A local theatre initiative designed to identify and nurture projects of African-American playwrights is offering an opportunity of a lifetime.

OnyxFest 2020 will showcase four to six original works of black writers in Indiana during the month of March next year at the IndyFringe Basile and Indy Eleven Theatres. The best part of the arrangement is that all production costs – often the major stumbling block for new writers – will be covered by co-sponsors of the event.

That includes the venue for performances and rehearsals, technical staff, marketing and promotion, props and costuming, a stipend for the director, stagehands and talent fees for all performers. The amazing offer is made possible by IndyFringe Indianapolis in collaboration with the newly-formed Africana Repertory Theatre of IUPUI (ARTI).

In addition to production staff, the winning playwrights will have access to veteran theatre professionals willing to help fine-tune scripts. OnyxFest 2020 plays will premier March 13th, 14th and 15th with encore performances the following weekend, March 20th, 21st, and 22nd – a total of six performances each.

Those interested must complete entry forms and submit scripts to IndyFringe through the OnyxFest website portal commencing November 25. The email address for further information is onyxfest@indyfringe.org. Nominations will be accepted through the remainder of this year. During the first week of January, submissions will be turned over to a jury of theater experts to consider the quality of each writing. The playwrights selected will be notified by the end of January.

IndyFringe Board President, Gary Reiter says the program helps develop and provide a forum for voices not often heard as well as showcase the work of established voices. It is the first and only Indianapolis festival of its kind. Spearheaded for its first decade by IndyFringe, management of the prestigious theatrical event is expected to transition to ARTI in 2021.

Reiter added that OnyxFest is Indianapolis’ first and only theatre festival dedicated to stories of African American playwrights. The inaugural OnyxFest in 2012 was developed in response to the lack of diversity on stage and in audiences of Indianapolis. IndyFringe worked towards embracing diversity in changing the Indianapolis theatrical landscape of storytellers, actors, and audiences.

The Africana Repertory Theatre of IUPUI (ARTI) serves as a program of study offered by the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, the School of Education and the IUPUI Office of Community Engagement and uses a multidisciplinary approach to “edutainment.” ARTI was developed to document and reflect the history, cultural life, and politics of peoples of the African Diaspora.

As a public arts initiative, ARTI has a deep commitment to and focuses on artistic and community engagement. The Office of Community Engagement and the Schools of Liberal Arts and Education are supporting this proposal because it advances the idea that learning in the arts is invaluable at all stages of life, and the integration of the arts into the fabric of community life may advance civic engagement while also creating a college and career pathway.

Leslie Kenneth Etienne, ARTI manager and acting director of IUPUI Africana Studies, said his group also seeks to increase collaborations with local Black and other minority theatre groups in Indianapolis, launch a black events quarterly periodical and establish an advisory council for Black theater in the Indiana Avenue Cultural District.

Along with Etienne, ARTI consists of Khaula Murtadha, associate vice chancellor for community engagement; Regina Turner, associate faculty in communication studies; Lasana Kazembe, associate professor in the school of education; Susan A. Kigamwa, development and fundraising coordinator, and Vernon A. Williams, communication and community engagement strategist.