Tag Archives: black theater

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.

ABTF TONI Jared Brodie

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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The Front Porch Divas!  Distinguished. Intelligent. Vivacious. Ageless.

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You will know one when you see one!

A Front Porch Diva is smart, confident and strong. These women are over forty and fabulous! They may be of a certain age but the calendar neither defines or constrains them.

Divas come in all shapes, sizes and shades and have a swag uniquely their own. They love God, their families and their pleasure of choice. A Diva has a caring nature, a giving spirit and an understanding heart but don’t let her soul skills fool you. she  recognizes bull when she hears it!
From Type A personalities to textbook introverts, they still rock. Blessed with a healthy dose of mother wit nothing gets past these ladies. When it comes to the business of others, the Divas have mastered how to hear and not hear, see and not see, speak and not speak…and they keep more secrets than the CIA-unless someone is at risk. Then all bets are off.

Some may be described as classy, some sassy and even sexy. She can also be all three…at the same time.

Think Angela Bassett, Michelle Obama, Lisa Price, Mara Brook Akil, Carla Harris

Get the picture? I’m sure that you know a few Front Porch Divas.

Maybe you are one?

Austin Event!! “Don’t Call Me Brother!” Staged Reading




Another black youth has been killed by a police officer under questionable circumstances. Recently promoted Andrew Merritt’s first task as Chief of the Community Liaison Department is to restore his former community’s confidence in the police department.  At the same time he attempts to maintain the respect of his activist family and his fellow police officers. His loyalty is in question from both sides.

Is this new job a step up…or a set up?

Join us Sunday, September 27th at 2pm:

The Boyd Vance Theatre

1165 Angelina Street

Austin, TX 78702

Doors open at 1:30pm

Light refreshments will be served

This is a dramatized stage reading followed by a panel discussion from community members.

$15 Adults/$10 Youth (under 18)

Don’t Call Me Brother Tickets

This event is supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division, City of Austin and Austin Creative Alliance

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National Black Theatre Festival–Dream come true!

Attending the National Black Theatre Festival (NBTF) for the first time was the equivalent of a kid’s first trip to Disney World. I was in total awe of the people, sights and sounds as I stood on the Holy Ground of Theater. In addition to the plethora of great theater that I saw at the NBTF in Winston-Salem, NC, I experienced a sense of family. Everyone I met shared a love of theater, either from the stage, back stage or in the audience.

It was a whirlwind experience! The National Black Theatre Festival is the grandfather of black theater! To many it sets the standard by which all other black theater is judged. I always wondered if this was an accurate or even fair comparison. I am talking about the quality of the work not the genre.

I had been told that I would see any and everyone that I hadn’t seen for years on stage or television and they were right! And even better-they were all personable. Very nice! Can you imagine meeting an actor that you’ve admired over the years and he or she is asking you what play you are going to see?


While I have to admit I have seen some great, quality urban theater. (Please! Traditional theater purists stop screaming!! There is room for us all!) The theater I witnessed last week was simply amazing! The National Black Theatre Festival is more than worth the trip. Put it on your calendar for 2017! You won’t be sorry!


Actor Irma P. Hall and playwright Melda Beaty
Taurean Blacque
Taurean Blacque
Aduke Ameru hosting memorial tribute for Garland L. Thompson, Sr.
Andre Minkins rehearsing for a staged reading.
Andre Minkins rehearsing a staged reading.
Playwright MIcki Grant
Playwright Micki Grant
Musician/Artist Rome Neale
Musician/Artist Rome Neale
Vanessa Bell Calloway, director Anita Dashiell-Sparks, Ursula Robinson and me
Vanessa Bell Calloway, director Anita Dashiell-Sparks, Ursula Robinson and me

Review: TWO TRAINS RUNNING (Goodman Theatre)


Two Trains Running!! Wow! I wish I could have attended this production!! I love all things August Wilson. His themes, settings, stories and those characters who become  friends and neighbors for that short time on the stage! Most are set in Pittsburgh, though it could be any urban setting-Cleveland, Houston, LA, New York, Memphis or Chicago…the soul of his works and the voices ring true.

August Wilson did what no other playwright had done. He wrote ten plays in ten year cycles that took place in the same setting (Pittsburgh) and used the same people/neighborhood residents.

In historical order:

1904 – Gem of the Ocean

1911 – Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

1927 – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

1936 – The Piano Lesson

1948 – Seven Guitars

1957 – Fences

1969 – Two Trains Running

1977 – Jitney

1985 – King Hedley II

1997 – Radio Golf


I think you’ll enjoy NewCity Stage’s review of the Goodman Theatre’s current production of Wilson’s ‘Two Trains Running':


THE 2ND ACT! Newsletter and Blog


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The Stage is Set!

Get Ready!

If you want to keep up to date about what is JWHill Productions is doing, this is the place to start!

Sign up for our blog and quarterly newsletter ‘THE 2ND ACT!’ http://eepurl.com/bdjeyf


You’ll find information not only about what JWHill Productions is doing but what is happening industry wide. We’ll give you the inside scoop on how we really create those great productions you see on stage! You’ll read informative articles from some of Black theaters best. Learn about what is going on in the Black festival circuit and how you can participate!

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We are a vibrant community!

Our Stories! Our Voices! Our Way!

Click below!


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