Justin with long-time mentor and friend, Avery Brooks.
Justin Emeka is director, writer, and actor who uses artistic and cultural innovation to create high quality, thoughtful, entertaining theatre--specializing in new approaches to "classic” texts, as well as imaginative staging of popular and emerging playwrights. Off-Broadway credits include A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet at Classical Theatre of Harlem; Regional theatre productions include: the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winning Sweat by Lynn Nottage at the Pittsburgh Public Theater and Philadelphia Theatre Company; Sunset Baby by Dominique Morisseau at Dobama Theatre in Cleveland; Stick Fly by Lydia Diamond at Intiman Theatre in Seattle; Detroit ’67 by Dominique Morisseau at Karamu House in Cleveland; A Raisin in the Sun by Loraine Hansberry at the Oberlin Summer Theatre Festival. At Oberlin College he directed Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman; Dominique Morisseau's Follow Me To Nellie's; Shakespeare's Macbeth; Alice Childress's Wedding Band; and Gabriel Emeka's The Compromise. At the University of Washington Ethnic Cultural Theatre he directed Tennessee William's The Glass Menagerie; Amiri Baraka's Dutchman; and Aishah Rahman's Unfinished Women Cry in No Man's Land While a Bird Dies in a Guilded Cage. At Yale Repertory Theater he served as the movement coordinator and played the role of Edgar in a unique African-American production of King Lear starring Avery Brooks. He helped start the Oberlin Summer Theater Festival where he directed and/or performed in A Raisin in the Sun, Crumbs from the Table of Joy, and The Glass Menagerie. He is also a writer and has received awards in playwriting from the Seattle Arts Commission, and screenwriting from the Washington State Film Commission. He recently published an essay "Seeing Shakespeare through Brown Eyes" in the book "Black Acting Methods: Critical Approaches". Mr. Emeka is a Drama League Fellow, a member of SDC, Actors Equity, and also a tenured professor of Theatre (Directing & Acting) and Africana Studies at Oberlin College.
Justin Emeka began his career as an actor at the age of 12 performing on stage, in commercials, and films. He was in one of the first professional productions of "The Best X-Mas Pageant Ever" at Seattle Children's Thearter (SCT) where he spent four years in the Young Actor Training Program. At SCT, he also originated the role of Stacey Logan in the world premiere of Mildred Taylor's "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" adapted by Ed Shockley. He attended Oberlin College and continued to study theatre and studied with bell hooks, Ama Ata Aidoo, Amiri Baraka, Calvin Hernton, Sonia Sanchez, Toni Morrison, and Avery Brooks who would become a life long mentor. Emeka graduated with honors majoring in African-American studies with the first concentration in Performance.
In 1995, Emeka developed a theatre company called Jungle Creations in Seattle, WA bringing together a local hip-hop artists, poets, musicians, dancers, and actors and created original theatrical work that was perfomed in community centers, schools, churches, and night clubs. Mr. Emeka went on to start theatre programs at Garfield High School and the African-American Academy while continuing his career as an artist. He received a Seattle Arts Commission Literary Fellowship in playwriting as well as the The Washington State Film Commission Screenwriting Award. As an actor, he travelled the country and performed a one man show exploring the Civil Rights movement titled "The Right to Dream" produced by Living Voices.
The Mayor's Office of Seattle recognized Emeka's unique talent and invited him to help host city wide event for "The MAAFA Suite" a theatrical commemoration of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade directed by Jessie Wooden , Jr and the St. Paul Community Baptist Church in Brooklyn, NY. Upon the succes of the event, with support from the city and Seattle producer Vivian Phillips, they launched Sankofa Theatre, a company of artists to create poetry, dance, and drama exploring the legacy of the Middle Passage. Sankofa Theater was led by Emeka and Phillips who recruited local and professional artists from all around the world to perform in the historic Moore Theatre in downtown Seattle. Emeka's work and reputation caught the attention of University of Washington directing professor Valerie Curtis-Newton who encouraged him to apply for graduate studies in directing.
In 2003, Emeka enrolled in the graduate directing program at the University of Washington School of Drama--and at the same time was appointed the Artistic Director for the UW Ethnic Cultural Theater where he directed and/or produced works such as: Amiri Baraka's Dutchman; Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide…; Errol John's Moon on a Rainbow Shawl; Aisha Rahman’s Unfinished Women Cry in No-Man’s Land While a Bird Dies in a Gilded Cage, in addition to numerous student plays. While in graduate school, he was invited by Avery Brooks to Yale Repertory Theater to serve as the movement coordinator and play the role of Edgar in a unique African-American production of King Lear directed by Hal Scott. This experience inspired him to begin incorporating unique cultural perspectives in Shakespeare as a director. For his thesis production of Macbeth, he re-imagined it set it in the American South just after the Civil War, which would begin a tradition of Emeka's unique interpretations. He received his Masters of Fine Arts in Directing from the University of Washington under the guidance of Valerie Curtis Newton and Jon Jory.
Shortly after which he aceepted a teaching position at his alma matar, Oberlin College to teach acting, directing, and develop an innovative program in Capoeira Angola; while continuing to direct professionally. Through his directing, writing, and teaching, Justin Emeka has established himself as one of the preeminent directors of contemporary and classical theatre. In 2016, he received tenure from the departments of Theatre and Africana Studies at Oberlin College where he continues to teach, direct, and train the next generation of great artists and scholars.