This year has been an exciting one for Black actors, directors, producers and playwrights to showcase their talents and broaden their expertise on The Great White Way. The 2011 – 2012 season was also especially pleasing for theatergoers, who were offered a range of narratives in regard to Black life. New plays with provocative story lines like those at the heart of The Mountaintop and Stick Fly along with the revival of productions such as The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and A Streetcar Named Desire have received a rousing welcome.
“With new productions, new audiences, and the people behind the scenes to make it all happen, Broadway is showcasing its diversity. To celebrate the rising visibility of African-Americans in the theater, What’s The 411 Networks held its first “A Salute to Black Broadway,” Ruth J. Morrison, founder of What’s The 411 Networks, said in a formal statement. “What’s The 411’s ‘A Salute to Black Broadway’ celebrated those who are creating opportunities for others on Broadway, who are helping to sustain productions on Broadway, and who are bringing Broadway-caliber productions to people across the country.” What’s The 411 Networks is a Brooklyn-based media, marketing and entertainment company that aims to connect multicultural audiences by delivering original video content and curated news and information worldwide through its television, online and mobile platforms.
Held at the James E. Davis 80 Arts Building in Brooklyn, N.Y., the event honored Alia Jones-Harvey, producer, Front Row Productions; Kevin-Anthony and Sean Hollingsworth, producers, B2: Productions and Black 2: Broadway; Marcia Pendelton, founder and president of Walk Tall Girl Productions; and Jesse Wooden Jr., director, The MAAFA Suite and Black Nativity.
“I dived head first into this industry to expand the opportunity for actors of color and to expand the offering for audiences that had not been attracted to Broadway by presenting great work featuring actors of color,” says Jones-Harvey. “The goal for bringing classic popular titles like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire to Broadway with leads of color was aligned with my aim as a producer — attract new audiences that have not been to Broadway, attract traditional theatergoers that love Tennessee Williams and want to see how these groundbreaking revivals interpret the work. It was also important to leave the script intact, as much as possible, to demonstrate that Williams wrote about themes that are common across races. Our revival of A Streetcar Named Desire has an authenticity that is recognizable to anyone who has spent some time in New Orleans.”
Hollingsworth, who has more than 20 years of experience as a producer of nonprofit, corporate and entertainment productions, says, “We started this idea [B2: Productions] to a create a spotlight, a moment and a presence, and to create opportunities for performers of color to tell our stories and to meet their needs.”
Besides awarding the honorees, “A Salute to Black Broadway” also served as a fundraiser for the George H. Murray Preparatory Academy in Brooklyn. “It’s important that we take care of the next generation,” says Morrison, who plans to present the tribute program annually. “ ‘A Salute to Black Broadway’ is very important to me because it is essential that we take the lead and acknowledge our heroes within the Black theater community. We should not wait for others to anoint our luminaries and then jump on the bandwagon to join the celebration,” she says.
“The community of Blacks in theater is large and rich with important stories and incredible talent. Celebration allows us to elevate this great work and talent, whether it crosses over to a mainstream audience or not,” says Jones-Harvey. “What we choose not to acknowledge will simply disappear. Theater is a critical form of communication that we cannot afford to let disappear.”
* Photo by Kevin Wick