demaskus: A new African American Theater adds color to Pittsburgh’s Cultural District

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Adding great artistry to the already vibrant Pittsburgh theater scene and beyond, providing work for people who want to remain in Pittsburgh, and opportunities for people who felt they had to leave the city to pursue them elsewhere is why Shaunda Miles created the demaskus Theater Collective.
demaskus is a Pittsburgh-based collective producing touring productions,  developing multi-cultural curriculum for educational purposes, assisting artists with management, and consulting with churches, schools and community groups in writing and producing theater projects.
“The Collective wants to do work that is meaningful,” Miles said. “We want to make history and be one of the numerous artistic homes that people point to when they consider where they were given the time, space and non-judgmental support to hone their craft.”
With the help of a $10,000 grant from the Small Arts Initiative grant of the Heinz Endowments, Miles is able to put her vision into motion.
The Heinz Endowments supports efforts to make Southwestern Pennsylvania a premier place to live and work, a center for learning and educational excellence and a region that embraces diversity and inclusion.
“The collective is extremely grateful for the grant,” said Miles who works as the director of public relations for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. “We spend our time preparing for opportunities like these. This grant gives each person working on this project the opportunity to operate in his or her own gifts and do the work they are called to do.
“A grant of this kind is crucial to the start and sustainability of an organization like demaskus,” Miles continued. “The collective wants to produce quality theater. We want to take our time and make good decisions. The credibility of the Heinz Endowments also opens other doors. Fiscally and philosophically, this grant is vital to our launch this year.”
The first season will consist of stories about strong women. The first play, “Wine in the Wilderness” will run March 12-15. Written by Alice Childress and directed by Miles, the play is set amid a Harlem race riot in 1969. In a tenant just above the chaos an artist is creating a triptych about Black womanhood. As he finds a muse to complete his final panel with his idea of the ideal African-American his muse deconstructs his notions on the Black woman in a discussion about race and women that changes his work.
“Artistically the story is interesting. Even in the midst of a specific time period, in a very specific place, the universal themes of love, reconciliation and self-actualization are present.” Miles said. “It is a story that asks the Black community to take a long look at how we view each other across gender and class.”
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The cast of “Wine in the Wilderness” stars Okema T. Moore as Tommy; LaMar Darnell Fields as Bill Jameson; Dawn Wilson as Cynthia; Steven Strickland as Sonny-Man; Dominique Biggs as the neighbor and Charles Timbers as the old timer.
demaskus’ opening season will close with the thought provoking, “You Wouldn’t Expect,” (running Sept 17-19) the Marilyn Barner Anselmi-penned play is based on the events surrounding the North Carolina Eugenics program, which sterilized more than 7,000 women in the state between 1929 -1976. The production focuses on a group of characters affected by the sterilization program that changed their lives, and in turn, prevented others.
“When we talk about Black lives mattering, this is an alternative side to that story,” Miles said. “We want to tell stories people may never have heard before. It will be a world premiere. We hope to take it to some universities in North Carolina after it is produced in Pittsburgh. It simply has all the ingredients of something we should be doing.”
A catered dinner and discussion of the play will be offered the Thursday before each performance. Only 25 dinner tickets are made available for each performance. Tickets are $30 and include the performance.
Miles said she decided to include the dinner and discussion series as a nod to the Sunday dinners she had with her family.
“I grew up in a family that held weekly Sunday dinners at my great-grandmother’s house. So much can be solved, received and expressed over a meal,” Miles said. “I think that the connections that food can create are being made ever clearer via television shows and at the core of foodie frenzies across the nation. It will all taste good and hopefully some breaches can be mended in the pasta…I mean, in the process.”
(Both plays will be shown at the Peirce Studio, 805-807 Liberty Avenue in Downtown’s cultural district. Tickets for each play range from $20 to $30 and can be purchased by visiting www.demaskus. Showclix.com or call 1-888-71-tickets. For more information on Demaskus Theater Collective, visit www.demaskus.com.)

 demaskus cast bios

 Dominique Briggs is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Duquesne University.  Her notable theater performances include “Lundyn Bridges,” “The Childfinder,” and “Ray Werner’s Christmas Star.”  She has also appeared in films including “SouthPaw” (Antoine Fuqua) as Aileen, “Set Free” (Patrice Johnson) as Danielle Singleton, and the film short, “The Take Us” (C. Henry) as Sorsha.
When not performing on stage or behind the camera, Dominique enjoys working on her freshman EP (Extended Play) jazz project.  She wishes to thank her friends and family for always believing in her and her husband, Cedrice, for supporting her as she continues to chase her dreams.
LaMar Darnell Fields is a Pittsburgh native who has worked on numerous plays and commercials within and outside of his hometown.  Fields’ film credits include the recent DVD releases: “Blood First” and “The Other Side.”  He has won local theater awards, garnered several nominations, and is always actively working to further his career.
Okema Moore is an actor, singer, writer, director, and producer. Working in entertainment since childhood, she now has her own brand, MOOREthanEnuff, LLC, and is the co-founder of Boxed Out Productions, LLC. Moore previously worked with demaskus in its 2008 New York, N.Y., production of WHO DO YOU LOVE?
Steven Strickland is an actor, director, and host. He attended Wagner College, Staten Island, N.Y., majoring in theater arts, and he is a recipient of the Alumni Theater Scholarship. Strickland has performed in numerous theatrical productions and films. He starred in demaskus’s production of WHO DO YOU LOVE?
Chuck Timbers has been performing for more than 30 years, appearing in more than 40 theatrical plays in Pittsburgh, Pa. He trained with the Sherwood Oakes Experimental College in Hollywood, Calif., and he is an active member of the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Theatrical and Radio Artist. He has appeared in several local commercials, industrial films, training films, and was a featured actor in the film “The Jacksons an American Dream” (1992). Timbers is an affiliate artist with demaskus, previously appearing in the company’s production of WHO DO YOU LOVE?
Dawn Wilson has been acting, dancing, and singing since childhood, and she is currently studying the Meisner Technique at the William Esper Studio in New York, NY. Dawn has played the roles of Nisa and Hadassah in the production WHO DO YOU LOVE?, and she played the “lady in red” during a revival of “for colored girls who contemplated suicide when the rainbow wasn’t enuf.”
 
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