OnyxFest – August 2020

Vernon A. Williams – “Being Black”

OnyxFest 2020 is the perfect complement to a massive global transition, as it uses theatre to refine critical messages of change; giving voice to those who for too long have been invisible on the stage of our fragmented society. – Vernon A. Williams, Being Black

Vernon A. Williams is celebrating his 40th year as a playwright. His first work Whatever Happened to Blackness” in 1980 was staged by the Gary Creative Theater Ensemble. Williams later co-founded the William Marshall Players in Gary, IN.

After moving to Indianapolis in 2001, Williams produced Sonnets for My Sistahs – from his book of the same title – an intimate collection of vignettes depicting seldom-heard heartfelt expressions of men to women. The production premiered at the Madam C.J. Walker Theater and toured throughout the state.

Williams staged productions include Playin’ for Keeps, a talk-show setting for relationship dialogue; A Woman’s Place following five college girls’ evolution over the next two decades after graduation; True Colors which examined reactions to the election of the nation’s first Black president; and The Divine Nine, offering a glimpse into dynamics of Black fraternities and sororities.

In 2019, Williams wrote, produced, and directed The Price of Progress: The Indiana Avenue/IUPUI Story. The play created candid examinations of the controversial transformation of the once predominantly African American Indiana Avenue-Ransom Place District to a premier urban campus. His most recent play – a response to the most compelling social challenge in the nation – is entitled, Being Black.

Being Black premiering at OnyxFest is an unapologetically candid expression of the multi-faceted dimensions of a people in constant evolution. It is the rejection of any attempt to reduce to a monolith a culture layered in authenticity, character, depth, and resourcefulness. Being Black is a soulful sojourn into spiritual intellectualism.

Michael Florence – “On The Corner”

It’s about validation and realization. The validation that comes from having my work performed; and the realization of seeing my words come to life.” – Michael Florence, On the Corner

Michael Florence is a lifelong resident of Indianapolis, IN. Several years ago, he had the idea to write a One-Act Play. His thought process was “maybe I could bring my novel to life” and have a better chance of telling a good story. To date, he has written two one-act plays, On the Corner and Understanding Tony.

Florence is also an avid photographer for weddings, portraits, and other special events. He regularly contributes “volunteer photography” to the American Diabetes Association and the Alzheimer’s Association.

Florence has worked as a Lease Accounting Specialist for Simon Property Group for over 21 years. He is a member of the Indianapolis Chapter of the National Black MBA Association – an association of Blacks with master’s degrees in business and related disciplines.

Florence received an associate degree in accounting from Ivy Tech in 1983; a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Indiana Wesleyan University in 1993 and a master’s degree in business administration in 1997 from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Florence attends St. Joan of Arc Church and is the proud father of a son Richard 33, a daughter Danielle 30 and “youthful” grandfather to 12-year-old, Nyla Renee; 10-year-old Victoria Amari and 2-year-old Olivia Danielle.

On the Corner chronicles the last days of three adjacent inmates in a maximum-security prison on death row. The characters come from different backgrounds but are about to meet a common fate, execution at the hands of the state. They have come to accept their sentences in their own ways.

Shandrea Funnye – “Seven Days” 

Shandrea Funnye is a writer, director, singer, songwriter, and actress originally from Chicago Il. She has been writing since third grade, which is also where she won her first young authors contest. A Warren Central High School graduate she also attended IUPUI.

A mother to two beautiful children, Funnye focused more on her family and less on the arts. Years later she auditioned for a small part in a friend’s production. When selected as the lead, she knew the opportunity was a needed push back in the right direction.

Since 2017, Funnye has written and produced five original stage plays, sold out numerous shows, written and produced a short film, and is currently in production for the feature film Seven Days, based on the stage play.

Funnye is most grateful for her children – her main source of motivation and her amazing mother, who supports her in everything she does. She would also like to thank her wonderful friends and family members who have supported her in this journey; whether they purchase a ticket, share a post, offer kind words, or show up and show out at each or every production they are helping to make a dream come true.

Seven Days is a story of love, spontaneity, and sacrifice. It chronicles what can happen when two people who are both at new starting points in their lives crash into each other unexpectedly. This play illustrates just how much life can change and be changed in just seven days.

