Black Drama of the Federal Theatre Era: Beyond the Formal Horizons

By E. Quita Craig | Go to book overview

EIGHT
MESSAGE FROM ANOTHER CULTURE

HERETICAL AS IT may have sounded to American ears in the thirties, there were beyond realism, and even beyond the new experimental theories, dramatic modes and techniques which had not been immortalized by the European giants. The Noh drama of Japan,1 the Chinese Wayang,2 the Jatra3 and Kutiyattam4 of India, for instance, were dramatic gateways to other worlds. In view of the ethnic variety of America's population, certainly any definition of American experimental theater exclusively in terms of Euro-American modes and techniques was unjustified; it was also an unwarranted limitation on the very concept of experimentation.

There were those, however, who saw the potential of such ethnic diversity, and Alain Locke carried on a tireless campaign to make America aware of the artistic resources of its black culture:

Here for the enrichment of American and modern art, among our contemporaries, in a people who still have the ancient key, are some of the things we thought culture had forever lost. Art can not disdain the gift of a natural irony, of a transfiguring imagination, of rhapsodic Biblical speech, of dynamic musical swing, of cosmic emotion such as only the gifted pagans knew, of a return to nature, not by way of the forced and worn formula of Romanticism, but through the closeness of an imagination that has never broken kinship with nature.5

For black American dramatists Locke specifically emphasized that one could "scarcely think of a complete development of Negro dramatic art without some significant re-expression of African life, and the tradition associated with it,"6 for if

the sophisticated race sense of the Negro should lead back over the track of the group tradition to an interest in things African, the natural affinities of the material and the art will complete the circuit and they will most electrically combine,7

and we now have, through the Federal Collection, new evidence that these affinities were recognized and exploited by black playwrights in

-85-

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