When enslaved African Americans finished a day of hard labor, they would often use hand signs, passwords and messages not understood by white people to signal to others where to meet deep in the nearby woods. These meeting pockets, surrounded by trees and far away from the reality of slavery, were known as “hush harbors.”
“In the antebellum era of enslavement, many enslaved people, after they worked from sunup to sundown, needed to find a place where they could just be free, where they could express themselves without a white gaze upon them,” said Addae Moon, associate artistic director at Theatrical Outfit.
“They went into these ‘hush harbors’ to perform their traditional spiritual practices, they would sing, they would praise and rejoice,” Moon said. “It was a way for them to really stay sane in such a hostile environment that chattel slavery in America was.”
It is in this tradition that Moon and Amina S. McIntyre, both Atlanta-based playwrights, founded Hush Harbor Lab in early 2020. The company is an incubator for the development and production of new and innovative digital, live, and multi-media performance work by Black Atlanta-based artists.
“Hush Harbor was really founded to be a new play development program, but also a company that focused on assisting Black Atlanta based writers and giving them the opportunity to explore and develop their work,” Moon said.
“There’s so few new play development opportunities available, and nothing that centers some of the specific cultural elements of African American storytelling and tradition,” Moon said. “We felt that especially being in Atlanta, we had a very unique niche.”
Last year, Hush Harbor partnered with Atlanta’s Théâtre du Rêve, a professional theater company focused on bringing French culture to the stage, to workshop the company’s 2019 play, “Code Noir: Les Aventures du premier Comte de Monte Cristo (Black Code: The Adventures of the first Count of Monte Cristo)” into a screenplay. The play is based on the life of Alex Dumas, the son of a French nobleman and an enslaved African woman in St. Domingue, known today as Haiti.
The workshop included a virtual reading and discussion of the story and laid the groundwork for a film of “Code Noir,” shooting this winter and set to premiere in March. The partnership was Hush Harbor’s first commissioned work.
Last year, Hush Harbor also unveiled a workshop performance of McIntyre’s one-woman show “Nina” about American singer-songwriter’s Nina Simone. Hush Harbor is also collaborating with Found Stages to present a production of Moon’s “Cassie’s Ballad” in March. The play centers on the Atlanta child murders.
Hush Harbor continues seeking more opportunities with other companies and finding ways to nurture Black artists to tell new stories.
“When Amina and I got together to form Hush Harbor, we both have been lucky enough to be involved in new play development processes,” Moon said. “But that’s not necessarily a common situation for writers of color in general to be engaged in.”
Most plays being produced about African Americans tend to be period pieces, about the Civil Rights movement or something that includes music, Moon said. Black artists writing outside of these parameters have a hard time getting investors interested in the development process.
“We wanted to provide a development process for Black storytellers to tell a diverse range of stories that a theater company or another development company might not support,” Moon said.
For more, visit hushharborlab.com.