Alley Playwright Mines Old Hollywood’s Shortcomings for Laughs — and Hope

ACTOR AND PLAYWRIGHT ShaWanna Renee Rivon, whose funny new play, Old Black & White Hollywood, will be read as part of the Alley Theatre's all-digital "Alley All New" initiative in April and May, has always been fascinated by the past.


"I loved history growing up," she says, "and I would love for my family to tell old stories about older relatives, and those voices have always guided me. I would get visions in my head. I could see me doing the story or playing it out, of what it would look like. Unfortunately for a lot of Blacks, we can only go back so far in knowing who we are, and so I would just make up these stories in my head from little bits and pieces I would put together."

Rivon was a student actress at Houston's Eisenhower High School, where she performed in plays. Upon graduation, she left for Atlanta in search of opportunity and found it, training at the award-winning Alliance Theater. Later on, she jumped coasts, and did a 10-year stint in Los Angeles, before returning to Houston to earn a BFA in playwriting from UH. The script for Black & White — set in Tinsel Town in 1954, when Jim Crow laws were still enforced — landed in the hands of Liz Frankel, director of new work at the Alley, thanks to a UH classmate.

The play centers on a female comedy duo, a black actress named Doris Jean and a white actress named Eva Rose. When the women are invited to audition for the same movie role, it becomes apparent that, while they have shared dreams and ambitions, they are facing different challenges and obstacles — a dynamic that still feels relevant today.

Rivon is inspired by the stories of those who have come before her, including Dorothy Dandridge, the first Black American to be nominated for an Academy Award. It's easy to draw parallels between the aspirations and shared experiences of Dandridge and Rivon and Doris, the play's protagonist. "I wanted to see an authentic story of a woman who attempted to break a glass ceiling but couldn't quite," says the playwright. "I wanted her to come so close, and in her coming so close, I wanted people to see the reasons why [she] would never be able to."

Comedy deftly balances the weight of Rivon's subject matter. "It's about laughing together," she says. "The jokes and the sketches, I wrote them in the time of 1954, but they're really in the time of the present. As you're laughing, you're thinking, 'yeah, that's a problem.'"

Rivon hopes her Black & White audience is able to take away a shared sense of empathy, and maybe a better understanding of race in America — at a time when it's so thoroughly needed. "I am hoping that a lightbulb will go off. I am hoping that we are able to laugh at how ridiculous racism is."

Art + Entertainment
Top Attorney Lauren Varnado Says Networking Is Key: ‘Relationships Are Everything’
How did you get to where you are today? It takes a village. I was fortunate enough to have great mentors and individuals who instilled confidence in me. I think that when you face a challenge or an obstacle, you are able to overcome and make things happen. You can continue moving forward, more resilient over time.
Keep Reading Show less

Jim Crane and Lynn Wyatt at CityBook's 'Leaders & Legends' party

A WHO'S WHO of Houstonians — from the arts, big business, the media, philanthropy, pro sports and much more — came together to celebrate CityBook and Gittings Photography’s 2022 “Leaders & Legends” portrait series, presented in partnership with Residences at The Allen and Bentley Houston.

The annual event was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid, so the VIP guests were thrilled to gather in person for the occasion, in Residence’s at The Allen’s sunny hospitality space, in the shadow of its rising hotel and condominium tower. Along with CityBookExecutive Publisher Lisa Holthouse and Editor Jeff Gremillion, The Allen developer Roberto Contreras, himself among the Leaders & Legends honored, welcomed guests with warm remarks.

Keep Reading Show less
Style

How did Construction Concepts become the “go-to” builder in Houston? My goal from day one is to deliver what we promise and exceed expectations. We are more than a general contractor; we are a partner with our clients. I understand what it is like to invest everything you have in your business, so we go into every project as if it were our own investment. Too often in this industry that’s not the case. Our goal is to understand your business and guide you through every step from concept to completion.

Keep Reading Show less