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

By E. Quita Craig | Go to book overview

FOURTEEN
BLACK REVOLUTIONARY DOCTRINE AND BLACK DRAMA OF THE THIRTIES

IN THE THIRTY-FIVE years since the Federal Theatre era, the American stage has seen many changes. The segregation of theater artists and audiences has become a thing of the past, and the black dramatic art has become free to develop its own modes in its own manner for its own audiences. Yet two of the major problems which the Federal Theatre had done much to alleviate during its short life reappeared to plague the efforts of black dramatists and the black stage. These were lack of adequate financing and the lack of a large enough black audience. In the sixties, the lack of financing was to some extent alleviated by government and other grants, such as that of the Rockefeller Foundation; however the creation of a black audience was incomplete, and was still essential for the success of the black stage.

Since the closing of the Federal Theatre, the most influential organization in the black dramatic world to address itself to this need has been the Black Arts Movement -- the Black Revolutionary Theater -- of which Imamu Amiri Baraka ( LeRoi Jones) was the guiding light in the late sixties and early seventies.1 As its name implies, this theater is firmly committed to black politics and it established the "correct" ideology for the black revolutionary stage, based on what it saw to be the cultural and political needs of the black community. Two of its ideological requirements were that black plays must have spontaneous appeal for the black masses and that they must be authenticated by the black community. To the theorists, this meant that black playwrights must be committed to projecting legitimate images of the community's identity, its culture, and its experience, and, in conjunction with its political aims, it also meant that for plays to be considered valid its playwrights must be committed to nationalism and revolutionary change.

To accomplish these aims the movement dictated a complete rejection of the white commercial stage, including its ethics, its aesthetics, and its cult of stars. Black drama should and must return to being a communal expression, and the Western abstraction and separation of

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