Tag Archives: Atlanta Black Theatre Festival

TONI SIMMONS HENSON-Our Stories, Our Voices! Revisited!





The 2016 Atlanta Black Theatre Festival will be held in October, visit http://atlantabtf.org/ for more information!


Theatre Producer, Toni Simmons Henson grew up in Hillside, NJ in the backyard of Broadway. Her passion for theatre stems back as early as when she was 8 years old when she and her sister, Wanda Simmons, the writer and age 9, produced plays in their backyard and basement for neighborhood kids.
In 2004, Henson became the Executive Director of Drama Kids of Princeton. Drama Kids is the US franchise of the Helen O’Grady Acting Academy.

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The Australian based academy is the largest children’s acting academy in the world. In just a few short years, under her tenure, the Academy enrolled over 750 students and produced over 80 plays and presentations. The program grew to five locations and two summer camps. The explosive popularity of the program attracted national publicity including articles in Entrepreneur Magazine and the cover of the Princeton Packet Weekend Magazine. Henson received two awards for distinguished achievement.

In 2007, Henson moved to Atlanta and founded Micah 6-8 Media, LLC. Under that company, she produced two hit plays entitled Once Upon a Dream by Khristi  Adams and Big Girls Gotta Eat, Too! by Melissa  Blackmon and Wanda Simmons.  Big Girls Gotta Eat, Too! toured four cities and was a part of the 2012 DC Black Theatre Festival.

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In 2012, Henson founded the Atlanta Black Theatre Festival where over 200 artists perform 40 plays in four days. This annual event attracts thousands of theatre lovers from 24 states and three countries.  In 2014, Micah 6-8 Media, LLC was nominated and awarded first runner up as Emerging Business of the Year by the DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce for the Festival’s “significant contribution to economic development and community impact.”

The festival hosts an annual event gala that has honored theatre legends such as Taurean Blacque, Melba Moore, Pearl Cleage, Alia Jones-Harvey and American Theater Hall of Famer, Woodie King, Jr.


Henson holds a B.B.A. from Howard University and an M.P.A from New York University. She has been married for 25 years to Antonio Henson, V.P. of PNC Bank and together they have four children.

The 2015 Atlanta Black Theatre Festival is October 8th-11th. To find out more about the festival go to


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Don’t Call Me Brother! Wins at the Atlanta Black Theatre Festival

Austin area Playwright wins Atlanta Black Theatre Festival award for her Black Lives Matter themed play!



Multiple-award winning playwright Jeanette Hill has garnered another award. This time for the Festival Favorite Award Best Reader’s Theatre Series for her black lives matter themed play, ‘Don’t Call Me Brother!’ at the 2015 Atlanta Black Theatre Festival (ABTF) held at the historic Morehouse College from October 8th through the 11th.

Jeanette Hill is the founder and executive director of JWHill Productions LLC, a creative arts organization. JWHill Productions LLC uses the stage to tell original stories depicting the resilience of the African American people, spirit and culture. This is Ms. Hill’s fourth award in the last three years for her plays.

The Atlanta Black Theatre Festival is fast becoming one of the premier outlets for quality black theater for audiences, actors and playwrights across the nation. In its fourth year, guided by executive director, Toni Simmons Henson, it continues to grow in both numbers and quality of productions. The 2015 Atlanta Black Theatre Festival received submissions from forty-two states and two countries.


Ms. Hill was honored to have AspireTV, whose principal owner is Ervin ‘Magic’ Johnson as the presenting sponsor for her staged reading and panel discussion. The play’s theme resonated with AspireTV because of its timely and relevant subject matter. ASPiRE is dedicated to deliver enlightening and entertaining programming to African-American families that reflect positive images of the African-American community.

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The staged reading was followed by an informative panel discussion, ‘The Conversation We Need to Have’. The panelists included -National Order of Black Law Enforcement (NOBLE) member Rafiq Ahmad, Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Labor, Office of the Inspector General Atlanta Regional Office; Timothy Tukes, a junior at Morehouse College and a 2015 All-Star Student Ambassador for the White House Initiative on HBCUs; Andre Minkins, Associate Professor at Winston-Salem State University; Reemo Rod, actor, co-owner of 3511 Media; Trebor Randle, Special Agent in Charge Georgia Bureau of Investigation-Child Fatality Review Unit and playwright Jeanette Hill. Clark Atlanta University instructor Eric J. Little, actor, director and writer moderated the panel.

Don’t Call Me Brother! addresses the impact of current events on individuals who carry the dual citizenship of being African American and working in law enforcement.

