Black History Month Editor's Choice

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Founded in 1979, The Black Experimental Theatre (BET), also known as The Riant Theatre, grew out of Van Dirk Fisher’s dream to provide opportunities for people of color to have a platform to showcase their work.

Riant means laughter and merriment in French.  Certainly the most appropriate way to describe Van Dirk Fisher’s brainchild, The Riant Theatre, where Mr. Fisher has created a world of merriment and joy for all lovers of the theatre arts.  Mr. Van Dirk Fisher’s love for all people has landed him on an infinite quest to bring together diverse cultures by way of the performing arts.

Van Dirk Fisher spent his childhood years in Crown Heights in the 1970s, at which time, Crown Heights was an eclectic community populated primarily by African American, Asians, Jews and Latinos.  But when he got to college, he always felt like a minority.  “Back then, most of the images of African Americans were negative,� reminisced Mr. Fisher.   As a result, Van Dirk Fisher created a performing arts program that welcomed talented artists from all nationalities, enabling them to have a platform to showcase their work. 

Mr. Fisher’s work has since mushroomed into a bouquet of opportunities for thespians, celebrities and all lovers of the arts.

Founded in 1979, The Black Experimental Theatre (BET), also known as The Riant Theatre, grew out of Van Dirk Fisher’s dream to provide opportunities for people of color to have a platform to showcase their work.

The BET has developed into an eclectic community that includes all nationalities including African American, Asians, Hispanics, Caucasian, etc.  The roles in each play are interchangeable enabling any nationality to play the parts. 

Every year, The Riant produces a series called The Strawberry One-Act Festival, the brainchild of Artistic Director Van Dirk Fisher which, has been dubbed by the Daily news, the American Idol for Playwrights.  It is a play competition in which the audience and the theatre's judges cast their votes to select the best play, best director, best actor, best actress and best set design of the season.  This winter, the festival will be videotaped and broadcast on their website, where viewers will also have the opportunity to cast their votes. The Strawberry One-Act Festival puts on showcases for the Riant to discover exceptional artists and provide them with a platform to blossom in their craft. Twice a year, hundreds of plays from across the country are submitted for the competition, of which 40 are chosen to compete. People who  range from beginners to seasoned playwrights, to screenplay and television writers usually come to the festival to display their work, and there is always a chance that the plays might receive a full-scale production at the Riant or abroad. See below for all the details on this year's Strawberry One-Act Festival which is starting February 15th.

The Riant Theatre reaches out to the entire community with some amazing and vibrant programs.  There’s something for everyone -- from youths to senior citizens, from aspiring stars to stagehands to office workers – there are so many opportunities to become a part of this exciting program.

The Riant has an Outreach Program that visits the shut-ins and people in hospitals, nursing homes and detention centers.  Their Internship Program has a place for at-risk teens and people who are struggling with social issues such as substance abuse.

They have an ongoing Playreading Series where new plays are read at various quaint locations around New York City, followed by a discussion between the playwright and the audience. “It’s all about giving the artists exposure and giving everybody a chance to socialize and at the same time,� explains Mr. Fisher. 

One of the things I find exceptionally wonderful is the way the Riant embraces our seniors and appreciates that they have so much to offer from wisdom, skill to straight out talent in the theatre.

For providing a platform of love for all people and being a great humanitarian, Van Dirk Fisher, Founder of The Riant Theatre, is this issue’s Black History Month 2007 Editor’s Choice.


The Riant Theatre Company is pleased to announce the return of THE STRAWBERRY ONE-ACT FESTIVAL, which is celebrating its 12th season. The festival will begin on Thursday, February 15 and will take place at The American Theatre of Actors, 314 West 54th Street, in the Chemuchin Theatre, between 8th and 9th Avenues. The Awards Ceremony and Performance will be on Friday, March 2nd at 8pm at The Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre at Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street. 

The Strawberry One-Act Festival, the brainchild of Artistic Director Van Dirk Fisher, is a play competition in which the audience and the theatre's judges cast their votes to select the best play, best director, best actor, best actress and best set design of the season.  In addition, this winter the festival will be videotaped and broadcast on their website, where viewers will also have the opportunity to cast their votes.  The price to view the Strawberry One-Act Festival online is $25 per series.

