By Linda Armstrong
2007: The Year in Black Theatre
The year 2007 was quite amazing for Black Theatre. We saw the late August Wilson’s final play in his 10-play series chronicling Black life in America, presented at the Cort Theatre on Broadway. Radio Golf was an amazing production to behold, with an outstanding African-American cast.
This past year was also phenomenal because it was the important 35th Anniversary of the AUDELCO Awards. This organization recognizes the work and accomplishments of Blacks in Theatre and Black Theatre companies. AUDELCO is an audience development non profit group that bestows VIV Awards on actors, directors, playwrights and all those associated with Black theater productions that are off-Broadway. This organization not only celebrated its landmark 35th Anniversary, but shared the spotlight with several other organizations that have been around for at least 35 years, including the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players, the Billie Holiday Theatre, the Black Spectrum Theatre, the Negro Ensemble Company, the Frank Silvera Writer’s Workshop, the Nuyorican Poet’s Caf‚, New Federal Theatre, Richard Allen Center for Culture & Art (RACCA), AMAS Musical Theatre, National Black Theatre, and Roger Furman New Heritage Theatre.
There have been some delightful productions in 2007, by Black Theatre companies. One production that had a short run but a huge positive message about African-American men was Black Man Rising presented by the National Black Theatre. Audiences enjoyed a lot of laughs at the Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn while watching Sassy Mamas and were entertained by The Desire. The Black Spectrum Theatre in Queens had Five Guys Named Moe. New Federal Theatre did Moon Over A Rainbow Shawl. Classical Theatre of Harlem did an intense production of Electra. Nilaja Sun continued to do her production of No Child, a piece she wrote to expose the issues in the New York City Public School System.
When I heard that Fantasia Barrino was going to play Celie in The Color Purple I didn’t know what to expect, but she easily proved herself to me and to anyone else, that she was not only able to be Celie, but was able to make the role her own. Her performance was so impressive it won her a Theatre World Award.
Imagine being a playwright and having your work done in one theater. What a thrill that must be, so Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Suzan-Lori Parks, must have been beside herself in 2007 when over 300 of her plays were performed in theaters around the country in a project called “365 Days/365 Plays” and it was just what its title said, a play a day.
2007 was a year that saw positive things for David Lamb, the writer of Platanos & Collard Greens not only is the show in its fifth year but it was joined in December by Auction Block to Hip Hop. In January, both plays can be seen at Florence Guild Hall on E. 59th Street.
Productions that showcased the talents of some marvelous Black performers included 110 In The Shade, which had Audra McDonald; A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Keith David in a lead role; Ella Joyce in her one-woman show, The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement; Glynn Turman in his one-man show, The Movin’ Man and Melba Moore in her show Sweet Songs of My Soul. Lisa Gay Hamilton was on stage in Ohio State Murders. Andre De Shields had everyone captivated and amused as he starred in the Classical Theatre of Harlem musical production of Black Nativity.
A very sad note to 2007 was the passing of Larry Leon Hamlin, the founder of the National Black Theatre Festival that is held in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Hamlin founded the festival to make sure that Black Theatre professionals get their due.
There are several shows to watch out for in 2008: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is going to be presented on Broadway in a landmark all-Black production featuring James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Terrence Howard and Anika Noni Rose and if that wasn’t awesome enough, the show is being directed by Debbie Allen. The Disney production of The Little Mermaid is going to showcase the talents of quite a few African-Americans, such as Norm Lewis. While The Color Purple will lose Fantasia, it will gain Chaka Khan and Bebe Winans in the roles of Sophia and Harpo.
Whatever you do in 2008, make sure that you support Black Theatre Groups and Blacks in productions.