Urban Theater's David E. Talbert Honored by NAACP

Article excerpt

When David E. Talbert was a disc jockey at radio stations such as San Francisco's KSOL in the late '80s, he knew how to spin urban contemporary hits. Since then, his hit-making has expanded to include theatrical plays, musical productions, best-selling books, network television specials, a star-studded movie, and worldwide-distributed DVDs - all inspired by African American experiences. Talbert's plays have been seen by millions. The multi-talented entrepreneur has taken his Morgan State University marketing degree and spun the distinctive David E. Talbert brand.

To honor his impact on African American theater, Talbert was presented with the prestigious Trailblazer Award at the 18th Annual NAACP Theatre Awards at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles in June. This year's theme was "Salute to Black Theatre," which "celebrated the evolution of the portrayal of African Americans in theater from stereotypical caricatures to an honest reflection of the Black experience." Talbert, who has written 12 plays, is a NAACP Image Award favorite and has scooped up five awards. In fact, his production of The Fabric of a Man, with Cheryl Pepsii Riley, Clifton Powell and Shemar Moore, landed an impressive 13 NAACP Image Award nominations.

The greatest creative inspiration for Talbert was getting his heart broken in college. "Which is probably why most of my plays deal with the affairs of the heart because that's what really inspired me to start writing," he explained. "It was a college sweetheart relationship that went bad and I started writing to put the pieces back together."

The ultimate turning point, was a California performance of Beauty Shop. The authence transfixed him.

"I said, 'Wow, people are laughing at this and I could do something,'" he recalled. "I went home that night and started writing my first play."

That play was Tellin'It Like It Tiz, a production that premiered at the Black Repertory Group Theater in Berkeley, Calif., in 1991 . It explored relationships between a group of African American men and women. Talbert's style has evolved into signa- ture inspirational dramedies entwined with gospel. Urban authences nation- wide have praised productions such as Mr. Right Now with Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs, His Woman, His Wife with Stephanie Mills, He Say ... She Say ... But What Does God Say? with gospel star Kirk Franklin and Love Makes Things Happen, featuring songs written by music producer and hitmaker Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds.

The Washington Post called Talbert "one of the most prolific writers in gospel theater." Growing up in Southeast Washington, church was an integral force in Talbert's life.

"I come from a church background. My family are pastors and preachers," said Talbert, who is a big fan of the comedy writing style of playwright Neil Simon.

Still, some critics have described Talbert's tours as the "Chitlin' Circuit."

"I think it is something that is meant to demean the urban theater circuit when people use it," said Talbert. Some of these critics have included major Black theater companies that, unlike Talbert, hire members of Actors' Equity Association as performers. But Talbert paid little attention to the criticism.

"The biggest thing for me was dealing with this interesting contradiction that myself and a few others were going across the country and entertaining African American authences in droves. Throngs of people would come out," he said. "But, on the other hand, the Blacks that were in the business in theater looked down on us."

In 1995, Talbert took a break from theater. He enrolled in New York University's accelerated film program. "I'm always looking for a way to expand my craft and get better at what it is I do," he explained. By 1997, he had written and directed his first feature film A Woman Like That. …