Rochester’s Sankofa Theatre Festival Marks Ten Years

Curtis and Marie Rivers started Sankofa to provide a necessary outlet for black playwrights. Credit: Michele Ashlee.

Curtis and Marie Rivers started Sankofa to provide a necessary outlet for black playwrights. Credit: Michele Ashlee.

Curtis and Marie Rivers are the owners of Mood Makers Books where they pride themselves on welcoming people to an environment where the vibe is always “friendly and pleasant.” When the husband and wife team established the book store in 1994, they wanted to provide a place for the community to learn about Afrocentric literature, history and art through books, events and community service.

Throughout the years of serving Rochester’s African-American community readers, they began to pay close attention to customer complaints about the lack of cultural venues available to share the various forms of art by local African-American artists.

“Customers would come into the book store complaining about not being able to get their art work published,” said Mr. Rivers. “Playwrights also experienced racial barriers–a lot of times, good African-American plays were rejected.”

So the two begin to think of ways to address some of the complaints. In 2006, they set out to establish a theatre group.

“People trusted us,” said Mrs. Rivers. “They knew if they wanted to write a good play and provide an opportunity for the community to see, they needed the help from Curtis.”

In 2007, with the support from local artists and each other, the Rivers birthed the Sankofa Theatre Festival and held its first play at the Dazzle Theatre on Webster Avenue.

Fast-forward 10 years later, the Rivers are celebrating ten years of providing African-American playwrights with an outlet to showcase their work.

This year’s Sankofa Theatre Festival features 3 plays where the director for each play is female. Last week, Grace Flores’s play “Details in the Water” opened the festival. This weekend, play lovers and supporters of black theatre can come to the Multiuse Community Cultural Center (MUCC) to see “Kaleidoscope” by Karren Culley, a play that examines the mental ordeal of being Black in America and its consequences throughout the centuries. Also playing this weekend is “A Safe Distance From Love” by Laura Thomas which explores the lives of 11 people who are connected to a hospital that is preparing to close its doors for good but not without exposing a few jaw-dropping secrets unleashed before the end of the night.

"Golden Graham" hosted the red carpet, welcoming guests and keeping the mood light. Credit: Michele Ashlee.

“Golden Graham” hosted the red carpet, welcoming guests and keeping the mood light. Credit: Michele Ashlee.

On opening night, local activists’ Reenah Golden and Tokeya Graham served as host for the red-carpet experience to add the “friendly and pleasant environment” feeling that reflects the festival visionaries and their book store. Beyond welcoming guests to the opening night of the Sankofa Theatre Festival, Golden and Graham, who coined themselves as “Golden Graham,” said that it’s important for the festival to continue creating opportunities for the African-American community to showcase its talent for the sake of community and culture.

“To go back and fetch our stories and to bring it back into the community is necessary,” said Golden. Referencing U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, Golden said “we’re constantly reclaiming our time.” Graham supported her statement by expressing the importance of the African-American community creating its own opportunities to tell the stories of the culture.

“We have to continue to provide examples that our stories are valid and important,” she said.

This is the last week to experience the Sankofa Theatre Festival. “Kaleidoscope” final show is Friday, September 1 at 7:30 PM and “A Safe Distance from Love” final show is on Saturday, September 2 at 7:30 PM.

For more information about the Sankofa Theatre Festival, visit www.muccc.org/sankofa.

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  1. Pingback: OM Chats: Range, Community Art and the Importance of Supporting Young Artists | Open Mic Rochester

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