The Miracle of Birth: Catalyst at a Glance

by Sade Lythcott

in MetLife/TCG A-ha! Think It Do It

Post image for The Miracle of Birth: Catalyst at a Glance

(Photo by Comfort Katchy. This post is part of the MetLife/TCG A-Ha! Program.)

It was like being pregnant…I swear that’s the best way to describe the process of creating Catalyst. First, it starts with this seed thought, an idealistic notion that you want to bring a life force into the world that will make a difference and be a reflection & manifestation of your deep love and commitment. In this case it was The National Black Theatre’s deep love and commitment to Black theater and its holistic well-being. So you begin to prepare, you get your ducks in a row and start strategically conceiving your plan, in our case that meant applying for the MetLife /TCG A-ha! Program: Think It, Do It grant. You wait patiently on pins and needles for good news, knowing that if you get the news you are waiting for, the trajectory of your life will never be quite the same. And then it happens, one nondescript day you get a letter in the mail from TCG saying that you have been awarded the grant and BAM you’re pregnant!; carrying forth the hope & possibility of a catalytic movement of a better more sustainable future for Black theaters nationwide.

National Black Theatre Catalyst 5

(Photo by Comfort Klatchy.)

Like any first time parents (as Catalyst was the first of it’s kind for NBT and for the field in the 21st century), with just 9 months to prepare, you meticulously build a team of support that will help steward your miracle into being. We chose a diverse group of theater ‘godparents’ to help us prepare step by step.  They were: Talvin Wilks, Michael Dinwiddie, Shirley Faison, Jonathan McCrory, Ira Kip, Lawrence Evans, Keith Josef Adkins, Sydne Mahone, myself and the all important role of midwife went to Deadria Harrington – who fearlessly coordinated every detail of our birthing plan. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly we needed to choose doulas that would intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically be hands on for the actual labor of creating the curriculum.  This courageous task went to the brave and unflinching Ebony Golden and Carmen Morgan, our core facilitators. And so on August 4th 2014 at 6:00 PM, amidst a parade of pageantry Catalyst: Moving the Black Theater Legacy Forward was born in the presence of the 20 Black theaters from around the country, funding & strategic partners including our TCG & Black Theater Network family. All of us gathered to bear witness to the birth of an indescribable moment when we as Black theaters stood up and showed up to take full responsibility for both our sacrament and circumstance. I still get goose bumps thinking about it.  However like childbirth, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that all the preparation in the world never really prepares you for the unexpected miracles that actually manifest when your child finally sees the light of day, as would be the case with Catalyst.

National Black Theatre Catalyst 1

(Photo credit Comfort Klatchy.)

In all seriousness, to step away from my heavy handed metaphoric for a moment,  Catalyst was designed out of the immediacy of a terrifying reality that black theaters nation wide were quietly becoming extinct.  Dying not from a lack of passion, commitment or even artistic expression and innovation, but instead dying on the vine from the lack of access to resources, appropriate infrastructure, standard practice business models and most importantly the ability to articulate and address these challenges in a context that flows from our unique cultural worldview. This last point is a game changer, because our unique worldview is what empowers our art, whilst trying to solely fit uncomfortably into standard practice non-profit boxes has caused more hurt and shame than good. Wearied by the ineffective redundancy of pointing the ubiquitous finger at outside circumstances, we needed to shift the paradigm at once and hopefully for good. So with our advisory team in place we created Catalyst, a four day convening of 20 Black theatres from across the country that represented the diversity within the Black theatre community. The idea was that as participants the theaters would bring their profound history, share their authentic experience and innovative ideas, which would help to bridge the generational, size and aesthetic gaps present within the field.  At the convening the selected theaters, guided by moderators and strategic planners addressed and most importantly helped to build solutions around the financial and structural challenges Black theaters are experiencing today – all by using indigenous modalities that approach these challenges from the inside out. Catalyst’s sole focus is on impacting positive change to insure longevity.

National Black Theatre Catalyst 2

(Photo by Comfort Klatchy.)

In the end, Catalyst was comprised of four mind blowing days that supported the collective to heal and atone from past circumstances; create and build community, share wisdom and think outside of the box for concrete solutions to our various institutional needs.  NBT produced a unique experience for the participants of Catalyst that included:

•          Breaking of Bread Dinner – to set the sacred intention for Catalyst by each participant and supporter.

•          A full day at the Foundation Center on Development curated specifically by Luz Rodriguez for the culturally specific Catalyst participants.

•          Session with Susan Nelson on Capitalization.

•          Peer-To-Peer resource sharing session amongst the 20 participants.

