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American Players Theatre expands readings to new plays from BIPOC writers
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American Players Theatre expands readings to new plays from BIPOC writers

Nat Turner

La Shawn Banks plays the title character in "Nat Turner in Jerusalem," one of three new play readings from American Players Theatre's Out of the Woods online reading series. 

In what would have been the autumn “shoulder season” at American Players Theatre, the Spring Green classical repertory company is releasing another series of play readings, this time focusing on more contemporary work. 

APT launched its “Out of the Woods” Zoom-reading series in conjunction with PBS Wisconsin earlier this summer. These new plays will become available on consecutive Fridays: Nov. 6, Nov. 13 and Nov. 20. They will be free to watch on demand through Dec. 31, with watch-along events on both PBS Wisconsin and APT’s Facebook pages.

All of the plays were written by playwrights of color, directed by artists of color within APT’s company — new artistic associate Jake Penner and core acting company members Gavin Lawrence and Melisa Pereyra.

Opening Nov. 6 will be Karen Zacarías’ 1998 play “The Sins of Sor Juana,” featuring Pereyra in the title role. Based on a real historical poet, Juana is a Mexican writer with a brilliant, incisive mind and ideas about the education of women that create waves in the Viceroy’s court in the 1600s.

Zacarias’ play has intrigue, love triangles, courts and convents, and it brings back actors Triney Sandoval and Cher Álvarez.

Coming Nov. 13, “Nat Turner in Jerusalem” is set in a prison, where the leader of a historic pre-Civil War slave revolt awaits execution the following day. Performed by La Shawn Banks as Turner and Nate Burger as the lawyer Thomas Gray, “Nat Turner” feels poetic and confessional.

In 2016, a New York Times review said Nathan Alan Davis’s play responds “to the confessions’ apocalyptic imagery and accounts of holy visions” and “focuses on the Christian martyr, prophet and avatar of divine vengeance and historical inevitability.”

Finally, on Nov. 20, APT presents “Smart People,” a Lydia Diamond play set in the months before the 2008 presidential election. Among four very smart people — academics, a surgeon and a classically trained actor — microaggressions, assumptions and extremely awkward social exchanges add up in a sophisticated comedy that feels well-timed to 2020.

“Smart People” features familiar APT faces Jeb Burris and Cassia Thompson, directed by Pereyra.

APT artistic director Brenda DeVita said in a statement that this extension of Out of the Woods is part of APT’s ongoing exploration of “What does it mean to be a classic?” as well as a way to highlight the voices of artists who are Black, Indigenous and people of color.

“It feels vital in this moment to keep pushing ourselves to understand more deeply what it means to be human,” she said, “and to keep ourselves moving forward on our path toward a more equitable theater space, and a more equitable world.”

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