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‘The Colored Museum’ showcases actors graduating from inaugural CHANGE 9-week course


Under the direction of Artistic Director Bill Taylor, Theatre Conspiracy at the Alliance has been steadily increasing programming that includes minority actors and appeals to diverse audiences. In this vein, Theatre Conspiracy produced August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom two seasons ago, and followed that with Seven Guitars and Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun the season just ended. This initiative has met with two surprising results.

The first has been the dearth of African-American actors available to fill the roles created by these and other brilliant minority playwrights to recount the black experience in America, both now and in yesteryear. The second has been the painful lack of diversity in the audiences who’ve attended the shows. Don’t misunderstand. Bill Taylor and veteran director Sonya McCarter are genuinely pleased and grateful for every single patron who turned out. But the lack of greater diversity in the audiences who saw Ma Rainey, Seven Guitars and Raisin in the Sun underscores the need to reach people of color and stir their passion for truly great live theater.

So with a grant provided by the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, the Alliance for the Arts has embarked upon an exciting and somewhat daring program to expand the pool of local talent capable of taking on challenging African-American roles while concurrently engendering in minority communities a greater interest in and appreciation for both the visual and performing arts.

The program is called Communities Harnessing the Arts to Nurture and Grow Equity, and it goes by the acronym of CHANGE. And one of the first steps in the initiative is a 9-week course at the Alliance that is engaging 11 adults from minority communities in the theater arts. They’re currently enrolled in an intensive exploration of the fundamentals of acting, character development and scene work. And their education and training will culminate with a community showcase that takes place at the IMAG Theatre in August.

“They’ll be performing a series of vignettes that are part of a play titled The Colored Museum by George C. Wolff,” reports McCarter, who admires the Emmy-winning sixty-something playwright for his “intentional phraseology.” More, she respects Wolfe’s ability to eviscerate the stereotypes that all of us embrace. By stripping off facades, artifice and emotional armor of the characters he contrives, Wolfe shines a cold, unapologetic light on the essence of the black experience in this country.

Or, as New York Times reviewer Frank Rich put it 32 years ago, way back in 1986, “How do American black men and women at once honor and escape the legacy of suffering that is the baggage of their past?”

It’s not just a fair question, but one that compelled George Wolfe to courageously excoriate the assumptions underlying no less than Lorraine Hansberry’s iconic play A Raisin in the Sun. In a sketch titled “The Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play,” Wolfe ridicules the characters of Mama and her son, Walter Lee, the dialogue that passes between them, and the expectations that white audiences have of mainstream black performers and the playwrights who infuse them with animus – making good on his promise to deliver “a searing domestic drama that tears at the very fabric of racist America” by revealing the cultural blind spots of blacks and whites alike.

From an intellectual standpoint, The Colored Museum is the perfect sequel to the Ma Rainey-Seven Guitars-Raisin in the Sun trilogy that Bill Taylor and Sonya McCarter have produced at Theatre Conspiracy over the past two seasons. But The Colored Museum makes sense for a more pragmatic reason. While the individual playettes contain the pacing and unity of a full-length play, The Colored Museum‘s division into eleven revue-like vignettes is far easier and considerably less taxing on eleven neophyte actors, some of whom are appearing before a live audience for the very first time.

Regrettably, the performance is restricted to family, friends and invited guests due to the size of the IMAG Theatre … which will also make the newbies’ introduction to the Southwest Florida theater community less imposing and more comfortable.

But fret not. “This is just the start of the [CHANGE] program,” reassures McCarter. “We will have more opportunities to train and showcase in the near future.”

July 15, 2018.

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