Thursday, June 30, 2011

I'm Back...With a few thoughts

I watched the Tony Awards a few weeks ago and I was supremely entertained by the broadcast. From the opening number (Broadway's is just not for gays anymore), to the song and dance number featuring past and present Tony hosts Hugh Jackman and Neil Patrick Harris respectively, to Chris Rock's hilarious rant before announcing the Tony for Best Musical, I had a great time watching the show from the comfort of my livingroom. I've attended the ceremony several times and felt no real need to go this year.

Despite my joyous Tony watching experience, I felt a huge wave of disappointment. Yes, it was great to see Nikki M. James win a Tony, witness the enormous talents of the cast from the long shuttered production of THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS, be excited by the sleek presence of Samuel L. Jackson, and cheer as Patina Miller and the cast of Sister Act took the stage after an intro from their lead producer Whoopi Goldberg. However, my disappointment came from the lack of work created by people of color. Yes, you can see many African Americans performing on the Great White Way. But no. Our stories are not being told. And if they are told, they are not written by African Americans. And it is not because Black playwrights aren't writing about Black folks. There is a wealth of material out there that can appeal to a wide audience.

Where do we find these stories? Largely at African American theatres. Companies such as Negro Ensemble, New Professional Theatre, Freedom Theatre, Penumbra Theatre Company, Crossroads Theatre, African Continuum Theatre, Ensemble Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, New Federal Theatre, Ebony Repertory Theatre and so many more are producing stories that cover all aspects of Black life. These are the companies where artists such as August Wilson, Charles Fuller, Lynn Nottage, Denzel Washington, Alfre Woodard, Samuel L. Jackson and others got their start.

African American theatre needs support. Funding. In-kind services. Volunteers. If you are able to provide time, talent or resources to an African American theatre company, please, by all means get involved. Erich McMillan-McCall did just that. He is a New York-based actor who became acutely aware that these companies, long mainstays of employment for artists of color, were stuggling to survive during the economic downturn. He created Project1Voice to raise awareness and funds for African American theatres.

On June 20, 2011, 19 theatres in 15 cities participated in benefit staged readings of the classic Alice Childress comedy-drama TROUBLE IN MIND. Through sheer faith and the courage of his convictions, Erich pulled together this unprecedented event under the umbrella of 1VOICE, 1PLAY, 1DAY. It proved to be the spark that the participating theaters needed to introduce or reintroduce themselves to their communities. One person -- Erich-- made a difference for 19 theaters. You can be the difference for a company, too.

If you want to find out more about Project1Voice visit If you want African American stories told, support theater companies by being in the audience -- with a ticket that you paid for. Although it is wonderful to see our favorite film and television stars onstage -- especially on Broadway, backup emerging artists with your presence in the theater. If you are a journalist, mention them in your column or on your blog. Got a radio program, television show or web cast? Give a shout out, read a PSA, or grant a quick interview. Black media must stop waiting for mainstream media to tell us who or what is important. Seize the moment. Be part of creating the "next big thing." If you have the financial resources and can invest in a commercial theatrical venture, do so. Contact the Broadway League. They are actively looking for producers of color. It makes no sense to me that the amazing Lynn Nottage has not had any of her work moved to Broadway -- including her Pulitzer Prize winning drama RUINED. Somebody needs to change this! Release your inner-producer!

It looks like there will be at least two plays on Broadway this season, both written by African-American women -- The Mountaintop by Katori Hall and Stick Fly by Lydia R. Diamond. Stew, the brillant mind behind PASSING STRANGE will return to The Public Theater with a new work about a Black gospel artist and a White record producer. And you know that Woodie King, Jr's New Federal Theatre will offer something rich and provocative for our theatrical palates.

So support Black theater, playwrights and artists. They, and the stories they tell, are worthy of your time and attention. No matter where you find them.