In this, his fourth directory on various aspects of the African American theatre, Bernard L. Peterson, Jr., has tackled what is perhaps one of the most complex subjects of all: African American theatre groups and companies prior to 1960. The subject is complex because theatre companies are not merely organizations consisting of actors, directors, designers, and other participants in the play- production process, but also institutions that need artistic direction and administration, that require physical spaces in which to perform, and that must negotiate with playwrights for scripts and, if productions travel, with booking agencies for road playhouses. Above all, if theatre companies and theatres are to survive, they need a public ready and willing to support their endeavors and attend their shows. In preparing The African American Theatre Directory, the author has undertaken an enormous task that only someone with his already- established reputation for comprehensive and detailed research can be expected to fulfill successfully.
It must be admitted that the record of African American theatre companies, especially those of an earlier time, has not as a rule been impressive. Many have faded before attaining their potential. Prior to the 1960s, a decade that witnessed an unusual surge in the formation of black community groups nationwide, the average life span of a company, with a few notable exceptions, was under five years. Several reasons may be adduced for this condition. The lack of a threatregoing tradition among black communities is one. An insufficient number of good black plays and playwrights is another. The scarcity of informed black critics and the hostility of white critics toward black productions are a third. The difficulty of obtaining theatre houses is a fourth, while the lure of securing an acting job in the established white theatre or in the newly founded film industry has accounted for many a black actor leaving a community-