An Extraordinary Q&A With Shaun Neblett, the Founder of a Theater Focused on Changing Perceptions

  Shaun Neblett, Founder and Executive Director of Changing Perceptions Theater

Shaun Neblett, Founder and Executive Director of Changing Perceptions Theater

Shaun Neblett produced Off-Broadway, as a playwright, at 18 years old with the Public Theater in New York. Since then, he’s continued to produce more with Off-Broadway, internationally, and at regional theater venues. He’s currently completing, 7 Homages for 7 MC’s, a series of original plays deriving from the spirit of seven classic hip-hop albums. Shaun has drawn the attention of African American scholar Dr. Michael Eric Dyson who’s referenced his work as something “that evokes a sense of history and a sense of intimacy with people who nurture you, surround you, and are a mystery to you.”

Our Q&A with Shaun is in relation to his theater, Changing Perceptions, which does exactly what the name implies. This artistic outlet provides performing arts training within urban communities, while producing quality theater. Here’s a bit of what he’s had to say about what he’s continuing to build in the theater world.

1.   What inspired you to build Changing Perceptions Theater?
I wanted to create theater that people like me and those I’m cool with could see themselves in. I was tired of going to see plays and walking out of the theater like, “I don’t know Black people that would make choices like that.” I wanted to see plays with characters who have a strong sense of self and like themselves and that’s what inspired me to create Changing Perceptions Theater. We bring fresh Black actors, writers, and directors together to create and produce plays that are more relative and reflective to who we personally are.

2. This will be the 2nd Annual Production of Happy Birthday Malcolm & Lorraine. What was behind the decision to choose these two Black influencers to honor?
The essence of who Malcolm and Lorraine were, is what Changing Perceptions strives to be. When Malcolm spoke of gaining our human rights, he said we should get them, “by any means necessary.” To us, making theater is us doing what’s necessary. Lorraine Hansberry had a tremendous amount of respect for herself as a Black artist. She said being young, gifted, and black was the most dynamic combination a person can be. Both Malcolm and Lorraine charged Changing Perceptions with our purpose and mission.
 

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3. Tell us a little about the plays chosen to be highlighted in the production.
We have six playwrights (Amy Evans, Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm, myself, Intikana, Nina Angela Mercer, and Sheyenne Javonne Brown) and they all have different styles. It’s crazy. The theory with Changing Perceptions is to be like the Self Destruction album.” You bring all these fresh artists together and make an album or in our case, a night of theater. Everybody has their own voice and it’s something worth seeing. The writers interpreted Malcolm and Lorraine’s speeches into scenarios ranging from creating a new planet to rebelling in music class.

4. What else does the Changing Perceptions Theater do that involves the community?
Our mission is in our title. We visit schools and inspire students to change perceptions of themselves by way of creating original plays and performing them for their families, peers, and teachers. 

5. How do you see your theater expanding within the next 5 years?
More productions and getting our adult acting school off the ground. We’re starting acting workshops for those who are 20-year-olds and older. It’s open to everyone, from people with no experience to those who’ve been at it for a while. Our goal is to create an environment where people of color can be themselves and discuss building characters with each other.

6. How can people support what you're building and keep abreast of any future productions coming from the theater?
They can follow us on Instagram and anyone can join the mailing list on our website.

Changing Perceptions Theater will have its second annual Happy Birthday Malcolm and Lorraine! production of six original short plays on May 19, 2018 at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City. To learn more about the production, watch the video of Shaun Neblett and Amy Evans giving more insight on the Malcolm and Lorraine inspired plays. To buy tickets, click here.

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS/PITCHES:

The month of May covers Lupus Awareness. Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that's rarely easy to diagnose, extremely challenging to treat and live with, and currently has no cure. We are encouraging people to gain a better understanding of this illness so we're accepting submissions/pitches from people who have it, and those who have family members/friends who've had it or currently living with it. True understanding opens the door for compassion and empathy and with any chronic illness, this is always necessary. This is what we hope to achieve with your stories.

May is also Mental Health Month. We already devote every Monday to mental health so of course we're going to acknowledge and highlight post for this throughout the month.  As a country, we focus a lot on our physical appearance, leaving our mental health to fend for itself. However, there are some people who take it very seriously and maintain their mental health on a daily. We're interested in hearing what your support groups and selfcare look like, what your battles involve, and how we can all be more empathetic towards those living with mental illness. 

Please send all pitches/submissions to submissions@theextraordinarynegroes.com by May 23, 2018.

We look forward to hearing from you!