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Lycoming College theatre alum to helm reading series, conversations on race

Lycoming College theatre alum to helm reading series, conversations on race

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Lycoming College’s 2020-2021 theatre season continues with an exciting series of virtual staged readings and workshops that will provide an opportunity for the campus community to continue an ongoing conversation about narratives of Black and brown people, equity, diversity, inclusion, and how we can move toward a collective liberation. Theatre director and educator Nigel Semaj ’17 (pronouns they/them/theirs), will return to their alma mater to direct and organize the project, entitled “dismantled,” which is intended to facilitate and encourage societal change, most specifically, problems of race.

The series’ title comes from Audre Lorde who said, “For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” According to Semaj, Lorde’s seminal text, “The Master’s Tools,” asks the question: What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? “It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable,” Lorde answers.

“Students are constantly told that they are the key to the change that is needed in the world, and yet they are only equipped with the tools of the master. Lorde’s text can be applied to anything from her initial discussions on Black feminism, to consumerism, violence, and even art and the narratives we see portrayed in everyday theatre, film, and music,” Semaj explained. “This reading series aims to provide not only artists, but activists with the tools needed to dismantle the systems of oppression in their day-to-day lives, their workplaces, their academia, and more.

Four different virtual readings will address a variety of topics related to Black lives, centering BIPOC narratives, and discussions on race in America, followed by talkbacks with invited guests. All four live performances begin at 7:30 p.m., are free and open to the public, and can be accessed at: https://www.lycoming.edu/theatre/schedule.aspx.

  • Feb. 20: “A Case for Black Girls Setting Central Park on Fire” by Kori Alston
  • Feb. 27: “Collective Empathy Formation from 1968 and 2018” by Calley N. Anderson
  • March 6: “Spell Number 7” by Ntozake Shange
  • March 13: “Lyon’s Den” by TJ Young

The series begins with “A Case for Black Girls Setting Central Park on Fire,” part of a four-play collection called Plays in Recovery, which follows a 12-year-old Black girl, her dog, and her imaginary friends as she learns to process her trauma. “The piece addresses how Black women and girls have been treated, but at its heart, this is a piece about healing. The fire is a metaphorical connection – think a phoenix rising from the ashes – and how we can burn systems of oppression to make way for healing narratives to come through,” said Semaj.

“I am looking forward to seeing college-wide attendance at these workshops and talkbacks in the hopes of engaging as many people as possible in meaningful conversation and discussions, both on campus and from our broader community,” said Biliana Stoytcheva-Horissian, Ph.D., chair of the theatre department and associate professor at Lycoming College. “We will be excited to see faculty from various disciplines involved.”

Semaj is a nonbinary New York City-based director, movement director, choreographer, and educator originally from Washington, D.C., with notable directing credits including, “For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf,” which won awards from the Kennedy Center in Direction, Ensemble and Excellence in Costume Design; Ntozake Shange’s “Spell No. 7;” Paula Vogel’s “The Baltimore Waltz;” and newer works such as “Black Hollow,” by Aeneas Sagar Hemphill; and “wolfchildren runslowly through a Bruegel landscape, 1558,” by Ruth Tang.

Semaj’s credits also include a five-female adaptation of Shakespeare's “Titus Andronicus,” entitled “10,000 Moor,” which focuses on one of his most notable villains, Aaron the Moor; and a queer retelling of the Hercules myth entitled “For Hylas,” focusing on queer histories that have been erased even in the Greek mythos. They have worked with directors such as Ethan Heard, Stephen Brown-Fried, Tea Alagic, and Leah Gardiner. In addition, Semaj has worked to influence and shape policy in higher education, creating protocols and policies geared toward equity, diversity, and inclusion in education, ranging from residential life, serving on Title IX conduct hearings, and creating policy to protect students of color. They currently work as an adjunct professor and administrative assistant to the dean of the various visual and performing arts schools. Semaj earned a B.A. in theatre from Lycoming College in 2017, and graduated in 2020 from the New School with an M.F.A in directing.

More information on workshops will be posted to the College’s website as it becomes available at: https://www.lycoming.edu/calendar/.

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