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Arts and Entertainment

'New U' playwright fires off a spark of genius
By Adrienne Washington, Washington Times
Feb 24, 2006, 11:02

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By Adrienne Washington
Published February 24, 2006

Kymone Freeman, activist and artist seen around the "New U" corridor in Northwest, has "gone postal," but with poetry.
When the U.S. Postal Service supervisor who fired him three years ago retired recently, Mr. Freeman shocked his former co-workers by attending her retirement party.
"When I walked in the room, they all stopped and held their mouths open, but I handed her a bouquet of roses, hugged her and thanked her for all she had done for me," he said.
Losing his nine-year job as a retail postal clerk in North Arlington -- after a customer complained about his anti-war statements -- "was the best thing that happened to me professionally," says the talkative Mr. Freeman, 35, now a playwright.
Tomorrow night, he will stage his first award-winning play, "Poetry Prison," at the Lincoln Theatre at 12th and U streets Northwest.
"Agit-prop," as Mr. Freeman calls his work's genre, uses "theater as a soapbox." "[Critics] use the label to dismiss you, but [the work] is about dreams."
What makes this production unique is that U Street businesses, civic activists and the arts community have rallied around this talented young man to make the show a success.
"I believe it's our responsibility when we find young, creative people to make their projects our project," said veteran community activist Lawrence Guyot. "I don't think of this as his play; I look at this as our play."
"If [playwright] Tyler Perry can do this in a dress, we ought to be able to [create successful theater] with our pants on," Mr. Freeman said, comparing his work about three black men who share a prison cell for one night to Mr. Perry's cross-dressing "Medea" parodies. (Mr. Freeman's play won the 2005 Larry Neal Award, named for the late famed D.C. playwright.)
"I'm part of the avante-garde arts community in D.C. that you wouldn't know about unless you come out of your house; but we're here," said Mr. Freeman, who was featured in "Beat of a Different Drum: The Untold Stories of African-Americans Forging Their Own Paths in Work and Life," by Dax-Devlon Ross.
Many of the talented young black artists of a re-emerging political hip-hop movement meet for what they call "Pookie's Gallery" on Tuesday nights at Mirrors nightclub at New York Avenue and North Capitol Street Northeast to hear spoken words and live bands and watch artists at work.
Mr. Freeman, however, is best known as the founder and organizer of the annual "Blackluvfest" held in Malcolm X Park the third Sunday in September.
"I'm about all people," he says, noting that many of his mentors have been white.
On Wednesday, Mr. Guyot and other community members, including the Council for African-American Affairs, ROOTS Inc., and Teaching for Change, staged a "Freedom Day" to generate support and ticket sales for the 8 p.m. show this Saturday only.
Andy Shallal, owner of the trendy Busboys and Poets Books cafe, donated a generous gift and allowed Mr. Freeman to hold a reading of the play to a packed audience in December. The event helped seed the $2,300 the writer needed to rent the Lincoln Theatre.
"This is the kind of communal organizing around a mutual interest that there should be more of," Mr. Guyot said.
Like the play, the community support is truly a multigenerational effort.
On Wednesday evening, veteran activists, actors and staging artists worked to fine tune the production during a rehearsal in the concrete-walled community room inside the Reeves Center that resembled the play's prison-cell setting.
Stretched out on the floor writing and waiting to recite her poem, "I Ain't Ascared of Nutin," was 10-year-old Kyndall Brown.
Mr. Freeman heard Kyndall recite her work at a performance of the Girls and Boys with Hearts poetry project and immediately enlisted her and her younger sister, Monique, for a flashback scene in the three-character, three-generation play.
Director Clayton LeBouef said he has been involved in "new play development" for a decade, assisting novices bring their work to the stage.
The D.C.-based Mr. LeBouef is familiar to fans of "Homicide," "The Wire" and "Something the Lord Made," but he also is an accomplished director, producer and playwright, including "Tide-Apart" about South Africa.
Mr. LeBouef said the "people-to-people theater" project was unique and exciting because it brings people together who didn't know one another. He likened young artists such as Mr. Freeman to the '60s black-artists movement and the Harlem Renaissance.
Mr. Guyot agreed, saying the Free Southern Theater of the '60s era should be recaptured at the Lincoln Theatre with young talent such as Mr. Freeman's.
The long and lanky Mr. Freeman has a day job as a tutor in an after-school program at the Anthony Bowen YWCA. He teaches chess because "it teaches them to think before they act," he said.
Portions of "Poetry Prison" illustrate the personal impact of a life-altering journey to Nairobi, Kenya, to attend a leadership conference sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee.
"I was on fire when I came back from Africa," he said.
He still is.

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