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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

‘Made Black’: JCTC/Identity Explores Race, Society & Self in Staged Reading




The Identity Series begins its final two weekends of readings and performances with an installment that has already garnered international acclaim. On May 7 th at Merseles Studios, Jersey City Theater Center (JCTC) presents Schwarz Gemacht (Made Black) by Alexander Thomas, an actor and playwright who has worked in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Schwarz Gemacht (Made Black) looks at an African-identity many are not even aware existed: mixed race black German citizens. The story takes place in Germany in 1938. The Nazis – the ultimate white supremacists – are in power and Europe is on the brink of war. The story is about an encounter between an African American musician and an Afro-German actor and explores issues of race, identity, and social prejudice both in the U.S. and Germany.

Schwarz Gemacht (Made Black) is part of Identity, JCTC’s current series, funded in part by a grant from the Hudson County Department of Cultural Affairs. Through theater, performances, readings, dance and a visual arts exhibition available at all events, Identity has taken audiences on a multi-faceted journey of inquiry about the meaning of self and its relationship to society.

JCTC presents a staged reading of Schwarz Gemacht (Made Black) on May 7 th , 8:00PM-10:30PM at Merseles Studios, 339 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, NJ 07302.

The JCTC New Play Reading will be only the second time Schwarz Gemacht (Made Black) is presented in any form in the U.S. The play had its world premier in Germany at the English Theater of Berlin in 2014, a full-stage production that gained noticed in international theater circles.

In a review in an English language German Publication, Collodiscope (3/19/14): “Schwarz Gemacht (Made Black) at the English Theatre Berlin explores the rich text of race in 1930s Berlin through the experience of Klaus, an unknowing Afro-German – a word that still spikes the air with rarity, German-ness still seen by many as a monopoly of the white-skinned… but Klaus’s character and his experience of targeted exclusion are not that far from the present…”

Schwarz Gemacht (Made Black) came stateside at the 2015 New Black Fest at The Lark, a staged reading attended by Olga Levina, Artistic Director, JCTC. Schwarz Gemacht (Made Black) received a standing ovation, a very unusual reaction to a staged reading. “To get a standing ovation is a rarity at The Lark,” she says. “Those audiences are tough and critical, they see a lot of theater. I cried, the play touched me personally.”

While the play may be set in a different era and country, the issues it tackles seem more relevant than ever and ties directly to the theme of Identity. “The play is really about how
institutionalized racism suppresses freedom and individuality,” says Levina. “We are seeing the same topics in today’s world.”

To write his play, Thomas conducted extensive research on this little known segment of European citizenry at one of the most racially charged periods in the 20 th century. Not only was Germany undergoing the totalitarian horrors of Hitler’s Uber-Mensch ideology, but Jim Crow and segregation had created a virtual apartheid system throughout the United States. In spite of the foreign setting of Schwarz Gemacht (Made Black), Thomas is pleased that his play is once
again being presented to American audiences. “I was fortunate to have Schwarz Gemacht (Made Black) produced in Berlin,” says Thomas. “However, my original intent has always been that this is for an American audience and I’m thrilled and grateful that a Staged Reading of it will be part
of JCTC’s Identity series.”

Originally from Albany, N.Y., Alexander Thomas, an actor and playwright, has amassed an impressive array of international stage credits, including performing in an award winning
production of ‘On The Waterfront’ at the Royal Haymarket Theatre in London´s West End, as well as the Edinburgh Festival, Nottingham Playhouse and the Hong Kong Arts Festival. His self -penned solo show Throw Pitcher ran off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop and the Kitchen Theatre before going on to win a special honors prize at Thespis Mono Drama Festival in Kiel, Germany. He also co-wrote and performed in Black-Stuff, a farce about African
American identity which ran at the Kitchen Theatre, Highways Performance Space (Los Angeles) and the New York Fringe Festival.. He is one of the contributing writers for The American Slavery Project: Unheard Voices, a theatrical event giving voice to the 419 slaves buried in the unmarked graves discovered at the African Burial Grounds in New York.

Identity concludes the following week with a staged reading of Ventilator Blues by Robert Kerr. A dystopian dramedy about a mother and daughter who are caught in the alternately ominous and absurd machinery of an impersonal, high-tech police state that eerily resembles our current work place and JCTC SHOWCASE, a new event an event of multiple performances, including music, monologue, spoken-word, poetry and multimedia. This evening of special performances accompanies the Identity Art Show closing.


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