The Creative Corner with Dana Graham, creator of Scripted In Black, a Women of Color (WOC) Performance Reading Series in Dayton Ohio
Dana Nicole Graham, is a theatre director, producer, and creator of a new phenomenon in Dayton, named Scripted In Black. This unconventional performance reading series, offers women of color authors, poets, and playwrights in our community, the opportunity to showcase and nurture their talents, as well as support each other.
In this spotlight interview, Dana discusses what inspired her to start this series, the importance of women of color voices, and her personal advice for creative, artistic women. Keep reading to learn more.
Thank you for this interview. Can you share a little bit about your background and why you started Scripted in Black?
I’m from Dayton. I went to Stivers School for the Arts, and I graduated from Wright State University with a bachelor’s degree in Theatre Studies with a concentration in Directing. I later, got an internship in Upstate New York, with a local theatre company. During that internship, I learned a lot, including what I didn’t want to do. I’m happy that I allowed that process to take place.
After the year long internship, I decided to come back to Dayton in 2016. I had plans to stay in NYC, but I realized it just wasn’t going to benefit me at the time. I wanted to produce, find my passion, and create collectively. In Dayton, I didn’t see a community for women of color to be free, and to have their stories told, from us, by us. Normally these stories are from someone's perspective, not a woman of color, and they are very stereotyped. I want to see stories that show us in a vibrant way, from many spectrums.
In Dayton, there is a big underground creative climate with many talented people. There are lots of open mic and poetry sessions, but I found that they were mostly male driven. And that’s fine, as many of the creators are friends or associates of mine. But I wanted to create something just for women, something that’s nontraditional, and performative. All of that contributed to why I started Scripted In Black (SIB). So in 2017, I launched my website, and started reaching out to writers, and it took off. Now, I host gatherings every season, with about 20-25 women attending. I pick a local woman-owned or person of color owned business as our venues, because I believe that in order to help our community thrive, we must support one another.
That’s truly inspiring. How can someone get involved with Scripted In Black?
Writers and playwrights can visit my website or reach out through social media to learn about more opportunities. I also encourage sponsors, or anyone else who is willing and wants to help to contact me. Through sponsorships, businesses can promote themselves at our gatherings, and on our social media pages.
Can you tell us more about the gatherings/events for SIB? Is there a subject that you refuse to touch, or include in the performance series?
No, I don’t censor anything. That would do an injustice to our experience. I don’t choose a theme initially, until I’ve found the writers. That way, I can freely explore the writers work. During the gatherings we also have sister chats, where everyone is able to unpack the reading, and talk amongst ourselves about what truly resonated. We create an intimate, trusting environment, and it’s never awkward. Sometimes it’s slow to start, but after about 10 minutes, the women are laughing and curious. Everyone asks different questions and gives their take on an issue. We have all age ranges present, from older women to millennials.
That sounds awesome. Can you tell me about your upcoming event, ‘Identity, Love Yours’?
It’s a gathering focused on the importance of identity (physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally) for women of color. Identity takes many different forms, and we will explore those, and uncover how crucial it is that we confront those harsh truths on how we view ourselves while owning and loving who we are right here, right now. It’s so important to promote love throughout the evolution of our lives.
Our featured writer, is J. Dontah, from Columbus. Her work is very raw and honest, and I think everyone who attends will love it. The event will be held on Sunday, November 18, 2018 at 5pm at Transformers Fitness. Tickets can be bought online at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sib-a-woc-reading-series-identity-love-yours-tickets-52228369459
There is a definitely a lack of visibility for WOC writers & playwrights. How do you think the industry can change to promote these women of color, and help them pursue long-lasting careers?
I think the industry should not be exclusive. We need women of color in higher positions, not just the actors or writers. We need them as directors, producers, casting directors, and just behind the scenes, making decisions.
I think it can be easy for a company to just focus on meeting their diversity quota by doing that “one black play” which for one isn’t close to enough and also ignores other cultural identities and narratives within the POC experience. Why can’t we show the complexities of the black community and other POC? Instead of just hitting that one black play quota focus on the big picture. For example, not only should the focus be what’s offered within the season that truly reflects the community that company serves but also should be directed to the kind of community programming opportunities created and promoted. It should be accessible, reflective, and open to everyone. Not just to those, who are predominately white, that have the money for summer broadway camps, workshops, private lessons, etc.
Speaking of the local community, how do you think Dayton has reacted to Scripted In Black?
The reception that I’ve seen has been overwhelmingly great. For me, it will always be about what I can do to service the women of color in my community. I think Scripted in Black is perceived as something that’s necessary. I hear praise and see support even from men in our community. They send their women of color friends/family to gatherings, or they suggest writers to me. If you are in Dayton, and you claim that you support women of color and equal rights, then Scripted in Black is an opportunity to do just that.
How has your background (education and experience) helped you to launch and manage Scripted In Black?
My training and education has shaped the way I’ve approached starting Scripted in Black, because it’s different from the traditional things I was taught. In school, all the teachings were about how to get hired, instead of how to create opportunities for yourself, especially outside of big cities. That was something I had to learn for myself. I had to to find my happiness, not necessarily the success in this industry, but what truly made me happy.
Now, I’m not saying that I will never do things in a big cities or work with large companies. But my goal has always been to serve my community. My internship in NYC did help me to understand the industry flow, how to run a theatre season, and other artistic administrative opportunities. I’ve also learned a lot from studying other successful women in my industry, between those I’ve met and those I’ve admired from afar. This includes actresses and filmmakers, like Viola Davis, Ava DuVernay, Issa Rae, and much more. Those women taught me to never get complacent in my work, and that it’s important to take risks in my creativity.
What’s something unexpected that you have learned after launching Scripted In Black?
I’ve learned that when you launch something, the work never stops, even when personal issues arise. I’m pretty much always busy, so it’s important to learn how to delegate responsibilities, prioritize, and find resources or tools to be efficient. Also, it’s important to understand when you must take a break, so that you remain healthy physically and emotionally.
What advice and resources would you give to someone who is a writer or playwright?
I’d say, do not be afraid to say something that others want to say, but are too scared to say. You can be that change maker. Be that person that shares a different perspective, who is unapologetically honest and speaks their truth. People will model after what you do, and begin to show the same courage as you. Always honor what your gift is, and it will honor you back.
More with Dana...
What’s the best body of work you’ve recently experienced?
I just met a new friend on social media. Abena Amoah, who’s a writer based in NYC. And she just released a poetry collection entitled, Unspoken, that I had the pleasure to be a part of. We’ve supported each other’s work through social media. One day, I finally reached out to see if she’d like to be apart of Scripted in Black, and at the same time she asked for my help for a visual for one of the pieces in the collection.
Her collection was about healing through sexual and mental abuse, and what that looks like for women. Her work is very raw, and chilling, but also warm. I’ve dealt with my own issues of abuse, and like many women, we bury it inside and become ashamed. But Abena’s work is really that breakthrough you need when you read it. It showcases vulnerability and bravery. She had the courage to tell her story, and other women’s stories as well. Her work is very unique. She is very talented and creative.
What’s your favorite part of the holiday season?
I’d say the love shared between family and friends. It may sound cheesy, but it makes my heart smile.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
I’d have lunch with my great grandmother on my mom’s side. I just have so many questions for my great grandma, especially with that side of the family being more fair skinned. I want to know more about our family history and what it was like for her during that time.