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Stockton professors screening 'Teaching While Black' series pilot Friday

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Stockton University professors will debut their reality-based television series Friday.

Professor Donnetrice Allison's experiences as a young black teacher influenced her to create "Teaching While Black," which tells the story of Shayna Black as she navigates her new career in a predominately white school.

Shayna Black is Allison's modernized fictional counterpart who leaves the comfort of her home with a doctorate and a goal.

Black finds she is admired more for her glowing skin than her degree. The students don't take her seriously and a colleague tries to set her up with the basketball coach, the only other black person on campus.

“She is navigating teaching, her love life and the politics of getting tenure,” Allison explained.

The professor of Communication Studies and Africana Studies at Stockton long believed her story had the makings of a television series but wasn't sure where to begin.

As a critic, Allison has analyzed for years how black people are portrayed in the media. She started writing the early script in 2018.

She started as a young university professor in the 1990s, which puts her in a different time than her fictionalized millennial counterpart.

That is what brought Allison to Aaron Moss, an assistant professor of theater/directing at Stockton.

Allison earned her Ph.D. in intercultural communication at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She came to Stockton in 2004.

Moss completed a Masters of Fine Arts at Yale School of Drama and taught in New York before coming to Stockton in 2019.

Moss and Allison discuss the pilot after a screening at Stockton’s Multicultural Center this spring. (Photo: Stockton University)

“I wanted a young professor in this era with social media (as the protagonist), and Aaron had just started at Stockton," she said. "He liked it and thought we could do something with it.”

Their partnership was forged with Moss bringing his experience working in front of the camera for television and film a well as stage directing and reading scripts.

“I read the script and thought this was similar to some of my experiences,” Moss said. “The power dynamic of being a professor of color in a PWI (predominantly white institution) are very much present. A lot of people of color or women can relate to this.”

The “Teaching While Black” pilot will be screened at 5 p.m., Friday, April 14, in the Fannie Lou Hamer Event Room at Stockton Atlantic City’s John F. Scarpa Academic Center and is open to the public.

“The story touches on a lot of serious, contemporary, racial and workplace issues, but it is not presented in a heavy manner at all. It is still a comedy,” Moss said. “People who have seen clips enjoy the levity. It makes it easier to absorb those (serious topics)."

Allison and Moss knew it was a story that was ready to be told.

“Then 2020 happened," Moss said. "Black Lives Matter happened. We weren’t able to film anything (due to the pandemic) and that gave us a lot of time to dive into the script.”

Drafts were sent to a few contests, where the two received helpful feedback.

"We even were semifinalists in a Diverse Voices screenwriting contest," Moss said. "The whole time we were tweaking and waiting to film.”

“I want people to connect with a character trying to find work-life balance as they join the professional field,” Allison added. “There have been a lot of workplace comedies, but we rarely see the experience of professors. That is a fresh take, and tenure can be a really political process.”

They finally filmed a pilot last summer mostly at Stockton's Galloway Township campus. It was 10 days working 12 to 16 hours each day.

That was after a full-blown casting call brought more than 3,000 actor submissions in an effort to find their Shayna Black, and other supporting characters.

“It was really fun,” Allison said. “So many of the actors were just as excited about the project.”

“We were really fortunate to get the caliber of actors we did for the pilot," Moss added. "I think it speaks to the script and story we have how people were attracted to it.”

Victome as Shayna Black. (Photo: Stockton University)

Actress Nedge Victome plays the lead character.

It was important to both Allison and Moss to involve students in the project, and they reached out to current and former students whose talents aligned with their project.

Alumni from Las Vegas to Atlanta and beyond were recruited to work in front of and behind the camera in roles from extras to script supervisor. Amira Lee ’20, served as associate producer and first assistant director. One alum held the position of scenic designer while another took on a main role.

“It was great to be able to provide post-baccalaureate experiences for students who trained with us and are now getting to work side-by-side with us as peers in a professional environment,” Moss said.

Allison works with a crewmember during filming of the pilot last June on Stockton’s Galloway campus. (Photo: Stockton University.)

“Ultimately, we would love to share the series with the world on a major platform like Netflix, Hulu or HBO. The first step is submitting to TV and film festivals throughout the world and also shopping to networks using connections,” Moss said.

The pair has written two episodes and has five seasons mapped out in case a producer gets behind the project.

They chose to map out five seasons because that is the length of the tenure process in higher education.

This year, the dramedy was selected to be screened at multiple locations across Canada during the International Black & Diversity Film Festival and is a finalist for Best Series Plot in the New York International Film Awards.


Lynda Cohen

Lynda Cohen founded BreakingAC after working as a local newspaper reporter for more than two decades. She is an NJPA award-winner and was a Stories of Atlantic City fellow.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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