Behind the Scenes at the Black Theatre Festival

Here’s what’s new this year.

Milwaukee’s Black Theatre Festival is tripling in size this year. The local showcase of our city’s Black performing arts scene launched in 2020 with a one-week format. Now, the festival has expanded to three weeks, running Aug. 9-27. With the exception of two ticketed, full-production plays, Mud Row and The Meeting, all events at the festival are free.  

“The goal of expanding the festival is to create opportunity,” says Kyndal Johnson, one of the festival directors. “A lot of times with events we put on in this city, we just showcase what we have. But people don’t know how to make it a part of their lives. ‘How do I get a ticket? How do I get on stage?’ We’re trying to balance performance with awareness, teaching, interacting and networking.” 


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To accomplish that, the festival will include many behind-the-scenes opportunities, like open auditions for the annual Black Nativity performance (which takes place in December), master classes, play development workshops and other chances for creatives to connect. The festival kicks off on Aug. 9 with Youth and Family Night, an all-ages exhibition of multiple performing arts groups, which will include food and drinks – Johnson calls it the “carnival of the Black Theatre Festival.” 

“I hope [the festival] brings more awareness to Black arts and theater in Milwaukee,” says Vato Vergara, a festival director. “I want people to be excited for next year and to see the plays that [Black Arts MKE puts on] throughout the year, as well. It’s about bringing awareness, and about bringing theater people together and immersing them in this community.” 

For a full schedule of events, visit


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s August issue.

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Archer is the managing editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Some say he is a great warrior and prophet, a man of boundless sight in a world gone blind, a denizen of truth and goodness, a beacon of hope shining bright in this dark world. Others say he smells like cheese.