What Is The Future Of Black Theatre In Washington? (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

What Is The Future Of Black Theatre In Washington?

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:10
Welcome back to "Metro Connection. I'm Rebecca Sheir. And this week, we're talking about barriers. To kick off this part of the show, we're gonna meet some folks who are challenging barriers, especially when it comes to race, ethnicity and the arts. More specifically, the theatrical arts. On March 1st, the University of Maryland's School of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies will host the first annual Black Theater Symposium, a day of panel discussions, workshops and performances, exploring the past, present and future of black theater.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:40
I recently met with two of the symposium's organizers who told me the event stemmed from the concern that here we are, in this city with a population that's nearly 50 percent African American, and yet we only have one full time professional black theater company, African Continuum. And one of the organizers knows that company rather well.

MS. THEMBI DUNCAN

00:00:57
My name is Thembi Duncan. I'm the Producing Artistic Director of African Continuum Theater Company. Duncan's Co-Organizer for the symposium is Scott Reese, who, in addition to serving on African Continuum's Advisory Board, directs and acts at theaters around town.

MR. SCOTT REESE

00:01:12
And also, I teach a couple of classes at University of Maryland in Black Theater and Performance.

SHEIR

00:01:17
The famed African American sociologist, historian, author and civil-rights activist W.E.B. DuBois once called for a Black Theater that was by us, for us, near us and about us. And Thembi Duncan says, a goal of the symposium is to take that description and apply it to the Black Theater of today.

DUNCAN

00:01:35
We want to really investigate what our personal connection is to Black Theater and it is -- like, we're seeing lots more opportunities now, more so than say in the 90s. Even in the 70s, where a lot of mainstream theaters are performing work by black playwrights, are hiring black directors and are hiring black actors. And so the question does become, what is Black Theater? If some of those elements for us, by us, about us, near us -- if some of those elements are missing, is it still Black Theater?

DUNCAN

00:02:06
And those are all questions. We don't expect, at the end of this symposium, to have some sort of magic solution to some societal or racial problem. This is about us coming together, having a conversation and listening to each other.

SHEIR

00:02:19
I want to talk a bit about the history of Black Theater. How do you think Black Theater fits into the framework of -- this is a big question, but how do you think Black Theater fits into the framework of our nation's history, our nation's culture?

REESE

00:02:32
It's very interesting, I think. We kind of know it from the 50s and 60s onward. We know from "Raisin In the Sun," onward and then up. But going back to the first published play, by William Wells Brown, so the late 19th century. Then we go into the early 20th century with Angelina Grimke that wrote the play, "Rachel." And then once again, you get into the 20s and the 30s and the 40s, and anyone can do the research on that. And then you get into the 50s and along with Lorraine Hansberry, then we get a little bit later, we get the Alice Childress, we get the Charles Gordones.

REESE

00:03:08
Then you're gonna get into the '70s, social satire, with people that wrote "Day of Absence."

DUNCAN

00:03:16
Douglas Turner Ward.

REESE

00:03:16
Exactly.

DUNCAN

00:03:17
"Day of Absence."

REESE

00:03:18
So you had these people, and then all of a sudden, you get into the 80s with August Wilson. And it kind of exploded. In that time, you also had Susan Lori Parks and Lynn Nottage and Cheryl West. And there was so much womanism and feminism going on at that time. And, the newer voices, of course you have the documentary theater that came in with Anna Deavere Smith. Who else comes to mind for you?

DUNCAN

00:03:45
Charlene Woodard?

REESE

00:03:48
Exactly.

DUNCAN

00:03:49
Um, I was thinking about Woody King, too.

REESE

00:03:52
Exactly.

DUNCAN

00:03:52
Who's back a little bit farther.

SHEIR

00:03:55
Can we talk about some of the breakout sessions that are going to be available, or some of the talks that are going to be given? Can you give us a sneak preview of what participants will be able to experience?

DUNCAN

00:04:03
So the areas we're gonna look at, theater for young audiences, we're gonna be talking about that. We're gonna have a panel discussing musical theater. We also have a design panel where we're gonna be talking to scenic designers, costume designers.

REESE

00:04:17
Lighting, sound.

DUNCAN

00:04:17
Lighting designers, sound.

REESE

00:04:20
And it's very exciting with design, because we always seem to have trouble finding the next generation of designers of color. There are so few people being represented, so hopefully, a panel like this -- people from colleges, from high schools, say, hey, if they see, oh, they're designers of color, you need to see people to then think, oh, I can be doing that.

DUNCAN

00:04:42
Oh my gosh. Theater and hip hop culture, which I'm really excited about. We're gonna have some great people on that panel, talking about the intersection of hip hop culture and theater. Hip hop theater itself, and how -- hip hop has really been very connected to Black Theater since it began. And we're just excited about the connection that theaters, universities, institutions are making with us for this symposium. And unfortunately, the First Lady was unable to attend. We did invite her, but, you know, just to get on her radar.

REESE

00:05:14
If you're schedule changes, you're always invited.

DUNCAN

00:05:15
Yes.

SHEIR

00:05:17
Hear that, Michelle?

DUNCAN

00:05:18
Yeah, so we want Flotus in the building, but, you know, as the years go by, it's going to become bigger and bigger. And I think that what we have so far, for this March 1st, 2014, is going to be an incredible experience for people who are interested in learning more about Black Theater, in general. It's incredible for people who are already practitioners and want to make connections or maybe want to learn about some aspect of Black Theater that maybe, for whatever reason, you just haven't touched on. And as people of color, you know, similar to the questions you asked us before, what is Black Theater?

DUNCAN

00:05:52
We're always talking about that. I don't know if that has an answer. I think it's different things at different times, and in different places. And so, I think, for that conversation to continue happening, that is the key. When we stop talking about it, that's when we're lost.

SHEIR

00:06:07
Well, Thembi Duncan, Scott Reese, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today.

DUNCAN

00:06:12
Thank you.

REESE

00:06:12
Thank you.

SHEIR

00:06:18
You can learn more about the first annual Black Theater Symposium on our website, metroconnection.org.
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