Black-Led Theatre Companies
-By Emma Sue Harris
“Can you name any back-led theatre companies?”
Unfortunately, for many theatre-makers, the answer to the above question is “no.” As we examine how we, as theatre-makers, can act in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, we want to highlight some black-led theatre companies whose work is representative of the kind of power driving the movement.
If you aren’t familiar with the incredible work being done by black-led theatre companies and black theatre-makers, the list below is a good starting point. This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are countless more black-led theatre companies that are doing groundbreaking work and that need support.
For more, visit www.blacktheatrematters.org and explore their comprehensive list of black-led companies.
The Black Rep; St. Louis, MO
“Founded in 1976 by Producing Director Ron Himes, The Black Rep is the largest, professional African-American theatre company in the nation and the largest African-American performing arts organization in Missouri.
The Black Rep performs at the Edison Theater at Washington University in St. Louis. The company continues to produce quality professional dramas, comedies and musicals by primarily African-American and third world playwrights. The company has produced the works of Pulitzer Prize winning playwrights August Wilson, Dominique Morisseau, George C. Wolfe and Lynn Nottage, and Tony Kushner. In addition, the company maintains an award-winning Education and Community Program, including classes and workshops for adults and youth, touring productions, the Summer Performing Arts Program, the Teen Tech Program and the Professional Internship Program.”
Tuskegee Repertory Theatre; Tuskegee, AL
Tuskegee Repertory Theatre was founded in 1991 by Dyann Robinson. The mission of Tuskegee Repertory Theatre is first to present theatre (dance/music/drama) that reflects the cultural legacy of the Black peoples of the world, especially African Americans, and in particular, the African American cultural legacy of historic Tuskegee/Macon County, Alabama.
“The goal of Tuskegee Repertory Theatre is to make Tuskegee a Mecca for historical Black theatre just as it is a Mecca for Black achievement in education aviation, medicine, sports, music, and politics etc.”
Penumbra Theatre; St. Paul, MN
Penumbra Theatre creates professional productions that are artistically excellent, thought provoking, and relevant and illuminates the human condition through the prism of the African American experience.
The Penumbra Theatre was founded in 1976 by Artistic Director Lou Bellamy to create a forum for African-American voices in the Twin Cities’ well-respected theater community.
Penumbra Theatre Company is Minnesota’s only professional African American theatre and is one of only three professional African American theaters in the nation to offer a full season of performances.
Learn more about the history here
Plowshares Theatre Company; Detroit, MI
For 30 years, Plowshares has been the alternative voice in metro Detroit’s performing arts community. A theatre that offers a true off-Broadway experience, with the kind of entertaining, and diverse productions that has made it a favorite among discerning patrons.
Today, Plowshares Theatre Company is recognized as Michigan’s only professional African American theatre company. Plowshares is an urban theatre with a distinctly Detroit style.
The name of the theatre company is synonymous with its mission: Plowshares is dedicated to “breaking new ground” by nurturing emerging talent, offering inspiring opportunities for growth to local artists and presenting new plays that explore new perspectives.
Learn more about Plowshares here
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe; Sarasota, FL
The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe was founded in 1999 by Nate Jacobs with the mission to produce professional theatre that promotes and celebrates the African American experience, attracts diverse audiences, supports and develops African American artists, and builds the self-esteem of African American youth.
Stage Aurora Theatrical Company; Jacksonville, FL & NYC
Stage Aurora’s mission is to enlighten the mind by way of the Arts through the African American experience.
Stage Aurora began as an opportunity to provide the underserved community of Jacksonville’s Northse with professional theatre reflecting the African-American experience.
In New York City, Stage Aurora is quickly making its mark with original productions The Dinner and Drawn from the Water, having received some support from the Dramatists Guild Fund, Actor’s Equity Association, National Alliance for Musical Theatre, and the Queens Council on the Arts.
Each of the above theatres and countless more are doing the admirable work of amplifying black voices and narratives. As we move into the future and imagine a better theatre industry for all of us, we encourage you to look to these organizations and support and uplift their work.