Wanda Whiteside didn’t have to travel far to realize her dream of a brick-and-mortar, African American owned and operated theatre. She simply had to have the need for tapestry, which led her to Bizarre Bazaar, the thrift shop on Bonifant Street in downtown Silver Spring. A few years later, after devastating changes in her life (the death of her parents and leaving her job after 15 years) Whiteside, the Artistic Producing Director, opened The Bonifant Theatre Space, Café Street Station in the former vintage store.
This year, the D.C. Black Theatre Festival has chosen the space to present their New Works Reading series, where thirteen playwrights will present readings of their plays. The festival runs from June 12th through June 19th, and all readings at The Bonifant Theatre Space are free, although donations are enthusiastically accepted. The festival, which spotlights all aspects of African American Theatre, names each venue after an important African American figure in theatre. The Bonifant Space has been entitled The Zora Neale Hurston Stage, after the bold playwright, novelist, and anthropologist.
Participation in the Festival is an honor for Whiteside. “The D.C. Black Theatre Festival is the griot of the African American soul. It’s dynamic; it’s a vehicle for talented playwrights to see their plays come to life.”
During the DCBTF, Whiteside will be directing and producing a reading of The Heroes Tale by Cheryl Butler and Greg Poole, and “an open dress rehearsal” of The Window King by Bless Ji Jaja.
Whiteside, a Silver Spring resident, has an almost lifelong dedication to the arts. The New York native received her Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from Howard University. In 1999, Whiteside and her husband Arthur Seaman started the InnerCircle Rep. Company. The InnerCircle and now the Bonifant Space has given her a chance to work with some of her fellow Howard alumni—Judy Leak, who is Artistic Associate and Technical Director India Sodoo.
Whiteside’s dedication to the dream no longer deferred is illustrated by the attention Whiteside and her husband have lovingly paid to each section in the space. The jazz lounge is cozily decorated with vintage furniture, jazz paintings, a trumpet hanging on the wall and an upright bass on the corner. The main stage is painted black with a small piano stage left.
The Bonifant Theatre Space is officially a performance studio until two handicapped bathrooms, currently under construction, are finished. Then Whiteside will legally be able to increase occupancy. Currently, due to the limited seating, shows sell out quickly.
Whiteside wants The Bonifant to serve as an “incubator” for playwrights and actors. The website lists innumerable works that have been developed there. The space also hosts The Conversation every second Tuesday of the month, where poets perform spoken word and interact with the audience.
Whiteside says the continuation and development of African American theatre has been worth the journey. “This season is called ‘In Search of Community’,” Whiteside says. “Find likeness in our neighborhoods, nourishment in our lives, humanity on our quest.’ We’re all souls with a story to share.”