A theater-inspired festival, streaming May 21–23, 2021

Since August 2020, the newly formed MN Black Theatre Circle — a multigenerational coalition of Black theater artists in the Twin Cities — has been in partnership with the Guthrie Theater on an initiative to center, elevate and amplify the voices and protests of Minnesota Black theater artists, while also aiming to generate greater equity and inclusion within the Guthrie. In October 2020, MN Black Theatre Circle and the Guthrie began presenting a monthly series of virtual performances by local Black artists. The culmination of these works is the Blackness Is… Arts Festival, intentionally scheduled one year after George Floyd’s death.

After reviewing dozens of submissions, MN Black Theatre Circle selected 13 producing artists to respond to the prompt “What is Blackness?” The result is a dynamic and diverse showcase of theater, music, dance, poetry and spoken word, as well as opening ceremonies, workshops and talkbacks to honor the rich history and legacy of Black theater in the Twin Cities.

“Our hearts and our ears are open as we work to establish pathways to healing, empowerment and building a stronger community. We believe that sharing representations of all aspects of Black life is key to accomplishing this.”
– MN Black Theatre Circle 

MN BLACK THEATRE CIRCLE is a coalition of Black theater artists and community leaders focused on ways to honor the rich legacy of Black artistry, share present stories and work fervently toward a brighter future. Founding members include Vanessa Brooke Agnes, Domino D’Lorion, Willie E. Jones III, Austene Van, James A. Williams and Regina Marie Williams.

By day, Vanessa Brooke Agnes is the Arts Education Manager for Hennepin Theatre Trust. By night, she is a performer, director, writer, teaching artist, activist and Founding Artistic Director of Dark Muse Performing Arts — a new arts organization dedicated to unapologetically amplifying BIPOC and queer voices. Over the past year, she has directed The Uprising Vol. I, Phoenix Project, The Kindness Project, DEAD TIRED (a short film in A Breath for George by New Dawn Theatre Company) and The Uprising Vol. II: Black HERstory. Next up, she is directing Beehive with Lakeshore Players Theatre, DirectorWorks, co-curating “Racism, Covenants and Dreams Deferred,” Spotlight Showcase 2021 and directing Fame with Children’s Performing Arts. She lives in Minneapolis with her partner and pup. Follow her @darkmusearts.

Domino D’Lorion (he/him) is a queer, Afro-Boriqua, actor, playwright, teaching artist and local drag queen (Lady Cummeal) in the Twin Cities, originally from Chicago. He is an alum of the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater B.F.A. Actor Training Program with a minor in Business Management from the Carlson School of Management. D’Lorion has appeared in Hit the Wall (Mixed Precipitation), After the Fires (Transatlantic Love Affair) and most notably his original play STOOPIDITY (Minnesota Fringe Festival). In addition, he has taught at Northwestern University’s National High School Institute and the Guthrie Theater. He is represented by Wehmann Models & Talent and Moore Creative Talent. Follow him @theladycummeal.

Willie E. Jones III has trained at the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater B.F.A. Actor Training Program and received additional training at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts. As an actor, he has performed on stages around the world, most notably at Shakespeare’s Globe in London in the title role of Julius Caesar. As a playwright, he has received training from Marshall Botvinick at Appalachian State University and had multiple plays produced and read across the country at high schools, prisons and theaters, including the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre. He currently runs the Second Stage Series at CFCArts. 

James A. Williams is a founding member of Penumbra Theatre and a regular on Twin Cities stages for over four decades. Regionally, he’s performed at Center Stage, Goodman Theatre, The Kennedy Center, Mark Taper Forum and Yale Repertory Theatre. He has appeared off-Broadway in Jitney, The Piano Lesson and My Children! My Africa! as well as on Broadway, originating the role of Roosevelt Hicks in August Wilson’s Radio Golf. He is an Artistic Associate at Pillsbury House & Theatre. Williams was named Best Actor by City Pages twice and Artist of the Year by the Star Tribune in 2008. He received the 2012 Distinguished Global Citizen Award from Macalester College for his work with at-risk youth and a 2008 Ivey Award for his portrayal of Troy Maxson in Fences. Williams is a McKnight Theater Artist Fellow and Fox Theater Distinguished Acting Fellow.

