In March 2020, before the pandemic shut down arts organizations all over the nation, Idris Goodwin was named the executive director of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. But just two years later, Goodwin — a playwright and arts leader — resigned from his post. Now he’s reflecting on his career and what it means to be a Black creator in America.
This weekend marks the closing weekend of the Vintage Theatre production of his play, "Blackademics." For Goodwin, the Aurora production was intensely personal. The play is billed as a sharp, surreal satire about who gets a place at the table, and Goodwin said it’s as relevant now as it was when he first wrote it.
“'Blackademics' is one of my favorite plays that I've written,” he said. “It's only become, I think, more resonant since I wrote it over 10 years ago. I think it's right on time actually.”
The play is a dark comedy about two college professors navigating success and racism as Black women.They argue and fight for a seat at the table. The material is a new kind of challenge for the small Aurora theater company.
“I'm very grateful here, because I know for them it's probably scary, it's probably a risk for them, they're not sure,” Goodwin said. “And I've even heard the good people at Vintage sort of say, ‘You know, it's something a little different for us.’ You know what I'm saying? And I get it.”
Goodwin said he’s even had artistic directors question how their audiences will respond to his challenging and poignant material.
But for Betty Hart, the director of the production at The Vintage Theater, "Blackademics" spoke to a major struggle facing Black people in America — the difficulty they have getting tenure in higher education institutions.
“I fell in love with 'Blackademics' immediately,” Hart said. “It's really profound. In fact, last night a patron said, ‘When was this written? It feels like it could have been written yesterday.’ It’sso in the moment, it's a little frightening how prescient this play is.”
Goodwin has worked in Colorado in a variety of capacities for more than a decade. He has taught at Colorado College, and in March 2020, he began as the executive director of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. He resigned from that position in May of this year. While he didn't want to discuss the specifics surrounding his resignation, he did provide some insight into the move.
"It's unprecedented times, and so much has changed in two years,” Goodwin said. “And sometimes things just don't work out. You know what I mean? Sometimes it's just not a good fit.
In a statement it released after Goodwin resigned, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center said in part that the Center made great strides during Goodwin’s 27-month tenure.
“I know we are all very appreciative of Idris’ contributions to Colorado College and Colorado Springs and wish him much continued success,” it read.
His own situation aside, Goodwin said there are far bigger questions that society needs to address when it comes to equality … particularly in the arts.
“Our field is suffering. Theater, performing arts, colleges, education, all of it is suffering,” he said. “So we need to spend our energy telling exciting new stories, thinking, dreaming up, and rebuilding.”
For Goodwin, this is a crucial moment about our culture, our character, and finding a place at the table for everyone.
“Look at that old painting of all those dudes signing the Declaration of Independence. Who's not in that room? So many people are not in that room, right?” he said. “There's no native Americans, there's no young people, there's no women, there's no people of color. We're still there. That's who this place was designed for, and we're still there. And it extends in every facet of society you can imagine.”
Goodwin said his job as a storyteller, an educator and a human is to reveal Black stories .
“Not because it's [that] I don't like some other people, it's just that there's just so much people don't know about my folks, where I come from, my ancestors,” he said. “It's not just LeBron James and Kendrick Lamar, and the famous exceptional celebrities, right? Like it's about the names you've never heard of. It's about the Elijah McClains, and that's all I'm interested in.”
Betty Hart says Coloradans are hungry to experience great art, no matter where it comes from.
“I find that people discover that they can be moved by people who don't look like them and don't have their lived experiences. And it's surprising to them, which is interesting to me because art throughout time has always been able to reach a cross section of individuals regardless of the expression of the artist,” Hart said.
Goodwin plans to keep creating, keep moving, keep doing. Sharing the Black experience is at the center of those plans.
“Black Lives Matter, that's what I have to say, period, in everything I do. You know what I'm saying? That's a political phrase, but that's also philosophy. That's a religion, that's everything, that's a call to action,” Goodwin said. “And everyone should have their fill-in-the-blank Lives Matter, right? You know what I'm saying? We are under attack.”
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