Black Literature and Art Queens Network Spotlights Black Women Stage Performers

The org headed by actress Ashley Lyle aims to acknowledge what black women do onstage and in the community, and to increase opportunity.

Ashley Lyle

Black Hollywood has, for years and especially recently, taken care to invite attention to the industry’s lack of diversity. It’s a two-pronged problem, highlighted in the scarcity of roles written specifically for black people and in directors’ unwillingness to cast black actors in roles that are not necessarily race-distinct. It’s not just Tinseltown that feels this apparent slight. It hits close to home for local actress Ashley Lyle, and it’s why she formed the Black Literature and Art Queens Network this past December. 

“I thought it was a call to action,” she says. With the exception of a few theaters like Detroit Repertory Theatre and Matrix Theatre Company, both in Detroit, she says she doesn’t see the diversity she’d like within the stage community.  BLAQN is meant to spotlight black women stage performers of all types and the work they do on- and offstage, and to encourage Michigan theaters to improve inclusivity.

“Especially if it’s an area that’s predominately white, I would love to see other theaters make that extra stretch to try to find people of color to be a part of their production,” Lyle says. “And it’s not like it’s unavailable to them, because there’s an actual theater roster for people of color, and it’s called the Black and Brown Theatre.”

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Formed in 2016, Black and Brown Theatre gives artists of color a platform to showcase themselves and connects Michigan’s theater companies to professional actors and actresses through a database. Granted, even when companies do place a call for black actors, they don’t always get an answer. Recently, Lyle had to brainstorm with a friend about how to rework a play that featured a black woman character when none showed up to audition.

Part of BLAQN’s mission will be to immerse young people, particular black girls, in the performing arts through after-school programs and the like. They also want to remind of the more easily ignored stage arts like poetry, burlesque, storytelling, comedy and drag, all while maintaining the principles of inclusivity and diversity. On BLAQN’s website and literature, “women” is spelled “womxn,” a smooth nod to the fact that by “women” they mean all women, including our transgender sisters and those that are nonbinary. It’s inspired by “Latinx,” the gender-neutral alternative to “Latino” or “Latina.” Lyle says, “I want this to be able to include all women.”

They’re planning for an inaugural award show and talent showcase on May 20 at Planet Ant Theatre in Hamtramck. They’ll acknowledge six women in the community who are dedicated to their crafts and also to the community, with performances throughout. In Michigan, Lyle says, “Not only are we diverse in people but we’re diverse in talent, and with the diversity in talent it calls for a diversity of people to also be involved in it. So, it shouldn’t be just one group of people.”

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