•          Next Step Strategy session outlining next steps for moving forward.

•          Twenty theaters were given memberships to the Black Theatre Network.

•          All the sessions were videotaped for archival purposes.

•          NBT was able to enroll doctorate students to take notes during event sessions for dramaturgical purposes.

•          Through NBT’s partnership with Aloft Hotel in Harlem, NBT was able to create a central hub for the participants to go at the end of each event day. Aloft was also able to provide amazing accommodations for all out of town participants.

•          NBT produced and live streamed from its black box theatre, a highly spirited Public Summit panel that consisted of myself, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Alia Jones-Harvey, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Bridgit Antoinette Evans and Carmen Morgan; moderated by Dafina McMillan in front of a live audience of 100 plus people and even more people who viewed it on howlround.com  It now lives there and serves as a permanent public record of the event for all to see.

It’s been three months since Catalyst was born and we as an institution continue to nurse the vision so that it might grow. As I type this blog post, the Catalyst team is hard at work producing our toolkit to disseminate to not only our participants but to the field.  The toolkit will consist of a set of resources/articles and exercises that practitioners can use to facilitate conversations around financial sustainability within their organizations and a prospectus document written by Talvin Wilks that will capture all of the information and shared experiences from the convening. We were also very excited for our three month follow up conversation which was a panel discussion on Wednesday, November 5th at 6:30 PM at NYPL’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where we will had a postmortem discussion about the outcomes of the convening and the ongoing financial and structural crisis facing black theaters nationwide. This panel was free and open to the public. All and all, on behalf of myself, the National Black Theatre and the whole Catalyst team we are supremely grateful to have had the opportunity to conceive and deliver this baby with the support of TCG and look forward with baited breath to watch the movement continue to grow and thrive!

National Black Theatre Catalyst 6

(Photo by Will Voltz.)

Participating Theaters

  1. Arena Players, Inc., Baltimore MD
  2. Billie Holiday Theatre, New York, NY
  3. The Carpetbag Theatre Inc, Knoxville, TN
  4. Congo Square Theatre Company, Chicago, IL
  5. ETA Creative Arts Foundation, Chicago, IL
  6. The Fire This Time Festival, New York, NY
  7. Hatiloo Theatre, Memphis, TN
  8. The Hansberry Project, Seattle, WA
  9. Junebug Productions, New Orleans, LA
  10. Karamu House, Cleveland, Ohio
  11. Liberation Theatre Company, New York, NY
  12. MPAACT Theatre, Chicago, IL
  13. The Movement Theatre Company, New York, NY
  14. National Black Theatre, New York, NY
  15. New Federal Theatre, New York, NY
  16. New Heritage Theatre Group, New York, NY
  17. North Carolina Black Repertory Company Inc. Winston-Salem, NC
  18. The Robey Theatre Company, Los Angeles, CA
  19. South Dallas Cultural Center, Dallas, TX
  20. Towne Street Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
  21. 651 ARTS, Brooklyn, NY

sade-lythcott_400x295_84Sade Lythcott, CEO, Born and raised in Harlem NYC, Sade Lythcott is the daughter of Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, founder of the National Black Theater and legendary champion of African-American culture in New York.  Following her mother’s death in 2008, Sade was appointed CEO of the NBT, and is also Chair of the Coalitions of Theaters of Color. A graduate of New York University with a BA in art history, Sade stil lives in Harlem, NY. Prior to joining the NBT family, Sade has performed with several Off- and Off-Off Broadway theater companies, including appearances as Gail in Ron Milner’s “Urban Transition: Loose Blossom” at the New Federal Theater directed by Woodie King, Jr., and as Dorothy Dandridge in “Dorothy Dandridge: Before, After and Now” Directed by Dr. Barbara Ann Teer. In 2012 Lythcott wrote and produced highly acclaimed musical A Time To Love, garnering 3 AUDELCO nominations and the Key to Harlem for her excellence in the Arts. Sade Lythcott is a clothing designer, costume designer, fashion stylist, writer, playwright and theater performer. As a styist her clients include, Lenny Kravitz, Beyonce Knowles, Katie Holmes, Jamie Fox and Mos Def. Sade is also founder and CEO of Lunazul Swimwear, an acclaimed celebrity swimwear line featured in Vogue, Elle and Sports Illustrated magazine.

The intent of the MetLife/TCG A-Ha! Program is to enable theatres to dare to try new approaches to problem-solving artistic, managerial, production and/or technological challenges–to try things the organization doesn’t and couldn’t normally do. To learn more about the program, click here.