‘Don’t Call Me Brother!’ is the story of recently promoted Assistant Police Chief Andrew Merritt, whose close ties to the police force and to the black community come into question with the suspicious death of a black youth by a police officer, he is at a crossroad. Where is his loyalty? Each side wonders if they can trust him? More importantly, who can he trust?

It takes an amazing group of talented actors to bring a story to life and the ‘Brother’ cast did just that!

Derrell Lester, Eddie Oliver, Curt Keller Williams, Schelle Purcell, Tiffany Roberts (director), Kelvin Rowe, Noah Artis and Stephanie J. Williams.

Collage of Atlanta DCMB Cast




What people are saying about ‘Don’t Call Me Brother!:

“This play captures exactly both the internal and external challenges that African Americans in executive law enforcement positions live with everyday. ”

     Patrick Ockletree, Assistant Chief, Austin Police Department


“Especially enjoyed the way the family dynamic was shown in the play. We seldom think about the impact these situations have on police officers of color. ”

         Earline Carter

This play should be seen in every major city in the United States!

Steve Savage, KAXI-FM Community Radio Station Manager

“Don’t Call Me Brother! is a voice carrying a message that some may have missed. It encourages us all to think critically about our role in creating the change we want to see in our community.”

Charles Robinson, Director Travis County Adult Probation



Jeanette Hill can be contacted at jwhill@jwhillproductions.com




‘Don’t Call Me Brother!’ At the Atlanta Black Theatre Festival



I am excited about the Atlanta Black Theatre Festival this year! Not only has my play ‘Don’t Call Me Brother!’ been selected as a special event for the ABTF but AspireTV has chosen to be the presenting sponsor for it!

The Atlanta Black Theatre Festival (ABTF) is fast becoming one of the premiere outlets for quality black theater audiences, actors and playwrights across the nation. In its fifth year the ABTF continues to grow in size and the quality of its productions.

AspireTV is dedicated to deliver enlightening and entertaining programming  to African American families that reflect positive images of the African American community. Aspire also creates new and unique opportunities for the next generation of the African American creative community.

Don’t Call Me Brother! addresses the impact of current events on individuals who carry the dual membership of being African American and being in law enforcement. A panel talkback,  ‘The Conversation We Need to Have’ with community leaders will be held immediately following the reading to discuss possible solutions to bridging the gap of distrust between our communities and law enforcement.

‘Don’t Call Me Brother! is the story of Andrew Merritt, a high-ranking African American police officer with ties to both the police force and the black community. With the death of a black youth by a police officer under questionable circumstances and his recent promotion, he is at a crossroad. Where does he place his loyalty? With his family who has a long history of civil rights activism or with the police department where he has devoted twenty-four years of service. All eyes are on him.


Tickets are available at www.atlantabtf.org under Special Events!

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I Want My Vagina Back! Review


 I Want My Vagina Back!
Jeanette W. Hill

Pamela Love (Book Author)
Portrayed by: JaQuitta Williams, Crystal Fox, Towanda Braxton, Nevaina Rhodes, Tanya Freeman, Dana Peebles and DeEtta West.
Directed by: Mia Kristin Smith

The 2014 Atlanta Black Theatre Festival may go down in history as the year of social commentary undertones. Several of the performances, while totally entertaining, presented an undercurrent of personal and social issues that resounded with many in the audience. As if the title, synopsis and the ‘No Men Allowed’ marketing for the stage presentation of I Want My Vagina Back!wasn’t enough to pique the interest of the curious, the line of four hundred plus women extending to the front door waiting to be admitted to the main stage theater had anyone passing by stopping to look and ask.

   I Want My Vagina Back! tells the stories of every woman that we all know and maybe that we have been at one time or another. Women who waited or who weren’t allowed that choice to wait, women who wanted or wanted to be wanted, women who cheated (yes, we cheat too), women who faked it (you know what I mean), women who didn’t have to, women who were fooled and women who willingly played the fool.

   Towanda Braxton breaks the ice by saying those things we are told it’s not polite to discuss. Things such as size, ability, roughness, timidity, etc. Her “no holds barred” opening set the tone for the rest of the discussions that would follow. JaQuitta Williams then portrayed the tried and true woman. The woman who ‘waited’ – a noticeable while – for the right man and didn’t understand why others didn’t because her life, sexually and in all other ways, reflected the virtues of waiting.

  The incomparable DeEtta West brought the seasoned senior spin on the whole sex thing putting a little preaching in there while extolling how as mothers, sisters and friends, it is incumbent for us to have open, candid discussions with our daughters, sisters, and any young woman we can reach, on valuing their total and sexual selves. Actress Crystal Fox’s portrayal of a married woman who liked good sex – really liked it – at first, caused a few blushes and more than a few moans from the women in the audience. But as she went on to tell what happened when ‘liking’ it went beyond the boundaries of her marriage vows, it caused those same women in the audience to shed a few silent tears as she told of the never-ending price she had to pay for “great sex.”

