On Saturday, March 10, 2012, four luminaries in theatre in the United States gathered, under the auspices of The Newark Public Library, to discuss the past, present and future of African American theatre in a program entitled “The State of Black Theatre.” Poet/playwright Amiri Baraka, actors Stephen McKinley Henderson and Marie Thomas and producer/writer Woodie King, Jr. engaged in a lively discussion moderated by Baraka Sele, a consultant with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and a performing arts producer in her own right.
The program was part of The Newark Public Library’s African American program series, We Wear the Mask: Black Dramatic Theatre in Newark & Near, From 1700s to 2012. The programs and accompanying exhibition were curated by Sandra L. West, Manager of the James Brown African American Room of The Newark Public Library. Throughout February (Black History Month) and March, the series of programs and events explored the history of Black theatre in Newark and beyond from the perspective of those who worked in the trenches, among them Marvin Jefferson (Ensemble Theatre Company), Clarence Ali (Theatre of Universal Images), Richard Wesley (screenwriter/playwright), Kevin Maynor (Trilogy: An Opera Company) and many others.
Several members of the greater Newark theatre community showed up for the March 10 program including spoken word artist, Reginald E. Gaines, credited with writing the Broadway production, Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk, which starred Newark’s own renowned tap dancer, Savion Glover, Tony Wilkes who worked on the costumes for the production and runs his own repertory theatre company, Kyle C. Coles (Seventh Sons Theatre Inc.) who is running an actors’ workshop out of Essex County College and arts administrator/actor Rodney Gilbert.
Preceding the panel discussion, Elma T. Bateman and Arthur L. Wilson, founders of Newark-based Elmart Theatre Service, received an award for their 43-year history of running bus rides to the Black Theatre. The organization began in 1969 with a bus trip to the 10th anniversary production of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway. Since that time, they have taken thousands of people to over 150 performances at the New Federal Theatre, Billie Holiday Theatre, Crossroads Theatre Company, the Negro Ensemble Company and countless Broadway and off-Broadway productions.
(front) Stephen McKinley Henderson, Marie Thomas, Amiri Baraka, Woodie King, Jr.; (rear) Baraka Sele and Reg E. Gaines
Sandra L. West (center) gives awards to Elmart co-founders Arthur L. Wilson and Elma T. Bateman
For the complete story, visit my blog at www.AfriCulture2012.wordpress.com.