Black Theatre Matters: A Dialogue

MontageFinalBlack Theatre Matters: A Dialogue, took place on a Monday February 27th, at the Offices of Actors’ Equity Association in North Hollywood. An eminent group of African American artists: Robert Hook, Brent Jennings, Constance Jewell Lopez, Yvette Carson, Gilbert Glenn Brown. Eric B. Anthony and Wren Brown spoke to a series of questions posed be the moderator, Kim Estes.

What became readily apparent, was there were several themes that were powerful constants and reasons to celebrate the existence of Black Theatre. As with any culturally focused art form, the demonstration and preservation of history and culture are important. That holds true not just for African Americans but for the everyone. The Black experience is as much a part of fabric of American Culture as any other threads. The fact that in large part this part of American history is often reduced to, there was slavery and then the white man set them free, hardly begins to touch the wealth of the culture.

But Just as importantly, it is the impact of opportunity. While artistic expression can be argued as nearly instinctual, the examples of expression before us, often create an illusion of limitation. Robert Hooks, answered that in seeing black faces on stage he felt inspired. Stories that expressed the breadth of the African American experience played by black actors, touching places theretofore un-named. Each participant in turn echoed this theme. Identification with a model that expressed their souls and reflected the culture of their existence.

Mr. Hooks, in relating his early experiences in theatre spoke of the encouragement he received from his early mentors. His interactions with Sidney Poitier and the support for the establishment of the Negro Ensemble Company in New York in 1967. Wren Brown spoke of the encouragement he received from Robert Hooks in the establishment of the Ebony Repertory Theatre in Los Angeles, and the seemingly endless examples of the entrenched reaching down to the neophyte, encouraging  engagement and participation in the wonderments of theatre.

As each of the panel members related their own personal stories, the continuity of experience, the often recurring reference to common contacts such as Sidney Poitier, Lou Gossett Jr. Melba Moore and others, reaffirmed that the Black Theatre Experience not only mattered, but was essential.

The take away was, that Theatre is a magical art form. The transformational nature of the art, and theatre’s ability to transcend cultural barriers made it an essential element in the continuum and growth of American Culture. In reflection, the opportunity to offer example and preserve culture and history should be adopted by everyone, so that we as citizens of the world, can better develop an empathetic understanding of how we all contribute to the fabric of humanity.

About Peter Finlayson

Peter Finlayson is the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-chief of FootLights magazine and While working on a prelaw program at the University of Michigan, he happily got involved with the theatre program. Much to his mother’s chagrin, law school never happened, but in a career spanning more than 4 decades, Peter has performed, directed or designed more than 150 productions. In his spare time, he is working on a new play. You can follow him on Twitter @Thtrdog .

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