Cast a Wide Net

Cast a Wide Net - 598 / Forum on Black Theatre black actors...

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598 / Forum on Black Theatre black actors playing a wide repertoire from Langston Hughes’s Mulatto to Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls . . . ; from Sissle and Blake’s The Chocolate Dandies to August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean . If the reader wishes to de±ne “playing black,” make a list. Who are the actors and the plays that you admire for their blackness?” Then make a list of actors and plays you admire for their whiteness. American racism gives art its color. JAMES V. HATCH Theatre Professor Emeritus, City University of New York j Cast a wide net When works defy the prevailing concept of what constitutes an art form, they are often dismissed as faulty or overlooked all together until historians resurrect them and contextualize them through the clarifying lens of hindsight. In responding to the questions “What is a black play/What is playing black?,” I want to call attention to the work of some contemporary artists who could be dismissed because their approaches to theatre making do not mirror those of more publicly prominent black artists, and who might be overlooked because few people are discussing their work within the context of “black theatre.” During the Black Arts Movement, Adrienne Kennedy fell into a similar black blind spot. Her early work was nurtured by Edward Albee and Michael Kahn at Circle in the Square Rep rather than with Barbara Ann Teer at the National Black Theatre, Amiri Baraka at Black Arts Repertory Theatre, Douglas Turner Ward at the Negro Ensemble Company, or Robert Macbeth at the New Lafayette Theatre. Ironically, in terms of content, Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of the Negro and The Owl Answers both express a complex black identity that pushes blackness out of the racist boxes that Baraka also worked against. Structurally, her work foreshadows Paul Carter Harrison’s declaration in “Mother/Word” that black drama could not be contained within psychological realism, but instead needed a “drama of nommo”—non-linear, cross-genre, ritually driven work. Kennedy earned her reputation in the avant-garde theatre world while other black artists (mostly men with decidedly nationalist politics) were solidifying what a “black play” was and what “playing black” might be. Similarly, the artists I mention here have often found homeplace more comfortably in so-called experimental or avant-garde theatre communities. Few have been embraced by black theatres or large black audiences. Kennedy and the jazz aesthetic artists I discuss here share an unapologetic emphasis on the subjective experience of one character, a
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This note was uploaded on 08/02/2011 for the course TD 301 taught by Professor Dvoskin during the Spring '07 term at University of Texas.

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Cast a Wide Net - 598 / Forum on Black Theatre black actors...

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