Twice a year, hundreds of plays from across the country are submitted for the competition, of which 40 are chosen to compete. Plays move from the 1st round to the semi-finals and then the finals.  On March 2nd the festival will culminate with the Awards Ceremony and Performance at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre at Symphony Space.  The playwright of the winning play receives a $100 cash prize and a development deal to have a full-length play developed by the Riant Theatre.  In addition, several plays will be chosen to be published in The Riant Theatre Company’s next anthology:  The Best Plays From The Strawberry One-Act Festival:  Volume Four.  Volumes One, Two and Three are available online at,, the Riant’s online store at and at the Drama Book Shop.

The Riant believes that by furthering the understanding between the races, people can all advance and learn to live in harmony. The company celebrates their diversity and takes joy in sharing their cultural differences and similarities. The company acknowledges that theatre is an important tool that has been used for centuries to help people see themselves in a new light and achieve a new perception of themselves and the world in which they live. The Riant (which means merriment and laughter in French) has grown to become a place where artists (singers, writers, actors, directors, musicians, & visual artists) can come together to collaborate on new works and share ideas.

THE STRAWBERRY ONE-ACT FESTIVAL will run from February 15 through February 25 (Monday through Friday at 7:30pm & 9:30pm; Sat & Sun at 1pm, 3pm, 5pm, 7pm & 9pm) at The American Theatre of Actors, 314 West 54th Street, in the Chernuchin Theatre,  2nd Fl, NYC, between 8th & 9th Avenues. THE STRAWBERRY ONE-ACT FESTIVAL Awards Ceremony and Performance Winter 2007 will be held at The Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre at Symphony Space at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street on Friday, March 2 at 8pm.

For reservations, call 646-623-3488 or visit  Tickets are $20.00 for each series,
 $25.00 for the finals (Price includes reception) and $35 for the awards show.

A complete schedule of all performances and events follows.

Schedule For Festival Performances

Series A
Thursday, February 15th at 7:30 pm
TIMING by Rudolph Cecera & Directed by Bernard Etienne
Featuring:  Rudy Cecera, Denise Collins, Laura D'Amico & Jiffy Reed
A man goes to see a psychiatrist to get advice on how to handle a relationship.

CAPTAIN NIGHTMARE by Michael J. Quinones & Directed by Marc Santa Maria
Featuring:  Curran Connor, Rainbow Dickerson & Vincent Madero
An up and coming visual artist learns an important lesson about putting ambition above friendship.

THE LAST MINSTREL SHOW by Isaac Shapiro & Directed by Lanigiro
A satirical send up of the music industry in which an up and coming rapper gets the offer of a lifetime. But will the ghosts of his past conflict with the potential prosperity of his future?

YES, DEER Written & Directed by Loretta Napolitano
Featuring:  Matt Mickelson & Meredith Napolitano
A woman suffers from Post Traumatic Deer Disorder after she hits a deer on her way home from the Y.  What’s a husband to do?

Series B
Thursday, February 15th at 9:30 pm
Written & Directed by Jonathan Galvez
Featuring:  Kenneth Kasch, Alan Pagano, Alison Walminski & Katie Weigl
A delightful “How To� guide with a few great lessons for everyone.

SPINMEISTERS Written & Directed by Tanya Klein
Featuring:  Dolan Byrnes, Natasha Graf, Mateo Moreno & Laurie Ann Orr
A political farce in which the White House speech writing team battles desperately to make a hopeless situation sound good.

THE FILE ON J. EDGAR HOOVER by Steve Gold & Directed by Mark Stone
Featuring:  Mark Stone
A confrontation between JFK and Hoover in the Oval Office in June of 1962.

Series C
Friday, February 16th at 7:30 pm

THE CELLAR Written & Directed by Melissa Gawlowski
Featuring:  Brian Greer, Dianna Marino & Joshua Seidner
Two teens’ plan to have a little creepy fun in an abandoned house takes a turn for the worse.

HERE AND THERE by Irwin Nayman & Directed by Christopher Thomasson
Featuring:  Jason Fogerty & Roger Militec
When a man ask his boyfriend to move in with him he learns some unexpected things about his boyfriend and their relationship.

1190 UNDERDOG ..A Historical Story by Mary E. Goulet & Directed by Jesse L. Kearney
Featuring:  Phil E. Eichinger, David Heron & Hirotaka Otsuka
Beginning in 1190 A.D., a talking Tree is alternately visited by the then rivals Jamuka and Temujin, who as boys on the Mongolian steppe had pledged brotherhood.

Series D
Friday, February 16th at 9:30 pm
BALLOONS AND THICKETS by Jimmy Nolan & Directed by Lyssa Mandel
Featuring:  Kelly Dwyer, Pam Jones, Lee Markham, Joe Sousa
A story of loss and love steeped in historical inaccuracies and set in the woods.

