Photo by Ruth Morgan
Founder/Co-Artistic Director, Blackberry Productions (1984- )
“We at Blackberry Productions have committed ourselves to cultivating new works by black writers…”
Stephanie Berry, Harlem-born and raised, vaguely remembers the first play she saw. “I just remembered the name was Blood Knot and its characters were one black man and one white man.” Her brother took her to that play.
That same brother, John Berry, five years older than Stephanie, continued to take her to plays throughout her adolescence. “He may have been doing so at the urging of my mother to help keep me out of trouble. At fourteen all I wanted to do was go to blue light parties and drink wine out of the bottle. My mother, a follower of Marcus Garvey, insisted that I read Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth and attend black studies classes taught by a man named Leroy Baylor. There was no way, no matter how much I resisted the lessons taught by Mr. Baylor, Frantz Fanon and my mother wouldn’t have had an impact on me.”
It was that impact that inspired Stephanie to launch Blackberry Productions Theatre Company in 1984 with her co-artistic director, John-Martin.
Another inspiration was Stephanie’s friendship with noted playwright, Aishah Rahman, who’s now a professor at Brown University. “We were neighbors who used to spend hours talking about theater. We both believed strongly in the importance of black people taking responsibility for representing our own voices in the arts. We at Blackberry Productions have committed ourselves to cultivating new works by black writers that explore new and current struggles in our community.”
During the past 20 years, the company has developed ten new works, some of which have moved on to actual productions. It also conducts arts and education workshops for schools, senior citizen centers and other community groups and operates a youth company headed by Stephanie’s daughter, Keisha Skinner and Regina Baines.
Keeping the company afloat is extremely difficult for Stephanie and John-Martin but they are committed to doing just that. In fact they plan on doubling the development of new works in the next ten years.