Uplifting Black Voices On Screen

Still of Mar Feitelson (front) and Alexandra Gray, two actors in the new “nature of the dream” film.

Writer: Luke Manderfeld

A new film, with the Des Moines Community Playhouse as a lead partner, takes a look at Black identity. The film, “nature of the dream,” directed by Miriam Randolph and produced by her company, Two Steps to the Left, is a work of devised theater, a free-form style that means all members of the team write the script as filming progresses. The film debuts virtually on Feb. 25 and runs through March 7.

With a mix of monologue and narrative, “nature of the dream” will take viewers through the concept of the American Dream and its applications for Black Americans. The story derives from Black actors, all of whom live in Central Iowa, and their personal experiences or feelings. They were prompted by questions like “What do you dream about?” and “What do you fear?”

“With our cast, and even our crew, too many times we’ve been the only Black people in the room,” Randolph says. “We’ve had to maintain our Blackness, but also find ways to be comfortable in that room when we don’t feel represented. [This film shows] what that struggle is like. How do we maintain our identity in predominately white spaces?”

The film also brings the Black Lives Matter conversation to the forefront, something Randolph was passionate about when conceptualizing the idea last fall. In October, she met with Katy Merriman, the Playhouse’s artistic director, who was interested in supporting the project. Filming took place in January at the Playhouse’s Kate Goldman Theatre and locations around Des Moines, including the Des Moines Art Center.

“Those initial conversations were just so exciting,” Merriman says. “For us, and I know for a lot of other theaters, this summer was more of a catalyst. We knew [racial inequalities] were a problem and an issue, but this summer made it much more public. And for us, it didn’t count to just make a post on social media. We wanted to be an example of how to help spread that message.”

The leaders behind the project are thrilled to share perspectives of Black Iowans, many of whom are usually the only minority in any given theater or movie cast. That’s not the case with “nature of the dream,” which was directed, produced and acted by a majority Black team.

“I’m most excited about uplifting Black voices,” says Kierra Lewis, the film’s assistant director. “My family’s initially from Chicago, but we moved to West Des Moines a few years ago. It’s very rare to see Black creatives and Black performers, specifically in Des Moines.”

Ticket prices for “nature of the dream” range from $1 to $100, depending on what you’re most comfortable paying. The money raised will be allocated to Urban Dreams and the artists behind the film. Find more information here.

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