MANAGER OF THE MONTH by Keri Taylor & Directed by Cody Potter
Featuring:  Mia Anderson, Rebecca Anderson, Tania Diaz Flores, Amanda Ochoa, Keri Taylor, Mariya Tsakalo, Adam Weir
At a dinner to honor an outstanding worker something’s brewing that’s bound to stir things up.  Something’s rotten, and I don’t mean Denmark.

THE PATTERN by Brian Harris & Directed by Michael Burdick
A surprise visit to a psychologist’s office by a confused couple reveals repressed desires as an unusual relationship develops.

A GREAT PAIR OF SHOES written & directed by Laurie Newkirk
A delightful comedy unfolds as three generations of women discuss the world of dating.

Series E
Saturday, February 17th at 1:00 pm
M5 by Liza Lentini & Directed by Tony Raymond
Featuring:  Rick Plaugher & Christine Seisler
Two strangers with a penchant for wild stories, spontaneous sex, and small handguns meet at an urban bus stop.

THE ROBOT PLAY Written & Directed by Jason Cutler
Featuring:  Sherri Quaid & Nathan Riley
Are the sex lives of Robots any different than the sex lives between human beings?

THE HIRED HAND Written & Directed by Paul Trupia
Featuring:  Maureen Chandler, Matt Fitzgerald & Sheilah Spagnoli
A woman orders a hired man to help around the house and gets more than she bargained for.

Series F
Saturday, February 17th at 3:00 pm
WELCOME TO NORWAY Written & Directed by Robin Anne Joseph
Featuring:  Laura Maggie Kramer & Steve Plaushin
A woman discovers a powerful lesson about life’s destinations and how to accept it.

GETTING IN Written & Directed by Mara Lesemann
Featuring:  Jordan Auslander, Lauren Cozza, Alice Elliott & Lou Nargi
St. Peter searches for someone to cover his post at the pearly gates so he can take a vacation.

CAWFFEE TAWK Written & Directed by Jenifer Badamo
Featuring:  Cathy Marie Chimenti, Renee Delio, Maria McConville & Samantha Sheehan
A woman is blackmailed and must make a decision that will change her life forever!

EVERYTHING by Geraldo Pena
For every action there is a reaction, from Landlord vs. Tenant to Rich Countries vs. Third World Countries.  And the beat goes on.

Series G
Saturday, February 17th at 5:00 pm
SAME MISTAKE TWICE Written & Directed by Jesse Schmitt
Featuring:  Jane Bacon, David Holt & Katharine Poklemba
A chance meeting between a guy and a girl holds a mirror to their lives and the truth within.

THE SITUATION LOON Written & Directed by Patrick W. Hughey
Featuring:  John Concillo, Claire Hughey, Patrick Hughey, Emma Morrison-Cohen & Bob Watkins
A political docu-farce about the third term of President George Bush.

FILIBUSTERO! Written, Directed & Performed by Andrew Harriss
United States Senators debate the merits of Federal Judicial nominees and the validity of filibusters.

DOG PAPERS Written by Alexis Kozak
A young female college professor tries to end a relationship with her student.

Series H
Saturday, February 17th at 7:00 pm
SAINTS IN STRANGE PLACES Written & Directed by David Holstein
Featuring:  David Holstein, Michael Kohn, Leah Rachel & Black Silver
Two people meet under bizarre circumstances and do whatever it takes to overcome their status as underdogs.

THE RED PAINT BALL Written & Directed by Alyssa and Laura Waldron
Featuring:  Carrie DiGeronimo, Vincent DiGeronimo, Laura Kelly, Will Lenihan, Alyssa Schroeder, Will Szigethy
Childish pranks leads to hanky panky as obedience is measured in steady strokes.

AIRPORT by Christopher Loar & Directed by Sam Williams
Featuring:  Daniel Ball, Ricke Benson, Uys Du Buisson, Melissa Hughes & Tyler Swank
One man’s ordinary journey spirals into a web of entrapment and illusion.

NANCY TO A POINT Written & Directed by Alaina Hammond
Featuring:  Sonya-Marie Aleman, Isabel Agnes, Chris Gilmer, Nikki Gold, Alaina Hammond,
Sean O'Hagan & Anitra Thomas
A woman escapes into the recesses of her mind while dealing with a traumatic experience.

