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'An opportunity of a lifetime' for African American playwrights

It's called "Onyx-fest"
Posted at 12:23 AM, Feb 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-02 18:02:44-05

INDIANAPOLIS — An annual event that celebrates African American voices has even more reason to celebrate this year.

OnyxFest is an Indianapolis theater festival exclusively for Black playwrights. In addition to providing a platform in 2021, the festival will also provide funding.

The organization is holding a competition to award grants to five playwrights. The money will cover royalties to the writer, stipends for the director and actors, the cost of a venue, set design, wardrobe, and marketing.

OnyxFest director Vernon Williams calls the grants an opportunity of a lifetime.

"One of the biggest obstacles to getting a play produced is finding the money for it," Williams said.

Tijideen Rowley, a frequent OnyxFest participant, agrees.

"Most artists are perfectionists," Rowley said. "But when you don't have that $10, $15,000 to get that moving…it makes it a lot harder. So now you might have to cut a corner, or you might have to prolong it or you may never do it."

Both say the opportunity is especially important for Black artists.

"It is a specific problem for African Americans and Black and brown people to get their stories told," Williams said. "And then you have people who make decisions who decide that that's not the story they want to be involved with and if those are the money people, it can be constraining. So to have something that exists that won't put those kinds of constraints on creativity is really a rare situation."

Rowley believes the grants will help more than just the recipients.

"These type of things is what will change the trajectory of the Black Indy movement, you know in terms of theater," he said. "When you have support, when you have people standing behind you that may have more power, have more influence, have more resources, it means everything."

Even if your work is not chosen, you can still benefit. A panel of theater professionals will read each play and pick five winners. However, every submission will receive a response with feedback. The only entry requirements are that plays are original, one-act, between 45 minutes to an hour, with no more than six characters per cast.

Other than that, Williams says the sky is the limit.

"We want people to use their imagination and their experiences to help paint that kaleidoscope of the Black experience that should be reflected more on stage," Williams said.

From veteran playwrights to novices, all are encouraged to apply.

"Don't let the fact that you haven't done this before or you've only done it on a small scale or you've only written for church plays or for school plays, don't let any of that stop you. Because some of the best talent is yet to be discovered," Williams said.

The application deadline is February 28. Winners will be notified in March. OnyxFest 2021 will be held in October. To apply, go to If you are looking for inspiration, you can watch the OnyxFest 2020 productions at