Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Artist Of The Month..Serena Reeder...

Serena Reeder is a name you may not know. But you will.
"One of the most dynamic actresses I've seen. Ever. At fourteen!" says Restoration Stage Artistic Director, Courtney Baker-Oliver.
The two meet in 1998 when Serena was a first year at the Duke Ellington School, the legendary arts high school in Washington, D.C. "Serena was in my very first class; third period Harlem Renaissance. And she challenged me as a first year teacher-in a good way. She was so bright and so ready and so interested in human beings. It's no suprise to me that she's developed into a great actress."
Since lighting up the screen as rapper, 50 Cent's drug dealing mother in 'Get Rich or Die Trying,' the Julliard grad has been on a roll. A native Washingtonian, Serena was raised by her mother, a visual artist. She graduated from the Juilliard School in May 2005 with a BFA in dramatic arts.
Serena scored the role in 'Get Rich,' directed by Jim Sheridan, (her first as a professional) two months PRIOR to graduation! The biopic placed her alongside Academy Award nominee Terrance Howard. She played Katrina, the fast talking, but loving mother of 50 Cent whose early death pivotally shaped the man that he is today.
After winning rave reviews for her work in the film, she appeared in The Architect, co-starring Anthony Lapalgia and Isabella Rossellini and directed by Matt Tauber. Serena's effortless, but structured portrayal of Cammie became the focal point in the film's dramatic climax. It premiered at Tribeca Film Festival.
A pioneer in the making, Serena Reeder is compelling audiences by choosing roles that are character driven profiles of young women. An actress, dancer, and singer, Miss Reeder has a fabulous energy that exudes grace, confidence and a zest for living. Her dream role is to channel Eartha Kitt, the pioneer entertainer who broke race and sex barriers while shocking and seducing audiences around the world.
So stay tuned. "Serena has been a star, " says Baker-Oliver, "she's just born that way. In the words of Oprah Winfrey, 'her future is so bright it burns my eyes!"

Friday, February 02, 2007


When I was seventeen, silly and singularly UNfocused about the future I could see for me, I met a man called Mike Malone who changed everything.This Prince of a man who was beautiful and creative and possessed by a deep, broad intelligence challenged me as no other person ever had. As the ancestors had called on him, Mike Malone called on me to use the talents and intellect given me for a higher purpose. That purpose was the creation of art that told the stories of Black people. And through him, and the example he set I fell in love with the work that is my life's blood today. And I thank him.

Alvan Duncan "Mike" Malone was more than my mentor. He was my dear friend. He was my father when I was fatherless. He was my teacher when I needed to be taught. I followed in his footsteps to Paris, to the Duke Ellington School and beyond and I am so grateful to have had such an engaging, witty, spiritually connected and smart guide.You see, there weren't many examples for a guy like me. Too refined by breeding to be 'cool,' Mike Malone and his work were the kind of indescribable 'hot' that didn't need to change with the times. His work reached back to the ancestors and brought them all the way through to the 21st century and never apologized for being Black, or special, or different, and absolutely fabulous.

And I wanted to be "Like Mike."

I wanted to be like MIKE!

And in the years I had the pleasure to serve and study him, I never once saw him allow himself to be defined by any else's sense of who he was. He was his own man. Truly a genius in his own time-guided by the drum and the Afro-Carribean rhythms that he so loved. Committed to developing the talent of the performers young and old who looked to him to shape the dreams they didn't even know they had.And he did that. He trained at least four generations with a bar set high. He commanded the attention of the art world through his devotion to historical accuracy and detail and he never let you see him sweat. And I wanted to be "like Mike."

As a mentor, he taught me what it meant to be a Black man in these times. He taught me how to be the only son of an adoring mother when I didn't understand what that responsibility meant. He taught me to teach and how to live in the glaring light of the educator, ("your students don't wish to see you in the night club, Courtney.") He taught me more than a repertoire, though his knowledge was first rate. Mike Malone taught me about the need to cultivate a family of like-minded artists as evidenced by the many movers and shakers in the theatre world and beyond whose work he continued to support. So I don't mind saying I want to be like Mike.

