The African American Theatre Directory, 1816-1960: A Comprehensive Guide to Early Black Theatre Organizations, Companies, Theatres, and Performing Groups

By Bernard L. Peterson Jr. | Go to book overview
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a white director. Tensions arise when interpretations by the director seem demeaning to the senior black actress of the company. She speaks out against this and risks being fired. The production won an Obie in 1956 for the best original Off-Broadway play.

Loften Mitchell docudrama A Land beyond the River, produced in 1957, presents the problems faced by the South Carolina teacher whose lawsuit for equal school facilities and buses for children formed part of the case that was argued before the Supreme Court and resulted in its 1954 school-desegregation decision. In 1959, Lorraine Hansberry drama A Raisin in the Sun depicted a Chicago family under the stress of deciding how best to spend the insurance money they received at their father's death. Each member has a legitimate claim to part of the income. After being bilked out of most of it by unscrupulous knaves, Mama Younger decides to move the family into a better home in a white district rather than accept a bribe to stay out of the neighborhood.

Finally, in 1959, Actors Equity presented an Integration Showcase of selections from plays with racially mixed casts in which black actors took roles that had hitherto been reserved for whites. The occasion was organized by Frederick O'Neal, then chairman of Equity's Committee on Integration of the Negro in the Theatre. According to the New York Post of April 22, 1959, the matinee performance was meant to prove to its invited audience of 1,500 producers, directors, and authors that "there was more room on the stage for the Negro actors than custom has conceded."

If the decade of the 1950s was integrationist, the next decade and a half would be decidedly separatist and revolutionary, accompanied by a remarkable upsurge of black theatre companies across the land. But that is another story, and we must await the next volume in the series from the indefatigable Mr. Peterson to document the succeeding years in the saga of the African American stage companies.


NOTES
1.
Black American Literature 16, no. 4 (Winter 1982): 136-38.
2.
Quoted in Ethel Pitts Walker, "The American Negro Theatre," in The Theatre of Black Americans, ed. Errol Hill ( New York: Applause Books, 1987), p. 253.
3.
Ibid., p. 258.

Errol Hill

-xv-

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