Black Theater Tradition and Women Playwrights of the Harlem Renaissance
Alice Childress, Lorraine Hansberry, and Ntozake Shange, three of America's most outstanding playwrights, are crucial links in the development of playwriting in America, particularly black playwriting. An assessment, however, cannot be made about their contributions to American theater without first examining the long and vibrant tradition out of which they have emerged.
Black playwriting in America is directly linked to African theatrics. Genevieve Fabre , in Drumbeats, Masks, and Metaphor, traces the development of black playwriting from its earliest roots: Africa. Fabre suggests that many Africans expressed grievances against family members or the tribal leaders while avoiding confrontation via satire. Explosive situations were diffused and resolved by criticism cast in the form of public entertainment. 1 Fabre argues that these African dramatic renderings that were comprised primarily of dance and mime took on the appearance of a show. 2 It is believed that these African ceremonies served to preserve certain customs and a cultural heritage. James Hatch and Ted Shine, in Black Theater U.S.A.: Forty-Five Plays by Black Americans, 1847-1974, argue that Africans have traditionally celebrated life and death in theater rituals. 3
This tradition of oral drama was transferred to American soil by enslaved Africans. Fabre contends that even aboard ships coming to America, Africans provided shows for the entertainment of whites. According to Fabre, "On plantations, masters continued to request these performances. The slave was cast in the double role as laborer and entertainer." 4 Paul Carter Harrison , in Kuntu Drama, explains that these African shows were com-