Stevie Walker-Webb is currently directing the Pulitzer-winning play “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder at Baltimore Center Stage. Shortly after that, he will make his Broadway directorial debut in New York City.
“Our Town,” first produced in 1938, is a drama about Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire in the early 1900s and the romance between George Gibbs and Emily Webb. The Center Stage play features more than 20 performers and will conclude Oct. 9.
Walker-Webb, a 35-year-old native of Waco, Texas, who resides in New York City, maintains an apartment in Mount Vernon for use on his frequent returns to Baltimore.
In addition to being a 2050 Fellow at New York Theatre Workshop, which promotes early career artists, he is a recipient of the Princess Grace Award for Theatre for up-and-coming artists. The name “2050 Fellowship” is a reference to the U.S. Census Bureau’s prediction that there will be no racial or ethnic majority in the country by the year 2050.
“I’m gonna keep making art, and I’m gonna keep trying to shift conversations,” he said.
Walker-Webb recently began rehearsals as the director of the upcoming Broadway comedy “Ain’t No Mo” at the Balasco Theatre. Previews will start on Nov. 3.
“The premise of [the show] is that something bad has happened in America. All African Americans have been given the opportunity to escape the violence and the trauma and the pain of America and [to] go back to the country that they were born in or their country of origin,” he said.
Walker-Webb washed cars and sold sandwiches to help fund the establishment of the first fine arts program at his high school. At the age of 16, he wrote and directed “Secret Songs,” a 10-minute musical about some of the songs heard on the Underground Railroad, which was performed at the school.
At the age of 23, he founded Jubilee Theatre, a 215-seat theater still in operation in Waco, before relocating to New York City two years later to attend The New School, where he earned a master’s of fine arts in 2016.
Center Stage, long a champion of politics in its art, kept diversity in mind as it began casting for “Our Town.” For example, the theater opened its 2019-2020 season with “Miss you like Hell, a musical that “tackles the immigration debate head-on,” according to The Sun.
Stephanie Ybarra, artistic director for BCS, and Walker-Webb first met in New York about five years ago through a mutual friend. She said that Walker-Webb sprang to mind for “Our Town” because of his exceptional, artistic vision.
This season’s directors are all Black, something that the theater has been working towards, she said. They are directing comedies, dramas and new and old plays, she added. For example, Lili-Anne Brown is directing “Ain’t No Mo,” written by Jordan E. Cooper. The show will run from Oct. 27-Nov. 20.
In addition, Walker-Webb will return next spring to direct “Life Is a Dream.” The play, originally written in Spanish by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, tells the story of a prince who has spent his whole life imprisoned in a tower due to a prophecy that he will destroy the realm.
“It feels very important to me to make sure that whenever possible — which is always ― that we are creating opportunities and jobs for people of color [and] for artists of color, ‘’ Ybarra said.
Research based on the 2016–2019 year by the union Actor’s Equity Association found that 63.95% of roles went to whites, compared to 10.37% going to Blacks, 5.13% to multiracial people and 3.64% to Hispanics.
The show’s Emily Webb, daughter of Charles Webb, one of the leading characters, is portrayed by Kimberly Dodson, who was born in Baltimore and grew up in Pikesville.
“It’s beautiful to see all the representations that we have,” Dodson said. “I love that we’re either from or have a deep connection to Baltimore.”
In order to accurately portray marginalized cultures, she emphasized the importance of having a wide range of representation, including directors, designers and writers.
“White men are offered the most parts on stage.... We’re still not seeing the representation that we need — not just for Black people — but we hardly ever see Asian representation and [indigenous] people” she said.
Walker-Webb said this adaptation of “Our Town” is diverse in every aspect, including racial and gender identity. Although the majority of the initial cast was white, in recent years there have been multicultural productions, such as the 2017 production at Miami New Drama.
“We were really intentional about how we cast the show, so that everyone — no matter who they are ― can come to that theater and look at the stage and see themselves reflected,” he said.
This article is part of our Newsmaker series, which profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at firstname.lastname@example.org.