'Say It Loud' Celebrates Juneteenth With Local Black Talent
The San Diego Black Artist Collective shares world premiere plays, live performances and a celebration of community in a week-long festival.
After more than 160 years, Black Independence Day, otherwise known as Juneteenth, is on its way to becoming a federal holiday.
For San Diego Black Artist Collective president Joy Yvonne Jones, it's been a long time coming.
"I am so overjoyed, honestly. Growing up in Houston, Texas, I didn't know that it wasn't a national holiday until I became an adult and left Texas. It's overdue, but I'm appreciative and so happy that this day is getting the recognition that it deserves," said Jones, who is a director, actor and playwright.
At the start of 2020, before the pandemic, Jones and other members of San Diego's Black theater community gathered at The Old Globe to share stories and their experience working as artists.
"But it wasn't until the string of senseless murders in our country with Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, that we finally got together again, in I think it was May 2020, to say we need each other to heal with each other, but also we need to make some changes. It's not enough for companies and things to say they want to make changes. We need to make changes for ourselves and give ourselves the visibility and stand up and advocate for ourselves," Jones said, and the San Diego Black Artist Collective was launched.
Throughout her own education, Jones wanted Black artists to be afforded more time and space for their stories. Striving for greater and real visibility and being able to tell stories on their own terms catalyzed this week's "Say It Loud Juneteenth Festival" of theater, music and poetry.
"Creating this festival is my attempt to give that space to show the world and San Diego specifically that this talent is here," said Jones.
The festival is bookended with live events, but at its heart are three virtual plays written by local Black playwrights, centering on Black stories. Three original productions were filmed on the stages of local theaters and began streaming this week, with additional showtimes this weekend.
"The Mango Tree," is a one-person play by Bibi Mama, co-directed by Mama and Claire Simba. The play was produced by Moxie Theatres. This production, a story of magic and dealing with sudden grief in childhood, showcases Mama's talents as a storyteller and writer and as a performer. The short play was inspired by West African folklore and storytelling.
Miki Vale's "And We Danced" play was directed by Jones for Diversionary Theatre. It's a historical work, about LGBTQ+ icons Ruth Ellis and Babe Franklin who owned a famous Detroit juke joint, "The Gay Spot," and touches on the importance of Black and LGBTQ+ spaces in the community.
"Get On Board" is a revue-style show created by Jones along with John Wells III, Eboni Muse and Bryan Barbarin, with music directors Leonard Patton and Barbarin, produced for the La Jolla Playhouse. This looks at the evolution of Black music, dance and poetry, ranging from African drum music to hip hop to gospel and more.
In-person audiences can also take in some Juneteenth performances and community. On Saturday, Artists 4 Black Lives returns to Balboa Park's Pepper Grove area at 1 p.m. Created by Eboni Muse and produced by a team of artists, they'll present some live performances from "Get On Board."
Also on Saturday, The Old Globe is hosting their AXIS event with cabaret-style performances in their outdoor festival theater — which will also mark the first use of the Lowell Davies Festival Stage for a live performance since the Shakespeare Festival in 2019.
Zack King, one of the organizers of the festival, will dance, and they'll also showcase more performances from other San Diego Black Artist Collective members, including artists, poets, musicians and more, not just theater artists.
Building community and pushing for change in the arts world takes center stage in the "Say It Loud Festival," and these hopes are also a foundational belief of the San Diego Black Artist Collective.
"Theater is supposed to be a reflection of the world around us. And oftentimes it has fallen short because of the entertainment side. And speaking about race in America is kind of like the peas and carrots no one wants to eat. It's necessary because if we don't deal with it, it comes back to haunt us and it hurts," said Jones. "There is an understanding that theaters have been closed for 15 months. We haven't been able to gather for 15 months, so there is going to be a creaky time of reopening. But I caution artistic directors against doing performative gestures that have no depth. We can see it. And it makes us question if we're welcome in your institutions."
How to attend
Say It Loud Juneteenth Festival, through June 19
View a list of all festival events here.
- "The Mango Tree" by Bibi Mama, streams Friday at 8:30 p.m. and Saturday at 6 p.m.
- "And We Danced" by Miki Vale, streams Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
- "Get On Board" by Joy Yvonne Jones, John Wells III, Eboni Muse and Bryan Barbarin, premieres tonight at 6 p.m.
Globe AXIS Juneteenth Celebration: Saturday, June 19 from noon to 1:15 p.m. at the Old Globe's outdoor stage.
Artists 4 Black Lives: Saturday, June 19 at 1 p.m. at Balboa Park's Pepper Grove playground area