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Louisville Playwright Chosen For New Festival Exploring Race And Politics

Courtesy of Cris Eli Blak

Louisville artist Cris Eli Blak, “writer for the page, stage and screen,” said he learned about Regina Taylor’s new theater festival via a social media post. 

“I don’t have an agent, don’t have a manager or any kind of that showbiz stuff,” Blak said. “I get my opportunities from going online and just going on the hunt and being in way too many Facebook groups.”

He saw someone post about the opportunity to submit a short play in consideration for “Regina Taylor's VOTE!,” presented by The Oaks Collective, and decided to give it a try. He wrote a play, titled “For Liberty, For Justice, For All,” and submitted it. Then, about two weeks ago, he received a phone call from a number he didn’t recognize.

“I just let the call go through and I got a voicemail. It was someone from the Oaks Collective, and they said, ‘We want to do your show,’” Blak said. “It was insane.”

Taylor’s new theater festival is “a call to action that seeks to explore themes and encourage discussion about the African-American community's relationship with the political process through an artistic lens,” according to the HowlRound website. The site will live stream the festival Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET, followed by a panel discussion with artists and political and community leaders discussing “the power of the Black vote.”

Taylor is an acclaimed playwright and actor. She won a Golden Globe for “Best Performance by an Actress In A Television Series” for her role as housekeeper Lilly Harper in the 1990s series “I’ll Fly Away.” She also played Anita Hill in the 1999 made-for-television film “Strange Justice.”

Taylor will present her own work, “Ash from The Black Album,” as well as three other original plays by BIPOC artists, according to Playbill. In addition to Blak’s work, the festival will also present “Peace, Be a Woman” by Jasmine Matthews and “The End” by Bonnie Scott.

Blak said his play is set in the 1960s shortly before the 1965 passage of the Voting Rights Act

“It focuses on a young man and his mother... from two different generations, but [who] live in a time that doesn't feel different,” he said. “They both have the same inequalities, they're still living in segregation. The young man is a college graduate, but he still can't get a good job because people see him as an African American male, as a Black guy.”

The play focuses on this moment of their lives, right before the possibility of change, Blak said. But, at the same time, it seems like things might never change.

“We can beg the question, even in 2020, have things changed?” Blak said. “I think it's an interesting perspective, especially this year, to look back and see something that takes place in the 1960s and see a lot of ourselves in it.”

Blak, who said he’s “humbled” by this opportunity and experience, hopes the festival will motivate people to vote in November.