How is black theater doing in the U.S.? American Theatre Magazine set out to answer that question.
African-American theaters vary as widely as the cities, regions and communities they represent. And while the stories they tell may cover the spectrum of human experience, there are some struggles and missions that unite them.
Atlanta-based theater critic Kelundra Smith wrote about black theaters across the country for the March issue of American Theatre.
“Most of the country’s African American theatres were founded to give Black actors an opportunity to play diverse roles and to offer Black playwrights the chance to tell honest, original stories about their communities,” Smith writes. “The same need that motivated the founding of theatres in the ’60s and ’70s persists today. According to the Actors’ Equity 2017 Diversity Study, African Americans received just 8.63 percent of all principal contracts in plays.”
“What happens for a lot of the artists is that the presence of the theater is giving them opportunity,” Smith tells “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes.
She cites a study done by The Count, an ongoing study of diversity in American theatre conducted by a partnership between the Lilly Awards and the Dramatists Guild.
“In the deep South, maybe 4 percent of plays on stages are written by people of color. So 96 percent of the stories that we’re getting in the deep South are written by white people. And that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with white playwrights. When we think about our history and how we document who we are and what life was like in this time, if 96 percent of the narrative that we’re getting in this part of the country is written by one group of people, we have an incomplete picture of who we are.”
Here in Atlanta, Smith asserts that our hometown theater scene is very rich, pointing to the work being produced by companies like True Colors, New African Grove, Red Light Arts, New Marietta Theatre in the Square.
“We’ve got some great black theater in Atlanta,” she says, “And we could always use more. We owe it to each other to hear each other’s stories.”