Series I
Saturday, February 17th at 9:00 pm

Written & Directed by Hollie Rosenberg
Featuring:  Hayli Henderson, Ben Hollandsworth, Chris O’Neil & Heather Rosen
Crazy Girl explores her current predicament of being emotionally unbalanced and single.

PSYCHE IN THE DARK Written by Brad Jennings & Directed by Wayne Yeager
Featuring:  Eve Armstrong
A woman flirts with death and becomes the hit of her dreams.

COMING CLEAN by Steven Shapiro
A young business executive finds his life in shambles after his wife files for divorce.

Series J
Sunday, February 18th at 3:00 pm
SELLING ARNOLD Written by Dean Preston Shtainhorn & Co-Directed by Dean Preston Shtainhorn & Robert Learner.  Featuring:  Justin Delasko, Michael Lester & Sean O’Hagan
Two struggling artist face financial crisis as their friendship unravels.

THE GARDEN PARTY by Martin M. Zuckerman & Directed by Jana Mattioli
Featuring:  Emily Beatty, Nina Kassa, Robin LeMon & Misti Tindiglia
Life’s little miseries almost puts a damper on a planned garden party as the beat plays on.

PINATA by Zach Messner & Directed by Nick Dujnic
Featuring:  Jon Anderson, Michael J. Contini, Paul Gagnon, Ross Gallo, Jenny Jordon, Zach Messner & Jake Silberman
An absurd comedy about murder, mayhem and roommates.

WELCOME HOME by Jay Hanagan
Something very special can happen when the love and history that
surrounds a family and their home reaches out to embrace a new family.

Series K
Sunday, February 18th at 5:00 pm
SHE RETURNS by Dennis Hurley & Directed by Steven Brillon
Featuring:  Jon Amundsen, Dennis Hurley, Elise Rovinsky, Shelly Smith & Erin Wilk
A comic’s night of elation quickly turns into a nightmare when an unexpected guest appears.
KNAVE OF HEARTS by Rosemary Martino & Directed by Matthew Hamel
Featuring:  Tiffany Clementi, Evan J. Hamm & Paul Mischeshin
A jewel thief steals a woman’s heart and unleashes a passion that’s so hot, it’s a crime!

A MURDER AT THE CHURCH Written & Directed by Jacqueline Hankins
Featuring:  Cory Brookshire, Jacqueline Hankins, Leroy Hankins, Chris Johnson, Robbyne Kaamil, Penelope Lagos, Veronica Palazzolo, Lance Phillips, Crystal Roman, Vincenzo Vaccaro, Eric Walker
The church organist is ridiculed when she says she witness a murder during choir rehearsal, but no body is found.  A very funny hip hop musical mystery.  Can you figure out who done it?
GALOSHES Written by Robert Brophy
A prodigal son finally stands up for himself and becomes his own man.

The Strawberry One-Acts Festival Semi-Finals Winter 2007
February 18th thru February 23rd
Sat, Sun, Mon, Tues, Wed & Thurs at 7:30 pm & 9:30 pm
The best plays from Series A thru L of the competition.  Tickets:  $20.00
Call the box office 646-623-3488 after February 16th to see which shows are in the Semi-Finals or join our Email Club to receive notification.

The Strawberry One-Acts Festival The Wild Night Winter 2007
February 22nd (Thurs) & 22nd (Fri) at 9:30 pm
The Theatre’s Artistic Director selects a few plays and gives them one more chance to be in The Finals.  Tickets:  $20.00
Call the box office 646-623-3488 after February 18th to see which shows are in the Wild Night or join our Email Club to receive notification.

The Strawberry One-Acts Festival Finals Winter 2007
Saturday, February 24th at 2pm & 7pm & Sunday, February 25th at 3pm
The best plays from the Semi-Finals & The Wild Night
Tickets:  $25.00.  Price includes a reception at each show.
Call the box office 646-623-3488 after February 19th to see which shows are in the Finals or join our Email Club to receive notification.

The Strawberry One-Acts Festival Awards Ceremony and Performance Winter 2007
At the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre at Symphony Space
Friday, March 2nd at 8pm
The four best plays from the Finals will perform.  Awards will be given to the Best Play, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor & Best Set Design
Tickets:  $35.00. 

*The Strawberry One-Act Festival 2007 information provided by Brett Singer & Associates, LLC  --

To learn more about all of the amazing things going on at The Riant Theatre or to get involved, please logon to

Brenda Jeanne Wyche, is Managing Editor for The Black Star News and Harlem Business News and CEO of Winning Strategies & Associates.  If you have a solution, contact .  Maybe we’ll talk.

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