In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, Sharron Frazier-McClain, Barrington Stage Company's community engagement and EDI coordinator created the initiative Black Voices Matter to share Black narratives through the arts.
Last year, Frazier-McClain organized the one-time “West Side Takes the Stage” event, which inspired a new festival, “Celebration of Black Voices," which runs through Sunday, Aug. 8. The goal of festival, she said, is twofold — to celebrate Black stories and to educate audience members.
Included in the festival are a storytelling hour with Ty Allan Jackson (11 a.m., Aug. 5), a poetry slam (6 p.m., Aug. 5), West Side (6 p.m. Aug. 6), West Side Takes the Stage: Take 2 — for Adults ( 6 p.m., Aug. 6); West Side Takes the Stage: Take 2, ages 14–21 (6 p.m., Aug. 7), Joyful Noise gospel concert (1 p.m.. Aug. 8) and "Ain’t I A Woman," written by Shirley Edgerton and Felicia Robertson. (6 p.m., Aug. 8).
Frazier-McClain recently took the time to answer a few of our questions.
1 What was last year’s “West Side Takes the Stage” event like?
Last year, as I was going out in the community inviting the local neighbors to [BSC] events, there was a reluctance [to go], and I was trying to figure out, what are the barriers? So, I went back to the neighbors and had one-on-one conversations. One of the local community members, a Black man, said, why can’t we be on the stage? And then my wheels started turning.
We [as a company] tend to produce things that we like and expect people to want that, too. I went back to my boss, Julie Boyd, and said, 'We have an opening in the tent one night; is it possible to do a concert where we just give the stage to community members?' So that show, we put together in about four days. People were just so happy to come out. The concert was beautiful. We knew it was something we wanted to do again in collaboration with the community, and that’s how we turned it into a weeklong festival.
2 How is organizing a five-day festival different from a one-time event?
The one-time event was luck. A weeklong festival with so many different moving parts has definitely been a challenge, but a great challenge. The goal was to create a space to get to know each other using art as a vehicle. It’s a great way to heal a community. Something I’ve learned along the way is the importance of being flexible. We had a vision of what we wanted it to look like, but the more I started engaging with people, I had to be okay with making some changes and really figuring out a way to make it happen.
3 A big part of this festival is community engagement. What are you hoping the community will take away from this festival?
There are still people that aren’t sure of where they fit in. I would love to see this be something that’s an annual event. How wonderful would it be for the minority community to look forward to this event every year? Community engagement is so important to me because, as a minority myself who has been here for 14 years, when I got here, I felt like there wasn’t a place for me. So, my goal is to bring people out and give them that sense of pride that I believe is missing. A lot of times when we talk about West Side neighborhoods, there’s always this negative stigma. I wanted us to be able to engage and help these communities write their own narratives and tell their true stories.
4 Why is this festival important, especially right now, and how will it help the Black community?
I believe that now is the time. I believe that the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are not in vain. As a Black community, we now have the visibility and the attention of people who may not have been listening or in tune before with our day-to-day struggles, our feelings and our fears. The initiative of Black Voices Matter — I think the moniker is to educate, empower and celebrate. I would love for everyone to come and be able to hear from the people on the stage and learn with them. If you can walk away with an understanding of what someone went through, I believe that those are the first steps to combating racism.
5. What kinds of projects are you excited to work on in the future?
I’m already planning [this festival] for next year. I believe for next year, for this to be even more successful, [we need] to bring the community on board from the beginning, and then be able to delegate tasks. I have an amazing co-producer this year, and thank God for my team, my BSC family. It’s a lot of work to bring a community together for something so large. I believe that if someone is a part of something from the beginning, they have stake and they have interest. I would love to bring the community on board sooner and engage and interact with more organizations.