I WANT to be like Mike.

I cannot speak of him in metaphor or symbol.

I just want to be like Mike.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

THE TRUTH (About the Down Low) coming to N.C.

Hello, Family-
I am pleased to announce that Restoration Stage, Inc. will present our production of THE TRUTH (About the Down Low) in Greensboro, North Carolina next month. Supported by the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and presented in conjunction with the Tom Joyner Foundation, we're taking our message from the Capitol City to the buckle of the Bible Belt. We are committed to reaching Black people everywhere by insisting that we dialogue about the 'down low' issue- like family.

I've been saying publicly for some time now that much of what's been written about the 'down low' has been, I think, intentionally provocative. It has sold books and created pandemonium and solicited laughter- often at the same time. But, THE TRUTH moves beyond the sensational sex story and presents the issue of dishonesty in relationships- spurred on by homophobia- in a way that is palatable for all of the shareholders in our Black family. A family play that deals with a controversial topic, THE TRUTH seeks to present all sides of the issue in a way that encourages us to examine our current practice of silence in an effort to stem the tide of broken families and malady that so many face as a consequence of looking the other way.

In THE TRUTH, we meet Olivia Sutton, a forty-five year-old Christian mother of two young adults on the verge of having the 'down low' issue rip their lives apart. Tastefully treated by the amazing playwright, Steven A. Butler, THE TRUTH engages us in characters that we all know from our collective family trees.

Maybe I shouldn't be shocked (but have been) by much of the feedback we've received from the telling of Steven's powerful story. Some folks don't believe we should be talking about the 'down low' at all while others believe the piece to be a watershed moment in the culture. I think it's a realistic portrait of what can happen when one lacks the support of family and the self-confidence to make personal choices that build, not destroy relationships. When I read Steven's early draft of the play two years ago I thought, "Finally! A dialogue on the 'down low' that's not about screaming a point of view, but offering a simple slice of life for the Everyman and allowing one to reach his or her own conclusions with the knowledge that this could absolutely occur in their own family."

That our little play has engaged the support of many of the great leaders of our time on both sides of the issue has overwhelmed the entire Restoration Stage team. Comprised of people of faith (as Black people usually are) THE TRUTH has tested all of us and forced us to ask questions of ourselves and each other that we wouldn't have otherwise addressed. Our actors have made tremendous sacrifices to do the piece, folks that we respect came to see what the fuss was about, and friends old and new pitched in- like family. Perhaps it's because THE TRUTH didn't begin with an agenda of any kind. It started as a true story that absolutely appalled Steven to the point that he ranted about it to no end. He refused to accept that I wasn't outraged by what he was telling me, asserting that I, like many, was entirely too jaded. And he was right.

I'm glad that everyday people are talking about the 'down low' issue. I'm glad that God's people are talking about it. I'm glad that gay and lesbian people are talking about it. People are actually talking about the issue in terms of how they would handle the situation personally.

It has not always been an easy road to travel. We hear the cries of those who wish to see homophobia eradicated. We seek the truth of God's will for all of our lives. We've heard about the panic of Black women who are running scared from the rise of HIV infections among the population and the cries of foul from those who don't wish to see gay, Black men vilified for their presumed role in the epidemic. HIV is an issue that must be addressed until we find a cure, yes, but THE TRUTH isn't about HIV. It really is about honesty- honesty in relationships and honest with ourselves.

So we present the Sutton family. We present THE TRUTH. We are pleased to be joined by Monte Wolfe, Tim'm West and the Brave Soul Collective, a Washington-based organization that seeks to bridge the gap between HIV infected and affected people. We are delighted to partner with the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and to be a part of the Tom Joyner Foundation's efforts to create awareness about HIV/AIDS on college campuses. Join us in Greensboro in November. Tickets will be available on October 16 at and by calling 1-800-494-TIXS.

Rethink. Reconnect. Restore!

Courtney Baker-Oliver, Founding Artistic Director Restoration Stage, Inc. "Restoring the Black Family, One Story at a Time!"