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“In the Beginning…” — New Brunswick’s Crossroads Theater Company “Begins” New Plays with its Genesis Festival


By Bruce Chadwick

originally published: 04/02/2022

“In the beginning” is the opening phrase of the Bible and evokes the beginning of all things. The Crossroads Theater Company, New Brunswick, has done so nearly every year since 1990 with its Genesis Festival, a week-long series of theatrical readings. Reading is the beginning, the “beginning” of a drama, and not only lets the writer know how the play sounds, but, in the Crossroads Festival, gets a second layer of audience reaction at post-play symposia. room.

The Crossroads Genesis Festival for 2022 opens on April 15 and features six distinct readings over a period of nearly two weeks. All readings of the play will be followed by a conversation with the authors.

This “beginning” is indeed a new beginning for Genesis and Crossroads, and most American cinemas, following the Pandemic, which closed most of them.

“We were less than a week away from launching a new coin at Crossroads – one week! – then the pandemic hit and closed the theater,” said Rick Kahn, artistic director of Crossroads. “Now Crossroads, everyone, is back to normal. Genesis is too.

Kahn sees Genesis as a “kitchen”. He’s laughing. “What’s going on in the kitchen?” ” he said. “All we have at Genesis every year is just that – what’s cooking in the theater kitchen.”

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He always considered Genesis and Crossroads special, “It’s a theater where African-American writers can express themselves and tell their stories and a chance for audiences from all walks of life to enjoy them,” he said. during a telephone interview from Alabama, where is working in rehearsals to bring the piece CrossroadsFreedom Riders, at the New Brunswick stage in June. It is in its fourth week of rehearsals there (the play will be co-sponsored by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival).

The Genesis plays are written by very different authors. There’s the famous playwright, Richard Wesley, but there’s the woman who played bass for Beyonce’s musical performances, an acclaimed director, Siret Scott, and Ghana’s ambassador to Brazil.

“One thing we pride ourselves on at Genesis is that we have reads from both seasoned writers and new ones. It balances things. Sometimes I meet someone and I think their life is really interesting. I invite them to write a play about themselves, or something interesting in their life, or someone, or something special. Sometimes it turns out to be a good play and sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s what theater is for,” Kahn said.

He thinks the Genesis Festival is important for writers because they get immediate feedback from audiences, but it also works the other way around.

“Viewers want to be part of the theater world in which they find themselves. They appreciate the chance to attend a reading and then talk to the playwright and share their thoughts on the work. It makes viewers feel like they are part of the play. They helped him, in a way,” said the head of Carrefour.

Genesis Festival kicks off April 15 with Scott’s infantrymanthe story of his mother’s work as a civilian social worker during the Vietnam War, as well as Scott’s work as an activist.

The second production, on April 16, is Sugarbelly and Other Tales My Dad Told Me, by Guy Davis, blues musician, Grammy nominee and former Crossroads playwright. This is a play on “tall tales and medicine shows”.

Third place, April 19, is distance, by Gabriel Bamboose. It’s a series of poems about distance and our distance from people and place affects how we think and how we are.

Then comes the Cartographers, by Ghanaian Ambassador Abena PA Busia, on finding a mother for her various daughters. It will take place on April 20.

Busia’s play will be followed on April 22 by Inherent resolution, by Richard Wesley, the veteran playwright. It is the disturbing story of a group of Afghan veterans from the United States and how they question, ten years later, the medals they were awarded for their bravery during the war.

Finally, on April 23, there will be The Ballad of Debbie Walker, by Beyonce bassist Divinity Roxx, who has worked for several famous performers. She writes about her childhood as the daughter of parents determined to get the best for their children. The piece covers her move to a West Coast college, where she learned music.

Do these plays, staged at the Crossroads’ Genesis Festival in the form of readings, do well later? Yes, they do.

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“We’ve had readings for over a hundred plays and some have done very well, like Notch. Many, many other plays are performed here in reading, then elsewhere in reading, then staged in local and regional theaters. The system we have works and works well. We also met a lot of writers, directors and actors in Genesis. I met Anna Deavere Smith and she later became one of the best performers in entertainment. We had a wife here years ago as a playwright, Sydne Mahone, who became a professor of theater at the University of Iowa. Now that we’ve come full circle, she’s back here as Artistic Director of our Genesis Festival this year,” Kahn said. “Our Genesis Festival has evolved over the years into a small, spirited theater world.”

All readings are in ASL – Interpretation (sign language). Ironically, I interviewed Kahn the day after the movie CODAon sign language, won the Oscar for best film.

“It’s impressive that a film about the signature is already doing so well,” regrets Kahn. “Who would have predicted this nine or ten years ago?

Crossroads, like other arts venues, such as the George Street Playhouse and Rutgers University, is part of the recently reopened New Brunswick Center for the Performing Arts. “We are a partner of the arts there. We play pieces (like the freedom riders), having arts days on Saturdays, working with community groups in the fall and spring. Through Crossroads, I think a lot of people get involved in theater in some way,” Kahn said,

Genesis is part of the New Jersey Theater Alliance Stage Festival 2022. All tickets are $20.

And what new pieces will be at the Genesis Festival next year? Who knows? Perhaps that is the beauty of the festival.

Bruce Chadwick worked for 23 years as an entertainment writer/critic for the New York Daily News. Later, he was an arts and entertainment critic for History News Network, a national online weekly. Chadwick holds a Ph.D. in History and Cultural Studies from Rutgers University. He has written 31 books on United States history and has lectured on history and culture around the world. He is a professor of history at New Jersey City University.