Regina Marie Williams is an actor, singer, photographer and creative producer based in the Twin Cities. Much of her recent work includes nature and street photography.

She conceived Dining With the Ancestors, which was produced and presented with the Guthrie Theater. Other Guthrie credits include Guys and Dolls, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Bluest Eye, Othello, and Crowns. Ms. Williams stars in Twelve Blocks from Where I Live at Theater Latté Da. In Twelve Blocks… she shares and sings the joys, hopes, and tragedies of the complex and beautiful place she calls home. Her last performances on Latté Da’s stage were as Bernarda in The House of Bernarda Alba and as Mama in Chicago.

Ms. Williams, in partnership with Park Square Theatre, commissioned Christina Ham to write Nina Simone: Four Women, which has been performed internationally. She has had the honor of portraying Ms.Simone in productions at Park Square Theatre, People’s Light, and Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre. Ms. Williams has also performed at Mixed Blood Theatre, Milwaukee Rep, Syracuse Stage and more. She is a founding member of New Dawn Theatre, a core member of Ten Thousand Things Theater, and is a long-standing company member of Penumbra Theatre where she is often remembered for her portrayal of Dinah Washington in Lou Bellamy’s impeccably directed production of Dinah Was. She has been nominated for a Helen Hayes Award, received an Ivey Award, and has been a McKnight Theater Artist Fellow at the Playwrights’ Center. Ms. Williams is a former member of the Grammy Award-winning Sounds of Blackness and has produced three solo CDs.

Austene Van has been a local and national theater professional for 30 years and is acclaimed as a gifted, “quietly powerful” and “innovative” actor, director and choreographer. Inextricably woven into her artistic aesthetic is her deep passion to advocate for social justice, equity and equality, which is why she also enjoys her roles as an educator, administrator and community builder through varied disciplines of theater. She is a 2013‒2014 McKnight Theater Artist Fellow, Ivey Award winner for the Guthrie Theater’s Trouble in Mind and a Woodie Award nominee for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for her roles in Spunk and The Colored Museum at St. Louis Black Rep.

Stage credits include: Familiar, Disgraced, Trouble in Mind, The Amen Corner, Gem of the Ocean, Crowns and A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie Theater; Disgraced at McCarter Theatre Center and Milwaukee Rep; Wedding Band, The Owl Answers, Detroit ’67, Spunk, The Amen Corner, Blue, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Dinah Was, Blues for an Alabama Sky, Zooman and the Sign, Seven Guitars and Lost in the Stars at Penumbra Theatre; the title role in Theater Latté Da’s Aida at Pantages Theatre; Radio Golf at IRT and Cleveland Play House; Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, Henry IV and The Unsinkable Molly Brown at Ten Thousand Things Theater; In the Next Room at Jungle Theater; Might as Well Be Dead and To Kill a Mockingbird at Park Square Theatre; Shrek the Musical, Once on This Island, Two African Tales, A Very Old Man and Not Without Laughter at Children’s Theatre Company; A Christmas Story, Singin’ in the Rain and Dinah Was at the Ordway; Hair at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres; Vices; Two Queens, One Castle; The Dance On Widow’s Row; and Point of Review at Mixed Blood Theatre.

Directing credits include: Skeleton Crew and The Royale at Yellow Tree Theatre; Annie at the Ordway (Best Play, City Pages Best of 2018); Hot Mikado at Skylight Music Theatre; Intimate Apparel at Ten Thousand Things Theater; Blues in the Night at McKnight Theater and the Ordway; Gee’s Bend, Hot Chocolate and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill at Park Square Theatre; Black Nativity at Penumbra Theatre (2006‒2008); The Lonely Soldier Monologues and A Civil War Christmas at History Theatre; Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Capri Theatre; Six Degrees of Separation at Theatre in the Round; Joan of Arc: Voices in the Fire for A Guthrie Experience at the Rarig Center.