LGTBI+/queer narratives, inequities in health care, education, the media, etc.
On TFTT's tentpole programming.
Our flagship event is an annual festival that's held in January and includes a kickoff panel discussion, a fully produced 10-minute play program, and developmental play readings by the previous year’s 10-minute playwrights.
On what artists hopefully gain by working with them.
We hope that artists gain visibility, and gain fellow peers, family, and collaborators who are invested in their success as storytellers and artists of African descent.
On a memorable moment from the first season.
The closing day of our first weekend of our inaugural season, performances were taking place in the Red Room, which had a max capacity of 50 people including performers. We had gone dangerously way above capacity for every performance with people sitting on the floor, in the aisles, and even backed-up past the booth and literally watching the performances through the cracks between people's shoulders, or on tiptoe to see over people’s heads. For the final performance, in order to keep more people from coming into the theater, we put a gate up at the entrance to the third floor. The gate didn’t stop people, they somehow found a way through and audiences continued to push in throughout the performance, and performers continued even as audiences crowded the floor of the playing space. That’s when I knew that something special was taking place, that we were filling a much-needed space in the theatre community.
On upcoming projects
We are collaborating with Creators of Color Collective on a free, virtual three-week empowerment series for Black artists and artists of color called “Built to Thrive.” The series began on August 13, continues on August 20, and concludes on August 27. RSVP and learn more details here.
This fall, we are also launching our inaugural Alumni Spotlight which will both highlight the work of Season 7 playwright Roger Q. Mason and serve as a fundraiser.
Current leadership includes Kelley Girod, founder and Executive Director; Cezar Williams, Artistic Director; A.J. Muhammad, Producer; and Julienne Hairston, Producer.