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.