  Another young woman discussed how she developed her appetite for married men. She had decided after listening time and again to her mother, aunts and friends speak with disdain about their husbands’ dalliances with other women, spending their time and money on these women, that she would not join the ranks of the unhappy spouse, but instead just enjoy the benefits of being the other woman – for years.

With each successive monologue the audience of women envisions a Friday night ‘Girls Night Out’ with the girls sitting around the living room sipping on beverages of choice, disclaiming the calories that accompany the drinks and munchies. There are transparent discussions about a woman’s secret place and how we lie on it, for it and about it and also how we let it be used, viewed, ignored and sometimes abused. Each monologue uncovers how our choices on what we do with our vaginas, how we do it and whom we do it with can and often do alter women physically, emotionally, socially, psychologically and even financially.

I Want My Vagina Back! is a phenomenal stage piece. Adapted from the book of the same name by Dr. Pamela Love, this play is really a social and feminist movement. I predict that Dr. Pamela Love’s book and subsequent dramatic presentations and conversations will soon be seen nationwide.

Jeanette W. Hill
Playwright and founder of JWHill Productions


The Best Lesson




The Best Lesson by Jeanette Hill
Ursula Robinson

Directed by Chris Scott
Produced by JW Hill Productions
Atlanta Black Theatre Festival
Atlanta, GA October 11, 2014

“What do you do when you are too old to be young, but you are too young to be old?” This is the question at the crux of the play, The Best Lesson, written by Jeanette W. Hill and presented at the Atlanta Black Theatre Festival in Atlanta on October 11, 2014.  What does an older mature woman (Donna) do when she loses her husband (Jake) to a young and vibrant woman (Brelyn) who not only broke up her marriage, but is now pregnant? Add to the mix that Jake has been friendly with Donna since the divorce and wants to cut off their sexual romps now that he is about to be a father again. It is this rip in her life that causes Donna to go into a midlife crisis that tears her family apart and ultimately places her child in the position to be raped.

In her frustration to find a way to deal wither new identity as a woman alone with a child, Donna begins to have physical relations with men all over town. At the same time, she tries to fulfill all of her roles as a mother, a youth pastor and as a friend, but that comes to a crashing halt when her secret life shows up at her front door. She makes that final decision to redefine herself, just when she loses everything. It is only after she picks herself up off the ground and testifies about the rape of her daughter that she begins to find the new Donna that is emerging.

Kimberly Ginyard-Mitchell’s believable and honest portrayal of Donna, as the typical newly single mother, made her a woman with whom the audience could connect.  Jake, played by Theo White, was lovable and his demeanor contradicted his actions, which caused the audience to be thoroughly shocked at his behavior. The vibrant energy on the stage definitely came from Charmayne, played by Nina J., who created a lovable and mature child that captured the audience’s attention. The one character that stood out and made the audience gasp, however, was Frank, played by Jae Ellis. Frank was a pedophile who only spent a brief moment on stage, but still had a  powerful impact. Ellis did a great job of creating a convincing character.

With The Best Lesson, Hill uses contradictions to illustrate her points and to bring the story into our hearts. For example, Donna admonishes her daughter to be a good girl, but is herself behaving in a bad way. Jake is a great father, but a lousy husband. Donna’s best friend is a woman who is very sexually active, while Donna is more modest—that is, until she becomes the old lady in the club looking for answers in the eyes of every man that she sees. The use of these contrasts helps us to see just how far this family has been driven into chaos.

In an audience made up of middle aged women and men, this story hit home for several reasons. First, it was an opportunity for men to see themselves through the eyes of the women that surround them. The man who wanders away from home and still wants to maintain peace can see that there is a high price to pay for it, when he has not fulfilled his end of the bargain. Second, women could identify with being in a place in life where you are forced to deal with another person’s choices and still try to live a fulfilling life. This story touched the heart of what  eats away at family unit; Identity. It is hard to define yourself when your life changes so drastically that you do not know who you are anymore.

Playwright Hill is great at speaking to the family and to the situations that can cause us to lose ourselves. She is a master at appealing to the heart of her audience and giving them a story that seems so simple, but has such complex consequences and underlying themes. The Best Lesson demonstrates that the axis upon which our lives swings is always dependent upon our choices. And the lesson is that your identity is always connected to who you believe yourself to be at any given moment of time.

Ursula Robinson
Ursula O. Robinson Productions
Drama Program Coordinator, South Carolina State University