Talking Head! with Cassandra Newman, Big Ego, Big Plan
Hi, guys! Welcome to Talking Head!, a new feature on The Bad Oracle. These are interviews with the movers and shakers of the Baltimore small theater scene: administrators, managers, company directors, everyone who makes our community what it is. Keep tuned to this space several times a month for exciting announcements, heard-it-here-first shit and cute gossip.
Talking Head! with Cassandra Newman, Arising! up
Today I took a mental wander down south to Stafford, Virginia to talk to Cassandra Newman, founder of Big Ego Productions. Ms. Newman has grand plans to hold a play festival based around the events transpiring after the murder of Freddie Gray in April of 2015. While Stafford is a little out of TBO’s coverage range, Baltimore City sure ain’t, so I wanted to know more about what she was thinking.
Describe the Arise Baltimore! festival for me.
It’s a short play festival about race, dialogue and reconciliation where we seek to bring the solutions to the people. We are soliciting ten minute plays from playwrights who not only address the root causes of the racial tension that has been plaguing Baltimore but also suggest creative solutions for healing, for moving forward.
Where is Big Ego Productions based?
We’re actually based in Stafford, Virginia.
Tell me a little about yourself, Cassandra. What is your background, what do you do?
I’m an actress, writer and producer based in the D.C. metropolitan area. I have a Master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University as well as a degree in International Affairs from the University of Mary Washington. When I saw the riots going on, I had my opinions and I happened to express them on social media. I got involved with some heated discussions with friends. Based on the breadth of insights I encountered and the emotions – I mean, you could practically feel the emotions coming off the computer, that’s how visceral it was – I started to believe that maybe instead of having a knee jerk reaction of condemnation of the looting and violence, maybe there was cause for some kind of understanding. That maybe a different approach was needed. [A note from Cassandra – Please make it clear that no one in those heated discussions I had with friends ever condoned the looting and the violence, as I said. What I realized that was that, rather than a quick condemnation of the anger motivating the acts, what was needed was a new approach of understanding.]
Let me ask you this. You aren’t actually based in this area; your company is not based in Baltimore. Are you at all concerned that Arise Baltimore! may be seen as an outsider trying to appropriate something that they don’t own?
No, because I don’t think when people write or produce art dealing with peace, appropriation is not in question because what are you trying to appropriate? I don’t think it’s such a limited pie that you have to appropriate anything. I think that as long as people want to contribute in a meaningful way to the peace process that, I’m sure, is going on in Baltimore right now, there is plenty of opportunity to do so and plenty of room for anyone whose intentions are good. I’m not from Baltimore, I’m not from Maryland. I did not grow up in Baltimore. William Styron was able to write Sophie’s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner as a white male, so, I think, being a Virginian, I can still sympathize and have compassion for the problems that Baltimore is facing, particularly the lower income neighborhoods. I can try, in my own small way, to help.
There have already been several Baltimore-based efforts along this theme. Cohesion Theatre Company did several play readings/discussion panels on this topic right after the events and Glass Mind Theatre dedicated their Brainstorm Festival to “Ties that Bind” in a similar move. What do you think that Arise will add to the discussion?
What I’m trying to do with this festival is address the potential for peace in all people. Many people understand the problem. But solutions are few and far between. What I’m trying to do with Arise Baltimore! is give people a forum develop solutions. Any age, any gender, any race. If they have a theory on how this can be solved, we want to read their play. We know what the problem is. We want to hear solutions.
How do we find out more about this or submit a play?
First of all, definitely check out the website (http://bigegoproductions.weebly.com/arise-baltimore.html) for the rules. Then, to submit a play, please send to firstname.lastname@example.org. [Deadline is September 15th, entry is free].
You have an Indiegogo campaign? What are those contributions going towards?
When I first conceived of the festival, I wanted to produce it at the Murphy Fine Arts Center at Morgan State University. Then, I moved to plan B which was a library reading room at one of the Baltimore libraries, possibly the Patterson Park branch. The Indiegogo campaign is for the original plan of Morgan State University and, if we are able to raise that money, we will have it there. Otherwise, it’s a flexible funding campaign, so whatever is raised will go toward festival expenses. Marketing, payment for the actors, payment for the playwrights, room rental. We’ve recently received a grant through the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts and any Indiegogo funds will complement that grant.
And when are the dates?
I am projecting that Arise Baltimore! will be held on October 24th. It’s still evolving in terms of structure, so if there are any changes of date, I will be posting it on the website so watch there for updates.
Got someone you think we should feature on Talking Head!? E-mail me at email@example.com.