Acting Out: Black Theater in Transition

By Roach, Ronald | Black Issues in Higher Education, August 7, 1997 | Go to article overview

Acting Out: Black Theater in Transition


Roach, Ronald, Black Issues in Higher Education


Theater Schools Cast in Key Role

August Wilson has achieved the success most playwrights only dream about. His award-winning plays - which include "Fences", "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," and "The Piano Lesson" - have rendered sensitive and probing portrayals of African American life. Staged in venues ranging from regional theaters to Broadway, Wilson's plays have earned two Pulitzer Prizes and lavish praise from critics.

So it came as something of a shock to the theatrical world last year when Wilson chose to castigate the nonprofit theater establishment for its alleged part in undermining African American theater. The Charge was made at Princeton University during his keynote address to a gathering of the Theatre Communications Group, a leading nonprofit theater organization.

"... Black Theater in America is alive ... it is vital ... it just isn't funded," Wilson said. "Black theatre doesn't share in the economics that would allow it to support its artists and supply them with meaningful avenues to develop their talent and broadcast and disseminate ideas crucial to its growth. The economics are reserved as privilege to the overwhelming abundance of institutions that preserve, promote, and perpetuate White culture."

Wilson criticized funding organizations for rewarding majority-White regional theaters for programming plays about minorities while failing to support Black theater organizations. He declared that White-controlled theater companies were attempting to diversify their programming at the expense of the Black theater establishment.

Wilson's comments brought new attention to the cause of independent Black theater in America. A number of Black theater professionals say he voiced a widely-felt frustration with the nonprofit theater establishment. But they also point out that continued survival of Black theater will require considerable innovation to strengthen links to the communities in which theater companies reside, and to institutions, such as historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

In recent years, the works of contemporary Black playwrights, such as Wilson, have found a receptive environment at HBCUs. Dr. Mikell Pinkney, assistant professor of theater at the University of Florida, undergraduate drama programs at HBCUs have remained highly competitive in attracting African American students even while better funded programs at traditionally White institutions (TWIs) have welcomed Black students. Pinkney is president of the Black Theatre Network, a nonprofit organization of African American theater faculty and theater professionals.

"One of the problems for Black students at majority White institutions is that they don't get the acting opportunities," says Dr. Darius L. Swann, former professor of drama and religion at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. "If they get a chance, it's usually the role of a maid or something like that."

Swann, an African American and an advocate of non-traditional casting, has always made an effort to give Black students a shot at substantive roles.

Black college drama programs have been considered essential to African American theater companies because they depend on trained graduates to staff their companies and to perform in productions. Yet, Dr. Michael Lomax, founder of the National Black Arts Festival and president of Dillard University, said there have been too few contemporary linkages forged between HBCUs and Black theater companies.

"Before desegregation, there were greater links between HBCUs and their communities in terms of the arts. HBCUs were largely the center of Black theatrical activity," Lomax said.

Perpetually Challenged

The tradition of independent Black theater has been considered vital to the development of American theater. As early as the nineteenth century, independent Black theater companies nurtured and produced the works of African American playwrights and provided acting and other opportunities for thousands more. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Acting Out: Black Theater in Transition
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.