On the National Black Theatre Summit: An Open E-Mail

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On The National Black Theatre Summit: An Open E-mail

On Saturday, March 7, 1998, Garland Lee Thompson, founding director of the Frank Silvera Writers Workshop wrote to Pulitzer Prize playwright August Wilson via the Internet and World Wide Web site (http://www. dartmouth.edu/~awilson) regarding the Summit on African American Theatre which took place at Dartmouth College.

Dear Mr Wilson:

I wish to offer our best wishes to you and the Steering Committee at Dartmouth College in your efforts to produce and coordinate the National Black Theatre Summit "On Golden Pond"....

Since the first National Black Theatre Festival in 1989 in Winston-Salem, NC., conceived and produced by Larry Leon Hamlin with Dr. Maya Angelou serving as the first National Chair, we have attempted to bring forth to the national table, a major debate and discussion of many of the very same issues that are listed in the brochure and printed material submitted by the Dartmouth steering committee.

In the 1991 National Black Theatre Festival, during the Playwrights Symposium with a panel of leading Black playwrights, it was recommended that a series of follow-up actions were necessary in light of the projected crisis that has since occurred within the American Black Theatre Movement. We formed a working steering committee and followed next with the year-long planning and coordination of the 1992 Black Theatre In America Conference at New York University, in October of that year. It was at that very successful threeday conference that we first became aware of Dr. Victor Walker [executive director of the Dartmouth Summit Conference], who was invited from the West Coast to participate as a panelist of one the many panels...on producing, designing, directing, publishing and playwrighting. Many of the leading elders of the theatre were in attendance (as many as five hundred), focusing on developing an agenda for the survival of the American Black Theatre Movement throughout the rest of the nineties and into the 21st Century.

In the following summer, we went back to Winston-Salem for the 1993 National Black Theatre Festival to continue to build on the national dialogue we had started. The Festival attendance had now started to grow from a few thousand to thirty thousand. At the 1995 Festival, we were warned that the National Endowment for the Arts was in danger of folding, as it did for us in December 1996, when the Expansion Arts Program, the Theatre Program and the Dance Program did close. Many Black theatre companies have also shut down since. …