100 Creatives 2014: Denise O'Neal, Producer, Director, Playwright

The ten plays chosen for this year's Fade to Black festival cover a lot of ground. A showcase of new works by African American playwrights, the festival includes A Kiss is Just a Kiss by James Earl Hardy of New York City (the story of a man about to end his secret relationship with his gay lover only to find out his wife has other plans); The Psycho's Path by Aaron McDavis from Rowlett, Texas (a psychologist is so emotionally distraught over her own divorce she can't effectively treat patients); and My Pet by Stacey Rose from Charlotte, North Caroline (a wealthy couple goes shopping for a pet, but not the four-legged kind). There's also Kin Ship by Barbara and Carlton Molette from Atlanta, (a government worker assigns people to life on polluted, spent Earth or a more prosperous planet) and Saving Grace by Melanie Earnestina Burker of Houston (a parody about the way black actors are seen in the film industry).

Now in its second year, Fade to Black is the brainchild of Denise O'Neal, producer, director, playwright and self-proclaimed "fearless pioneer of things that are ... long overdue." Last year's plays all had pleasant, nice characters and plots, O'Neal tells us. "This year they have more bite!"

Denise O'Neal (2nd from left) during a staged reading at Theatre Suburbia
Denise O'Neal (2nd from left) during a staged reading at Theatre Suburbia

What She Does: O'Neal has a day job as a real estate market analyst for a governmental agency. But her real work, she says, is as a published playwright, producer and director. A board member of Scriptwriters/Houston and member of the Dramatist Guild of America, O'Neal is also executive director of the non-profit theater Shabach Enterprise and the for-profit theater company Watch My Groove, Entertainment, LLC.

Why She Likes It: "I like what I do because [the] performing arts run through my veins. It gives me a reason to keep moving and adds so much meaning to my life."

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What Inspires Her: "Seeing a stage production come to life before my eyes and the positive reaction it draws from the audience is worth more than gold! Lately I have become most intensely drawn to issues that explore the real life untold stories of common man ... I'm not sure exactly why that inspires me so greatly, but I think it must be because those moments of struggle tend to offer the greatest life lessons."

If Not This, Then What: "I tossed around the idea of being a fashion designer for a while. I went on to study finance thinking a career as a financial planner would be a more stable line of work, but truly - and I know this may come as a shock to many - as far back as I can remember, I have always aspired to just be a good wife to a good husband. It has taken me the measure of my life to discover that ... married or not, my involvement in the arts is why I was placed on the Earth.

If Not Here, Then Where: "I often dream of living in New York or Chicago to further my career; the culture for theater in both these places seem to thrive in a way that I have not seen here."

What's Next: Fade To Black, which O'Neal produces, is set for late June. (She also directs one of the plays in the festival.) In September O'Neal is remounting Just A Few Feet Away, a play she wrote in 2010 about a mad scientist who's discovered a pathway to the Earth's core. And in February of next year, she'll be directing Lynn Nottage's Intimate Apparel for The Pearl Theatre in Pearland.

More Creatives for 2014 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).

Jason Poland, cartoonist Courtney Sandifer, filmmaker, actor, writer Lloyd Gite, gallery owner Henry Yau, The Children's Museum of Houston's publicity and promotions guru Angeli Pidcock, fantasy writer and mentor Jennifer Mathieu, author Scott Chitwood, writer Anat Ronen, urban artist Amber Galloway Gallego, rockstar and sign language interpreter Michael Weems, playwright Lane Montoya, artist Jordan Simpson, SLAM poet Joey & Jaime, designers Suzi Taylor, photographer Ashton Miyako, dressmaker T. Smith, artistLindsay Finnen, photographer Kaitlyn Stanley, tattoo artist Eleazar Galindo Navarro, video game maker Kate de Para, textile and clothing designer Shawn Swanner, video game painter Andy Gonzales, painter Chris Foreman, comic book sketcher Theresa DiMenno, photographer Jessica E. Jones, opera singer Atseko Factor, actor John Pluecker, writer, poet and language justice worker Ricky Ortiz, painter, tattoo artist Rabēa Ballin, artist David Wald, actor Lisa E. Harris, performing and visual artist Stephanie Todd Wong, executive director of Dance Source Houston Pamela Fagan Hutchins, novelist Heather Gordy, artist Mark Nasso, comic artist Shelbi-Nicole, artist Marian Szczepanski, novelist Jonathan Blake, fashion designer Doni Langlois, interior designer Kat Denson, dancer Blame the Comic, comedian Margaret Menchaca Alvarez, artist Jacquelyne Jay Boe, dancer Rene Fernandez, painter Teresa Chapman, choreographer and dancer


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