WMU News

Noted playwright, director visits Kalamazoo

Nov. 7, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- An award-winning playwright and director is coming to town this month for a reading of her work and to share her expertise and views with students and the public.

Yvette Heyliger, who is coming to Kalamazoo through the Western Michigan University Visiting Scholars and Artists Program, is best known in theatre circles for her thought-provoking play "Autobiography of a Homegirl," which earned her a best playwright nomination in the 1996 NAACP Theatre Awards for its staging in Los Angeles. The production, which also marked Heyliger's directorial debut, was produced by TWINBIZ and partially funded by Bill Cosby.

A dramatic reading of sections of the play begins at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20, in Kalamazoo College's Balch Playhouse. A discussion and question-and-answer session follows the staged reading.

The presentation is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and tickets must be obtained beforehand by calling the college's box office at (269) 337-7333.

"Autobiography of a Homegirl" was most recently presented as a main stage production at the 2001 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., and has been showcased in many New York theatres, including Henry Street Settlement, Black Spectrum Theatre, Theatre of the Riverside Church and the Rodger Furman Theatre with the help of a grant from the Manhattan Community Arts Fund.

The play is set the evening of the Miss America pageant in 1983 when Vanessa Williams became the first black Miss America.

"It's a very, very interesting play," says Dr. Von Washington, director of multicultural theatre at WMU and coordinator of Heyliger's visit. "One thing it discusses is how we evaluate beauty in this country and particularly where our vision of black women fits into it. Are we requiring black beauty to be decided by European features or is it prescribed by African features?

"The play also grapples with such issues as interracial marriage and paternal responsibility for child rearing.

"It's just chock full of goodies," Washington says

The play represents the culmination of several years of work that dates back to Heyliger earning a master of arts degree from New York University, where the play began as a performance project for her master's thesis. It also spawned a book by the same title.

Now also emerging as a director, Heyliger was selected to participate in the first Lincoln Center Theatre Director's Lab in New York. Formerly an actress on "The Cosby Show," Heyliger co-founded TWINBIZ with her sister and partner, Yvonne Farrow, to write and produce original projects for stage, television and film primarily about women in America. Other plays she has written include "Father's Day," which was presented at the Frank Silvera Writers Workshop in New York through a grant from the New York State Council of the Arts Individual Artist Program. Her newest play, "Hillary and Monica," which kicked off the 2001 National Black Theatre Festival's Reader's Theatre Series, was first presented in the 2001 Women of Color Festival.

Heyliger lives in Harlem, New York, with her husband and two daughters and is currently researching a new play.

Her visit is through African American Arts and Letters and is sponsored by the Western Michigan University Visiting Scholars and Artists Program, the WMU Multicultural Theatre program, the Black Arts and Cultural Center, the Kalamazoo College Theatre Program, the WMU African Studies Program, the WMU Division of Multicultural Affairs and the WMU Women Studies Program.

The Visiting Scholars and Artists Program at WMU was established in 1960 and has supported more than 500 visits by scholars and artist representing some 65 academic disciplines. The chairperson of the committee that oversees the program is Dr. Carol Bennett, instructor in the Department of Business Information Systems.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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