No Dream Deferred Is Creating Theater Opportunities for People of Color

Source: Britt Smith Photography

No Dream Deferred, a community-anchored theater production company, founded by Lauren Turner, brings the work of marginalized playwrights to a New Orleans audience. The company serves as an artistic home for theater-makers of color and provides a space where creators of color can authentically tell their stories.

A North Carolina native, Turner attended graduate school at the University of Southern Mississippi before she was hired to teach in the theater department at Dillard University. Following her time at Dillard, she began working at Southern Rep Theatre, a year-round theater that presented modern works. Turner was the first Black person to work in leadership in that company in its thirty-year history.

Source: No Dream Deferred.

“I began to understand the disparities and inequities that were plaguing the theater community and the theater landscape not just in New Orleans, but in America,” Turner said.

Turner founded No Dream Deferred with Keah Moffett, Yolanda Williams, and India Mack in 2016. The company aims to create a community-anchored theatre that prioritizes a New Orleans audience. In addition, the company wants to produce art in an equitable way and allow people of color to reclaim their power and have agency over their art.

“We wanted to create a company that could serve as a vehicle for artists to do the things they wanted to do when they wanted to do it,” she said. “We strongly believe in community as a partner with projects that are rooted in a shared vision for New Orleans.”

No Dream Deferred’s first season launched in 2019 with the play In the Red and Brown Water by Tarell Alvin McCraney. The show sold out and won a Big Easy Award for Best Play that year. However, the rest of the season was canceled due to the pandemic.

In response to the pandemic, No Dream Deferred launched Dream Even Now, a fund that assisted theatre artists, especially BIPOC artists. Dream Even Now issued grants to artists Courtney Lewis, Big Queen Rukiya, and Soraya Jean-Louis.

Source: No Dream Deferred.

Recently, No Dream Deferred has found its home at The André Cailloux Center for Performing Arts and Cultural Justice, 2541 Bayou Rd., in the space that was the former home of the Southern Rep Theater. 

This year, No Dream Deferred was awarded a $500,000 grant by the Mellon Foundation, allowing the company to launch the We Will Dream: New Works Festival at their new space on Bayou Road. The bi-annual festival will premiere three plays written by Black playwrights originating or working in the American South. The plays will run from March through June 2023 and will be free to the New Orleans public. The festival will also feature other smaller festivals and community performances by local artists.

“We’re really excited to be on Bayou Road and we’re looking forward to the festival serving as an incubator for the entire Bayou Road corridor,” Turner said. “We’re looking forward to ways that we can serve as an asset to a corridor that’s already thriving.”

The company also launched Still Here, an audio project that collected stories from New Orleanians about their experiences during the pandemic. Over forty stories will focus on grief, loss, love, resilience, and joy.

Turner explained, “For us, it was an opportunity to hear from each other, knowing how social New Orleans is. There’s a special thing that was lost when we weren’t able to be outside. Being able to sit down and hear from one another is important.”

The project will premiere in January at The André Cailloux Center. 

Source: No Dream Deferred.

The most important thing to Turner is that artists of color have space where they can share their work with their community and have an outlet for their creativity. She hopes that No Dream Deferred and the We Will Dream festival will provide that space for those who need it.

“Part of the reason we call the festival We Will Dream is because we’re creating dream space for Black artists and writers,” she said. “We understand that in that imaginative space not only artistic solutions come to light, but civic, tech, and climate solutions as well. Often, we’re not given that space. We have to carve out that space, advocate for it, fight for it, and encourage BIPOC artists and community members to claim it as their own.”

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