Pioneer Public: Zetra Goodlow and Albert Lewis Wash II

Written By Tia Bailey, Co-Features/A&E Editor

When COVID-19 hit last spring, then-juniors Zetra Goodlow and Albert Lewis Wash II used their time in quarantine to start something they have wanted to for years—the creation of their own theatre company. 

Goodlow, a theater art major with a business minor, and Wash, a theater art major with a musical theater minor, have officially started Helianthus Annuus Theatre Company. 

“We are a nonprofit, Black-owned theater organization, started in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,” Wash said. “Our mission is to create an artistic and diverse environment providing education and opportunities for everyone, especially people of color.” 

Wash and Goodlow chose the name “Helianthus Annuus” because it is the scientific name for “sunflower,” which is symbolic to them and the company. 

“The sunflower represents people of color, and that’s where we’re gonna gear most of our work towards, and all sorts of races as well,” Wash said. “We constantly face the light, and that’s what a sunflower does, it always faces the sun, and the darkness is behind them.” 

The company will provide opportunities for freelance artists and promote them to help get their names out into the world. 

“We’re all about helping others as we help ourselves,” Goodlow said. “The goal is to bring everyone along with us, no matter where we go.” 

Their goal is to provide diversity onstage, and a big part of that is giving people of color roles that are not stereotypes based on their race.

“We have people of color in our program, but there’s just a lack of diversity on stage in the conservatory season,” Wash said. “It’s all white people and whatnot.” 

Wash and Goodlow remember their sophomore year when Goodlow’s first role in a show at Point Park was a slave. 

“We just want to provide actual roles and provide opportunities for people to actually be people,” Wash said. “We want Black people to actually be Black people.” 

They also pointed out that some companies see diversity differently, and that the goal of Helianthus Annuus Theatre Company is to show what diversity should look like. 

“Even though we’re not like ‘the big shot’ right now, we consider ourselves the big shot right now,” Goodlow said. “We’re actually doing something that theaters just don’t do. They don’t pay attention to everyone, and they don’t share the love with everyone.”

Their first shows will be released on their YouTube channel, Helianthus Annuus Theatre Company, on Feb.18. The pre-recorded show is titled “Nice to Meet You” and will feature freelance actress Samurai Velvet. 

“They’re both no longer than ten minutes, but it’s like a sandwich,” Goodlow said. “They’re meaty enough to not even realize that it’s 10 minutes.” 

Goodlow and Wash wrote both of the pieces, and the first night is more focused on directing than writing. They are both playwrights as well as directors. 

The first show, Goodlow’s piece, is about a girl struggling with herself as she goes throughout her day getting ready for a dance audition. 

“Growing up as a young Black girl, you get told what to do, what not to do, how to do, how not to do, just every single thing,” Goodlow said.

Throughout the audition, the girl is thinking about her weight, what she should look like and more, and the show ends with an important message. 

The second show, Wash’s piece, is about two Black men dealing with rules set for them by society. 

“For example, there’s a rule that we have to play sports,” Wash said. “There are all these stereotypes.” 

Wash said that Black men are told that they cannot be emotional, be physically intimate with other Black men,  have mental illnesses and more, and his piece is showing these frustrations and breaking the stereotypes.

Wash’s show also incorporates the sunflower as a sign of hope, something the company as a whole is all about. 

The duo is moving to Dallas, Texas, over the summer but plans to bring something back to Pittsburgh, where they started. In the future, they would like to build a theater here and have a partnership between the two locations. 

“But that’s all down the road,” Goodlow said. “But right as of now, this is what we are, and what we’re doing. It’s all here, and we’re just so excited because we worked so hard, and wherever we can have a voice, we just want to be able to speak.”