Magazine article Black Masks

But Is It Black Theatre?

Magazine article Black Masks

But Is It Black Theatre?

Article excerpt

We often say casually that there are no coincidences in the universe. While I am not prepared to argue this concept philosophically, it always intrigues me when there is a confluence of happenings in my life that center around the same theme, at the same time. While I was inputting Dr. Charles Verharen's article on Afrocentricity, I found it quite odd that for the very first time in teaching African American drama at New York University, a student asked in class just what is African American theatre. He then asked would theatre written by a White playwright and performed by Black actors still be considered African American theatre? Personally, I do not teach plays written by White playwrights in that class, with the exception of Native Son, which was written by White playwright Paul Green, based on Richard Wright's novel and in conversation with but not in agreement with Wright.

Still, I feel the history of African American theatre is incomplete without mention of the plays performed by the Lafayette Players who mounted many plays by White authors in order to be able to exercise their acting skills outside of the circumscribed roles of maids, butlers, tragic mulattoes, mammies, and Uncle Toms available for them in the 1920s in mainstream American theatre. I also have to mention Anna Lucasta, which became the signature piece of the American Negro Theatre and yet was an adaptation of a White-written play about a Polish family. Then there was Jean Genet's The Blacks -- White written, Black cast and the launching pad for a whole generation of African American actors, including James Earl Jones.

Are classic plays performed by Black actors African American theatre? Denver Center Theatre Company is presently producing Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Israel Hicks and Black cast. Do they bring ethnic values through their body, their language, their attitude, their energy that renders the production worthy of consideration as African American theatre? …

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