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This holiday season, Philadelphia will experience the return of Langston Hughes’ 1961 classic play, “Black Nativity,” at the University of the Arts’ Academy of Music through different eyes.
John Graves III, artist and owner of John Graves Productions (JGP) will be presenting his take on the gospel musical that retells the Nativity story.
A Philadelphian, Graves is a renowned artist, writer, director, and producer, with more than 15 years of experience in the performing arts. Graves hails from various institutions steeped in the arts, from the Evelyn Graves School of Performing Arts and Co. to Drexel University. After producing his first successful musical show at age 19, Graves founded JPG.
Over the last 15 years, JGP has presented various works, from plays (from “My Son, My Brother, My Friend” to “Black Kid Joy”), to concerts (‘Heart Music 1 – 5 and 100 Voices”) to dance productions (“Christ & Human Condition”). Graves has been recognized for these works over the years through citations from the city of Philadelphia, the state of Pennsylvania, and a special citation from the Governor of Pa.
“Black Nativity” artfully retells the Nativity story, infusing it with rich African-American cultural elements, themes of faith, and love. The play pays homage to African American heritage, celebrating the diversity and richness of Philadelphia’s cultural tapestry. It was a known staple in the community during the holiday season, but had not been performed in the Philadelphia area for close to a decade. The last performance that came close to the city was a showing for the play in Norristown back in 2015.
Graves seeks to return the “sense of community” back to the area through “Black Nativity.”
“95% of the cast is from Philadelphia,” Graves said proudly when asked about the message the play seeks to deliver. “We’re bringing joy and inspiration and impact to this community with the people from the community, for the community.”
Sarai Quinice, who plays Mary, highlighted a key theme: the challenges faced by Black mothers. She drew a parallel between the nativity story, which depicts a perilous labor, and the difficulties many Black mothers encounter.
Quinice pointed out the often-lacking community support for young mothers of color and the disregard they face from healthcare professionals when voicing concerns during pregnancy. She expressed strong support for the increasing role of doulas — particularly Black ones — in Philadelphia.
“I definitely love the rise in presence of doulas and Black doulas who are helping mothers of color and couples of color have the option of home births for their pregnancy journey,” she said.
“John Graves Productions presents ‘Black Nativity’” will be performed live at the University of the Arts on South Broad Street from Dec. 20 through the 24.