The Rhodes Department of Theatre is teaming up with the University of Memphis and Southwest Tennessee Community College to produce “NottageFest,” a three-show festival dedicated to two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage. All three campuses will host shows for the festival, which began on Oct. 26 and will conclude with a finale at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens on Nov. 11. “NottageFest” captures a consistent theme in Nottage’s work: the search for ties between individuals and the communities around them.
Dr. Joy Brooke Fairfield, an assistant professor in the department, was involved in the student-led season planning committee that originally pitched the idea of producing a play by Nottage. Following the McCoy Theatre’s spring 2018 production Harlem to Hamilton, a compilation of scenes from African-American theater directed by Dr. Noelle Chaddock, Fairfield supported the students’ idea to produce a play by an African-American female playwright whose writing focuses on the lives of people who have been marginalized.
“The McCoy was founded with an eye on being a Memphis theater, not just a Rhodes theater,” says Fairfield. “We’re trying to bring back some of that initial vision. We want to be making high-quality work that people from the community would want to come in and see. This show in particular achieves those goals. Nottage is one of the most well-respected playwrights in America. The collaboration with the University of Memphis and Southwest helps us with the collaboration with the community.”
At first, it was a coincidence that the University of Memphis was also producing a Nottage play this fall. When Rhodes brought in director Thomas King, a graduate student at the University of Memphis and professor at Southwest Community College, he encouraged the theater department at Southwest to join in so that all three schools could put together a festival.
AnDrea Hargrove ’19, an international business and theatre major, is coordinating the festival and working under King as an assistant director for the Rhodes production as part of her senior capstone project. An aspiring theater manager, Hargrove has been working as a liaison between the colleges.
“Being in a city like Memphis, which has so much African-American history, I hope audience members will come to all three shows to learn more about black performance. I also hope they will be willing to see and support more plays and theater like the Hatiloo Theatre, which is an all-black theater here in Memphis that features only shows by black playwrights.”
In addition to her work as a playwright and her current project of adapting The Secret Life of Bees, the novel by Sue Monk Kidd, into a musical, Nottage is a professor of playwriting at Columbia University.
The talkback on Nov. 11 at Dixon Gallery and Gardens will cover Nottage’s legacy and feature representatives from all three productions. “Fabulation,” a story documenting a woman’s return to her family and hometown, will show at the McCoy Theatre Nov. 8 through Nov.18. Tickets are free for all attendees.
By Jaclyn Flood ’21