The Performing Arts
Theatre has not always been enjoyed a good image with most black folks. It had a kind of elitist ring to it, something you had to dress up in your best Sunday-go-to-meetin’ outfit to attend. This somewhat negative image has always been a major problem confronting the “black theater” movement and while it is less prevalent today, it still keeps many potential theater goers away.
This is not to say though that there hasn’t been a tremendous increase in the number of people attending Black and Black-oriented theatre productions. Due to the revival of Black theatre as a potent cultural force in the 1960s, there is currently a growing Black theatre audience. Or maybe I should say a growing audience for the big, glittering, black-oriented Broadway musicals such as Raisin, The Wiz, Bubbling Brown Sugar, etc. These shows have all drawn thousands of Black folks into the theatre, many of whom had never before seen a live theatrical production of any kind. For instance, the box office at The Wiz used to get calls after the performance had started asking “when does the next show start?”
Also popular were musicals such as Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, Me and Bessie and the still running Your Arms Too Short to Box With God. One notices right away the dearth of Black dramas or comedies on the aptly named “Great White Way.” However, this is not just limited to black productions. There’s really not that much white drama on Broadway, though there are a good number of white comedies. It seems that the basic Broadway audience doesn’t want to deal with too much heavy material when they are paying $7-20 for tickets. During the last six years only four Black dramas achieved any kind of success on Broadway — Joseph Walker’s Tony Award winning play The River Niger, two one-act South African works, Sizwe Banzi is Dead and The Island and Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. Three performers in the latter three productions won Tony Awards for performances in their category.
So, you may ask, is there any other kind of Black theatre in New York and where does one find out about it? The answer to the first part of the question is yes, there is plenty of other kinds of Black theatre in New York being done in at least four of the five boroughs. At these theaters, one can see performed, with varying degrees of competence, entertaining, exciting, informative, interesting and quality Black theatre of all kinds. They do dramas, comedies, and musicals dealing with various aspects of Black life and experiences. And the answer to the second part of the question about where to find out about all this activity is to contact the Black Theatre Alliance (247-5840) which publishes a monthly newsletter with loads of information about what’s happening in Black theatre and dance.
This column will also keep you abreast of the happenings and will make observations on what various productions are all about. It will, however, be more than just a critic’s corner. It will also sometimes deal with places to eat near the theaters. At other times it may include an interview with a theatre personality. It will also delve into the economic aspects of the theatre, dealing with subjects such as; How does one go about investing in a play?”
In other words,”Curtains Up” plans on being informative, educational and entertaining. And hopefully will motivate you to check out Black theatre wherever you are.