Denise O’Neal sits quietly in the front row of the MATCH theater. Its space is dark until the stage lights shine over the first set, and you hear the slight crumbling of snacks opened by theatergoers who’ve comfortably settled into their seats. Her Fade To Black Reading Series is “Houston’s first and only short play festival to showcase the new works of Black playwrights. She gets up to mingle with the audience members, who are bundled in coats and hats from the outside evening chill when Act I wraps, and some patrons scatter about during the ten-minute intermission. “I have my producer’s eye,” (going) she says as we shake hands and compliment the actors’ performances during the night’s dress rehearsal. Just days before, we had spoken to Denise, the executive director of the Fade To Black Festival, by phone, where she confidently said, Why not! when asked her reason for creating a “movement that has reshaped the landscape of Houston’s theater community.”
You are the executive director for the annual event FADE TO BLACK, which showcases African American experiences on stage in a variety of 10-minute plays. What is your “why” for creating a space for emerging African American playwrights?
“Why not!” No community experience existed for us in this way, and it was up to me to make it happen to celebrate underrepresented playwrights who could leave a legacy on earth (through their talent).
It is my business to educate and support the winning playwrights as much as possible
What are you most excited about with the anticipated FADE TO BLACK 2024 Reading Series (now in its seventh year)?
I am excited about the eight power-packed plays showcasing the dynamic and diverse playwrights the public will also be able to celebrate.
How do you and your team determine the winning playwrights and their works?
There are judges to help read (analyze) new and fresh material—things like how well the play is written, constructed, and formatted with something original and creative. The top ten plays selected premieres from February through April of the year. And the ten or fifteen more that are also good get spots for the winter debut.
Do you make New Year resolutions or lifestyle changes?
“It’s a faith walk for me.” I am learning to listen more and not talk so much because I am committed to myself to stay on top of my vision, which includes giving back to underrepresented local playwrights as I continue to surround myself with the team built. It also involves self-care in that I rest with no negativity around me.
Why should we and others attend FADE TO BLACK 2024?
It is a “highly anticipated event.” From that, it is my business to educate and support the winning playwrights as much as possible. “Dedicated to promoting the works of underrepresented African American playwrights, providing a vital platform for their voices to be heard” is the focus so they can continue to present their diverse stories to the community to enjoy.
The room grows dim. Denise once again takes her seat in the front row. There is silence in the audience as production scurries in the background and the actors busy the stage. Act II begins.