Roundup: African-American Theatre

This week, we’re showing off student work that highlights African-American-centered theatre companies and plays, as well as African-American playwrights. The artists involved in the theatrical arena have contributed notable works to American culture that, now, Wikipedia readers can read all about. Thanks to students in Ali-Reza Mirsajadi’s course at Emerson College, African-American Theater and Culture, there are three new articles out in the world that didn’t previously exist.

Eisa Davis is a playwright, singer-songwriter, and actor. She is also the niece of activist Angela Davis. Eisa has worked in television as an actor on the show Hart of Dixie. She’s worked as a resident playwright at New Dramatists, where she received two awards for her work. And she’s currently a fellow at the Symphony Space in New York, and has two albums of her music. Her artistic philosophy follows the Ghanaian principle of Sankofa, which involves an examining of her lineage and personal history for artistic inspiration. She uses her art to understand and answer questions she’s grappling with. “Theatre,” she has said, “is one of the few public spaces we have for active contemplation.”

The New Federal Theatre is named for the Federal Theatre Project, which provided resources to American theatre and art programs during the Great Depression. It is a theatre company in the lower east side of Manhattan, founded in 1970. Many actors and playwrights have received national attention through their work at the New Federal Theatre. The theatre’s mission is to center minorities and women in the mainstream of American theatre “by training artists for the profession, and by presenting plays by minorities and women to integrated, multicultural audiences—plays which evoke the truth through beautiful and artistic re-creations of ourselves.”

The article about the play, Familiar, now exists thanks to these students. The play is written by Danai Gurira. It premiered at Yale Repertory Theatre in Connecticut in 2015, directed by Rebecca Taichman. Critics appreciated the work’s humorous dealing with the complicated realities of immigration and assimilation. The play centers on a Zimbabwean family living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As they prepare for a daughter’s wedding, the family argues over a Zimbabwean wedding tradition. Throughout the work, characters grapple with tensions between their Zimbabwean culture and the American, Christian traditions into which they’re assimilating. The play examines what African-American identity means within this family and what happens when ideals clash.

Thanks to the students in Mirsajadi’s course, Wikipedia’s millions of readers now have access to better information about African-American theater. Through Wiki Education’s tools and online trainings, the students learned how to add meaningful course content to Wikipedia.

Want to incorporate a similar assignment into your classroom? Visit to learn more, or reach out to with questions.

Image: File:Danai Gurira (9347312647).jpgGage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.


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