Langston Hughes: Folk Dramatist in the Protest Tradition, 1921-1943

By Joseph McLaren | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
The Harlem Suitcase Theatre

Langston Hughes was instrumental in organizing the Harlem Suitcase Theatre, an experimental theatre-in-the-round that premiered his didactic play Don't You Want to Be Free? during its first season in the spring of 1938. The Suitcase Theatre staged a series of satiric skits, "hilarious histrionics," during its second season in the fall of 1938. Through parody, these skits "signify" on certain well-known texts, some of which had been also made into films. 1

With the assistance of Louise Thompson Patterson, Hughes began forming the Harlem Suitcase Theatre in 1938. The goal was to organize "a group of proficient actors" who would present productions for labor organizations. Paul Peters, Whittaker Chambers, Langston Hughes, and Jacob Burck would serve as directors. 2 Rather than the "N.Y Suitcase Theatre," the organization ultimately became known as the Harlem Suitcase Theatre, suggesting that Hughes and the other organizers had decided to locate the theatre in Harlem rather than a downtown area. The name also implies that the productions would use "'about as much stage property as can be packed in a suitcase.'" As expressed by Hughes in the Daily Worker, the intention was to produce plays in a variety of styles, to present African Americans in roles other than the "'comic and servile'" parts associated with Broadway productions, and to provide entertainment that was neither "morbid nor tragic." 3

With its mission to promote interracial plays, the Suitcase Theatre had the support and sponsorship of Max Yergan, the black Communist Party spokesperson in Harlem who had been involved with the International Committee on African Affairs and the Manhattan Council of the

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Langston Hughes: Folk Dramatist in the Protest Tradition, 1921-1943
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Publication/Copyright Page iv
  • Dedication Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Foreword xi
  • Note xiii
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Abbreviations xvii
  • Introduction 1
  • Endnotes 12
  • Chapter 1 - Folk Comedy in Collaboration: The Mule Bone Affair 17
  • Endnotes 29
  • Chapter 2 - Radical Drama and the Black Community 33
  • Endnotes 54
  • Chapter 3 - The Tragic Mode: Mulatto 59
  • Endnotes 74
  • Chapter 4 - The Gilpin Players and the Karamu Comedies 79
  • Endnotes 97
  • Chapter 5 - The Karamu Tragedies 101
  • Endnotes 114
  • Additional Info *
  • Chapter 6 - The Harlem Suitcase Theatre 117
  • Endnotes 136
  • Chapter 7 - Community Theatre, Black Iconography, and World War II 141
  • Notes 159
  • Notes 165
  • Notes 170
  • Afterword 173
  • Bibliography 175
  • Index 181
  • About the Author *
  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Afro-American and African Studies *
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