To celebrate Women’s History Month, The Classical Theatre of Harlem (CTH) and Playbill are teaming up for ICONS: Harlem Renaissance in Motion, a series of audio plays produced by CTH and Venus Radio Theater. Launching on March 8, International Women’s Day, an audio play will release each day until March 12, highlighting five Black women who were central to the Harlem Renaissance.
For the collection of plays, CTH commissioned Harlem-based playwrights to create monologues performed by Harlem-based actors, honoring the largely unsung voices of fascinating figures, especially women, who were integral to the movement.
Gladys Bentley is the subject of the second release, One Night Only, written by Kaaron Briscoe and performed by Cristina Pitter. Listen to the full audio play above.
Bentley was a blues singer and pianist who gained notoriety performing at venues like the Cotton Club, the Ubangi Club, and Harry Hansberry's Clam House, a gay speakeasy on 133rd street in Harlem. She openly identified as a lesbian during her early career, coming to be known for her signature look of tuxedos and top hats—defying the gender norms of the 1920s and 1930s. As a performer, she commanded the stage with her powerful voice, indefatigable piano playing, and the provocative lyrics she added to well-known songs.
In Briscoe’s play, “it's the morning that Gladys Bentley will introduce her new self to the world, but can she get her past to leave before it exposes her?”
ICONS was curated by CTH's Director of Literary Programs & Dramaturg Shawn René Graham and Mellon Foundation Playwright-in-Residence Betty Shamieh.
“The Harlem Renaissance was one of the most extraordinary and prolific periods in U.S. history,” says Graham. “Having these writers, who are living in the midst of a new Black art renaissance in theatre, film and television, revisit these less well-known figures is a testament to the contributions Black artists have made and how they have shaped our culture in the past, present, and future.”
Shamieh adds, “It has been wonderful to witness these writers pour their passion into giving voice to the incredible artists, activists, and intellectuals who shaped the Harlem Renaissance. These imaginative stories brought to life in ICONS illuminate their impact on our culture and our world.”
CTH provides theatrical productions and theatre-based educational and literary programs at little or no cost to underserved communities in Harlem and beyond. Since its founding in 1999, CTH has prioritized opportunity and access in the theatrical arts: onstage, backstage, in its administration, board, and audience. By leading with diversity, equity and inclusion as its core values, CTH attracts one of the most racially, generationally, and socio-economically diverse theatre audiences in New York City. Follow CTH on its website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Follow Venus Radio Theatre on its Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.