Raised in Durham, JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell has been a professional theater artist and champion for Black theater in the Triangle for years. She earned her theater degree from North Carolina Central University and continued her education as an apprentice for The Lark Play Development Center, and later, as an assistant director with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill. An Indy Arts Award winner in 2018, she is a 2019-20 grant recipient of both the Manbites Dog Theater Fund and the Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artists Program. In February 2019, Holloway-Burrell was honored by the African American Heritage Commission and Governor Roy Cooper for her contributions to the arts and culture landscape of North Carolina. She also served as a 2019 theatre panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts and for the North Carolina Arts Council. Her directing work has appeared on numerous stages, including: Vermont’s Northern Stage; Shakespeare in Detroit; Classic Stage Company in New York City; Durham’s Manbites Dog Theatre; the Department of Theatre at Dartmouth College; Durham Performing Arts Center; and the National Black Theatre Festival.
When she returned home from an apprenticeship in New Jersey, she had no intentions of staying local. Her goal was to move to Chicago or Dallas to continue her career, but life had other plans. “During that time back in Durham, I was seeing theater and noticed a very wide breadth of Black narratives were missing on the main stages,” she says. “I also observed many predominantly white organizations utilizing Black bodies in culturally incompetent ways, boasting ‘color-blind’ casting, ignoring—or ignorant to—the implications of erasure and racism that accompany the casting practice. It started a deep internal review for me, and I began thinking about not only being given an opportunity to be represented on stage, but also how Black bodies were represented—what messages we were sending and what stories we were telling.”
She found herself continuing to reflect on Toni Morrison’s quote: “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” She translated those words to her own life and experiences in theater, eventually founding the Black Ops Theatre Company in 2015, which exists to amplify Black stories and to highlight Black artists. Three years later, Black Ops produced the Bull City Black Theatre Fest to celebrate the work of local Black theatre makers. While Black Ops is currently on a hiatus, Holloway-Burrell continues to find balance in her life as a freelance director and mom; however, telling stories that amplify the voices and experiences of Black people is still the crux of her mission as an artist. She’s also an independent producer and curator, most recently curating two projects: “Let Her Tell It,” a series of play readings centering on Black womanhood written by Black women; and “Blk Girls Luv The Bard,” a virtual reading series of plays written by William Shakespeare read by Black women.