jecaryous-johnson_web.jpgIn the urban theatre world, it’s time to say goodbye to the term ‘starving artist!” Numerous talented playwrights and actors are making a great living in urban theatre and the list is growing each day. Playwright, Founder and CEO of I’m Ready Productions, Je’Caryous Johnson alone has produced shows that have grossed over $90 million.  

With all that success, celebration is a must, so theatre lovers, brace yourselves. Expect the stars  to shine and a celebration like no other at the second bi-annual Urban Theatre & Entertainment Festival and Awards (UTEF) in Miami. The event takes place from Tuesday, July 29 through Saturday, Aug. 2.
The festival promises four days of all star theatrical performances, workshops, a vendor marketplace, dance competitions and poetry slams. 

The series of events kicked off with a celebrity gala hosted by singer and actresses Melba Moore and JoMarie Payton. A graduate of Miami Carol City Senior High School, Payton feels honored to come back home and share her experience in the arts.

“I could remember my first performance at Rainbow Park Elementary. It’s something about theater that allows us to forget all the negative stuff and be human and when we’re human, we become one with the world,” Payton told the South Florida Times.

Unlike the movies, the urban theatre genre doesn’t need special effects, no 3-D glasses are required and vocal audience participation is encouraged. The masses show their appreciation for the expressive art form and continue to support it throughout the years.

Julia Brown, presenter of the festival and founder of Jeba Media Group, understands the sense of connectivity that transpires at an urban theater performance. 

“Black Theater is our story telling,” Brown said. “It is our words and our inner thoughts. We share our experiences through live theatre.”

Award honoree Gary Guidry of I’m Ready Productions is excited about being honored and looks forward to the opportunity to reach out to those interested in learning about the ins and outs of the theater industry.

“It feels great to be acknowledged for a niche that was non-existent almost 15 years ago. Being at the festival is a way to give back and inspire others to do what I do,” Guidry told the South Florida Times.

With music being his number one passion, Guidry has written, arranged and scored music for numerous musical theater productions, including Heaven's Child, Ain't Misbehavin', Men Cry in the Dark, The Maintenance Man, and Friends and Lovers. He has fostered a great love for urban theatre and appreciates his unique position in the genre.

“Urban Theater is real and it’s here to stay. It’s alive through our youth, the next generation, the undiscovered talent and even through the relationships that will be built at the Urban Theatre and Entertainment Festival,” Guidry added. 

The UTEF, which is held only during even years, attracts celebrities from all over the globe. Guests see this endeavor as an opportunity to celebrate a growing tradition in African-American culture. This year, invited guests include Malik Yoba, Dawn Lewis, Coco Brown and many others. Featured performances include Carl Clay’s “Once in a Wife time” and “I Question America.”

The mission for this year’s awards event is to give back, inspire and educate through the arts. Actress Jomarie Payton wants nothing more than for people to walk away inspired.

“I want people to see how important it is to continue to do this and support ventures like this. I want them to be impacted enough that they leave with their hearts happy, minds open and those creative juices flowing,” Payton concluded.

Photo: Je’Caryous Johnson


WHAT:  The Urban Theatre and Entertainment Festival and Awards

WHERE: Various locations

WHEN: Tuesday, July 29 through Saturday, Aug. 2

COST: Free/ various fees (dependant on event) 

CONTACT: Visit for schedule of events or call 1-877-9-GROUPS