Aniqua Chatman – “A Bluesy Night”

OnyxFest is the cultural fruit to a society that is malnourished and in need of change. It provides an opportunity to mirror the light in Black identity to be seen as more than the afterthought, but places us at the forefront of being heard.” – Aniqua Chatman, A Bluesy Night

Aniqua ShaCole Chatman is an actress and playwright originally from Gary, IN. She began her career in performance at the age of 10. Her background in theater includes acting/vocal training at the Emerson Visual and Performing Arts High Ability Academy, Gary IN, acting/dance classes at The University of Northern Iowa, and on-camera film study at Indy Actors Studio Workshops.

Her credits list shows such as A Bluesy NightThe African Company Presents Richard IIIAugust Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, and The Gifted Souls to name a few.

Chatman has completed voice-over work in an online audio series Grown and Beautiful, appeared in the short film projects Oregano and Not My Pot, and a feature film 5 Hours to Georgia. She also hosts numerous creative and artistic events in the city.

Chatman is an alum of IUPUI. She is presently obtaining her master’s degree in Public Relations as an online student at Ball State University.

Currently, in the midst of her passion for performance, Chatman is sharpening her skills as an all-around artist by studying photography and further exploring adventures in writing, producing, directing, and acting in her original works. She values everything as an opportunity for growth!

A Bluesy Night takes place in a street bar on a hot summer evening. Coincidence or fate, two strangers find themselves drawn into a space that was not designed for a soul connection. Together they explore controversial social topics and the overall idea of what it means to be happy.

Rain Wilson – “I Feed You Defiance”

OnyxFest is extremely important to me right now, as it offers me a clear channel for my voice and the many voices I carry in my writing, to be heard at a time where the voices of black people are more necessary than ever before – our scream, our fight, our challenge to a broken system. Theater is a great gift for a writer to speak truth to power while empowering people who often are invisible or ignored and in this time where the world must crumble some to be rebuilt – the Onyx festival gives me permission and support to lean against the wind and be part of that rebuilding…” – Rain Wilson, I Feed You Defiance

Rain Wilson is a writer, activist, director, and arts educator – and believes in the power of the arts to build bridges and create a space for youth and community to walk into their voices and become a part of the change they want to see. She uses the stage to empower and build conversations around tough subjects like race, prison reform, homelessness, poverty, and social justice.

Wilson has a B.A. from Columbia College and an M.F.A. from Rutgers Masson Gross School of the Arts. Recently relocated from Chicago, IL, she is the Director of the Indiana Black Expo Arts Academy which empowers youth through dance, music, theatre, and videography.

Wilson’s recent inspirations unfold in Jungle Kings that details the impact of trauma on youth in urban streets I Feed You Defiance which provides lessons for survival and light to fatherless young boys and men – and her one-woman show, The Ink Never Dries about the toll of activism today on the human heart – along with her latest commissioned artworks, “Freedom in Hand” and “The Unheard,” dealing with the power of love, equality and the violence of silence. She is excited to share her passion with the Indianapolis community.

I Feed You Defiance reveals mothers giving lessons of endurance and strength to black and brown sons to oppose and resist when needs arise. Focused and raw these words converge with the intent to empower to not only survive but thrive in a system that often tries to break them.

J.R. Baltimore – “Anniversary”

“In this unique era of change, OnyxFest 2020 is an unprecedented opportunity for pervasive and deep celebration, illustration, examination, and articulation of Black life and culture. Thoughts conveyed on this timely stage will be engaging, mind-bending, and sustainable over time.” – J.R. Baltimore, Anniversary

J.R. Baltimore, whose first love is comedy, describes himself as a fictitious character with a passion for writing. At the age of one, he found a 20 dollar bill that belonged to one of his older brothers, tore it in half to double his scribble paper, grabbed a pencil from the kitchen table, and began scribbling. Though he did not yet know his alphabet, he was anxious to speak in complete sentences transfer his overactive imagination into writing.

At the age of three, young Baltimore tried to read everything he could get his hands on, amassing a huge collection of comic books. By first grade, he was drawing imaginary characters in storyboard boxes and writing dialogue in cartoon conversation bubbles.  In the third grade, he received a double-promotion and went straight to the fifth. From that point, writing became his passion.

In high school, Baltimore wrote the script for several class plays. He was editor of the school newspaper and the yearbook. He earned a full scholarship to Northwest University where he completed a degree in Journalism. His first job was in marketing at a Chicago theater. It was that live theatrical atmosphere that convinced him to continue to write plays.

Anniversary is the embodiment of man’s inner conflict with temptation when he unexpectedly meets a temptress who places him in the position of choosing whether to take advantage of the moment as an opportunist or opt for a more responsible resistance to what might be his once in a lifetime.