Black theatre is an economic development tool

Our suggested activity for National Black Business Month to begin on Saturday, Aug. 15 is to go to an African-American theatre.   With more than 100 to choose from, not counting additional dance troupes and touring productions, this is a pasttime which could take one the remainder of the year.      The National Black Theatre Festival began National Black Business Month with a week in 17 locations throughout Winston-Salem, making a powerful legacy for its late founder Larry Leon Hamlin, who began the series 20 years ago, ten years after begining the N.C. Black Repertory Theatre.  As editor of the Winston-Salem Chronicle in 1978, I remember interviewing him on that first occasion and it is a joy to see how his dream has flowered.

Besides the creative expansion of our culture, theatre companies create a lot of jobs, particularly for our actors and actressses, but also for our backstage professionals.  The established companies are magnets which can support additional businesses, but like many non-profit organizations, need our individual support even more now than ever.  They remind us that our entire culture is not represented by TV sitcoms, music videos and reality shows.

Also this month, the 4th annual Shades of Black Theatre Festival begins in Nashville at the Darkhorse Theatre Aug. 28 through Sept. 26 and the Beverly Hills Hollywood  NAACP hosts its NAACP Theatre Awards  Aug. 28-29 in Los Angeles.   The 15th annual Ira Aldridge Awards take place Oct. 5 in Chicago.

But the appeal of black theatre has been quite enduring.    Some of the most established companies are:  St. Louis’ Black Rep, launched in 1976;  Dr. Barbara Ann Teer’s National Black Theatre Institute of Action Arts, founded in 1968; and Phoenix” Black Theatre Troupe.

Here’s a list of black theatre companies.

African American Drama Company (San Francisco)
African American Performing Arts Community Theater (Miami)
African Continuum Theatre (DC)
African-American Shakespere Company (San Francisco)
American Negro Playwright Theatre (Nashville)
Amun Ra Theatre (Nashville)
Anthony Bean Theater Company (New Orleans)
Current Theatre Company (Toronto)
Billie Holiday Theatre (Brooklyn)
Black Academy of Arts and Letters (Dallas)
Black Ensemble Theater (Chicago)
Black Spectrum Theatre (Jamaica, NY)
Black Theatre Troupe (Phoenix)
Black Women Playwrights’ Group (DC)
Blacken Blues Theater (Dallas)
Bushfire Theatre Company (Philadelphia)
Carpetbag Theatre (Knoxville)
Cincinnati Black Theatre Company
Classical Theatre of Harlem
Collards and Caviar Productions (Nashville)
Congo Square Theatre Company (Chicago)
Crossroads Theatre Company (New Brunswick)
Cultural Odyssey (San Francisco)
Detroit Repertory Theatre
Emerald Entertainment (Cleveland)
Ensemble Theater (Houston)
ETA (Chicago)
Evelyn Graves Drama Productions (Philadelphia)
Forbidden Fruit Theatre Company (Los Angeles)
Freedom Theatre (Philadelphia)
Hansberry Project at ACT (Seattle)
Harlem Stage
Hattiloo Theatre (Memphis)
Ikam Productions
Images Theatre Company (CA)
Impact Repertory Theatre (NYC)
InnerAct Productions (Brooklyn)
iTheatre Collaborative (Phoenix)
Jubilee Theatre (Ft. Worth)
Jump Start Theatre Company (San Antonio)
Juneteenth Legacy Theatre (Louisville)
Karamu House (Cleveland)
Kuntu Repertory Theatre (Pittsburgh)
Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center (Seattle)
Lorraine Hansberry Theatre (San Francisco)
Los Angeles African American Repertory Company
M Ensemble (Miami)
Ma’at Association of African Centered Theatre (MPAACT) (Chicago)
Mad River Theater Works (West Liberty, OH)
Mahogany Project (Seattle)
Mixed Blood Theatre (Minneapolis)
Mosaic Youth Theatre (Detroit)
Negro Ensemble Company (NYC)
New Federal Theatre (NYC)
New Jomandi Theatre (Atlanta)
New Venture Theatre (Baton Rouge, LA)
New World Theater (Amherst, MA)
North Carolina Black Repertory Company (Winston-Salem)
Nu Black Arts West Theatre (WA)
Obsidian Theatre (Canada)
Opera Ebony (NYC)
Our Place Theater (Boston)
Penumbra Theatre Company (Minneapolis)
People’s Theatre (Orlando)
Plowshares Theater Company (Detroit)
Providence Black Repertory Company (RI)
Riant Theatre (NYC)
Rites and Reason Theatre (Providence, RI)
Robey Theatre Company (LA)
Take Wings and Soar (NYC)
The Black Rep (St. Louis)
The Essential Theatre (DC)
THEARC (DC)
Towne Street Theatre (LA)
True Colors Theatre Company (Atlanta)
Ujima Theatre Company (Buffalo)
Unity Theatre Company (St. Louis)
Up You Mighty Race (Boston)
Watts Village Theater Company (LA)
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (Sarasota)
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4 comments

  1. I wonder what your definition of a black theatre is! Your list does include several legitimate black theatres who have been toiling for years, and deserve recognition. However the list contains many that are theatres in name only. They are not regular producing entities, but semi-professional or amateur groups who might produce a play or two a year. Additionally, there are cultural groups attached to city governments (Langston Hughes Cultural Arts)
    who engage in a variety of cultural activities including plays, but does that make them a black theatre? I don’t think so. During research for our book,
    Historical Dictionary of African American Theatre, we discovered that there are only about 35 professional black theatres across the country. Your article would have more weight if you hadn’t blurred the lines between professional and amateur.

  2. thanks for the observation. for the purposes of economic development, we encourage supporting both the professional and amateur theatres. I was at a theatre production in Jacksonville this month that put almost two dozen people to work, and also drew traffic to nearby restaurants and businesses. I suspect they wouldn’t meet your definition, but the distinction would probably be lost on their audience.

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