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Langston Hughes Theatre

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1 1 "s one o'clock and there isn't much happening pi on ;i darkened Livernois Avenue this " chilly Thursday morning in Detroit. Inside uie Langston Hughes Theater at the corner of Davison, however, there is considerable lite. The musical ' Scason 's Reasons" by internationally-known playwriglit Ron Milner, hasjust opened last week; and this morning Milner and the entire cast (over thirty people in all) are finishing a final tune-up that has beconie a four hour-plus rehearsal. The cast has gone through the entire play, with Ron giving enthusiastic, exacting criticisms and words of advice and encouragement. As they put the finishing touches on the finale, you kind of expect that they will grab their coats and make it as fast as their weary bodies will take them to wherever they've got to go at one in the morning. Instead of doing this, however, when it's all over they all return to the stage and form a loóse circle. lacing inwaras, eacii person nolding hands with the people next to them. And in this way, everybody holding, hands, they proceed to quietly discuss and criticize their play i and their plans for the night's I performance for another half f hour or so. Extraordinary? 1 Certainly, this's an example " of exceptional energy and dedication. But those who have been túnate enough to check out the scène B developing at The Hughes Theater say that the exceptional and extraordinary, in terms oí commitment ana talent anyway, are actually going to be quite typical at the recently-opened showplace. "The theater is the center of the community," says Milner, and the community represented at the Langston Hughes seems to be quite an outstanding one indeed. A quick survey of people currently involved in the Hughes andor productions there immediately turns up folks the stature of: Milner, whose last play, What the Wine Sellers Buy, opened at New York's Lincoln Center and recently broke attendance records at Detroit's Fisher Theater. Ron's upcoming work includes another play to open in New York and a film that will star Gladys Knight. Ed Vaughn, owner of both The Hughes and Vaughn's Bookstore on Dexter, "America's Oldest Black Bookstore." Just like its motto says, Vaughn's was the first place black literature of all types could be purchased and is, therefore, one of the original gathering places for liberation-minded people in the Motor City. Botli Irma Franklih and Carolyn Franklin, sisters to soul queen Aretha Franklin. Irma is featured in Season 's Reasons, and Carolyn writes a tong for a children's musical also playing at The Hughes. Val Benson and partner Obie Benson, who sings with The Four Tops. Val wrote and directed the children's play. Linie Red;Obe provided several tunes. Kim Weston, who stars in Little Red. Ms. Weston sang with Marvin Gaye and was a star with Motown in the sixties. Now she's a disc jockey at WCHB, as w'ell as musical director for Chuck Lowman's Westside Club. And, don't forget- The Langston Hughes Theater only opened last month. Still to come are: Films, of a wide variety, particularly those not usually seen at commercial theaters. Example: the world premiere of Kwacha: The Struggle f&r Angola, held at the Hughes August 23. In the works are more African films, a festival of black films of the thirties, reggae films and other music and art films. Sf Speakers and poets, generally whoever community members seek to offer. For instance, black historian Dr. Yoseph Ben-Jochamian speaks V December 28 at a Students' Rights Awards Program to be held at The 1 Hughes. I Concerts, parties and other community events people and groups will be sponsoring at The Hughes on nights it's available. It is true that very tew people have y even heard ol Ihe Langston Hughes H r ter. Nevertheless the place gives one the feeling it could easily be crowded and quite successful, sistently and tor a long time-barring any untoreseen disasters. The community it is in may be economically poor, but culturally it is rich, and the theater's roots in it are deep. 'This place was doned tor tliree years junkies used to crash in il." says Hughes owner Kd Vaughn, motioning around J wluii is nou a clean, cheery lobby. "There were mattresses. dirt. de ad rats, dead cats. . . whon the realtoi showed me the place he took me to the dooi and said. "(o ahead in and have a look, 'cause l'm nol going in there. . .' " The Hughes Theater building used to house the Studio One Theater, a place which in the sixties was the first of what became a chain of Detroit art theaters. As the neighboihood changed trom white to black, however, the art theater became a porno spot. and t'inally il was closed to all but the junkies. Then fcd Vaughn bought the building and, tqgethei with his childien. cleaned it out and staited to li it up. Vaughn had opened his black bookstoie 13 years be fore and, despite being burned out by membei s ol' the Detroit Pólice Department during t lio ll(7 riots, had survived and to a dogree prospered. Now lie wanted to open u y theater that sliowed a wide vai icty ot detmitive black films just as his bookstore had the definitive catalogue ot' black literature. "We finally got the place I cleared out and I went down and 'made peace'with Edison." Vaughn says. Having bouglit the theater "as is," he had no idea if ' the wiring or furnace would work or need to be totally repaired. "When they turnee! on the power all the lights went rieht on and I aboul did a dance." he remenibers. "The furnace went right on, too." As things progressed, Vaughn's visión of what the theater could be expanded even more, particularly after a meeting with Ron Milner. Milner said he would like to use The Hughes six months out of twelve, to show plays and musicals by himself and other Detroit and New York playwrights. They worked out an alternating schedule, with plays being featured for one I month period, and films being featured the next two months. 'Tve worked in New York City," Ron Milner tells us I after his late niglitearly morning rehearsal, "but never I really lived there. I was in New York a lot from 1964 to 1969, but I always had to come back here whenever I I could.just so I could breathe." Milner was raised on Detroit's east side, in the área (MackHastings) which is the setting for the . Wine Sellen smash. Developing skills in writing short stories, he gut in-v. volved in theater around 1%g ivhen Iriend Woodie L Kine asked him continued on ■ wi?e 5 I MY PEOPLE The night is beautiful, So the faces of my people. The stars are beautiful. So the eyes of my people. Beautiful, also, is the sun. Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people. - Langston Hughes EDITOR 'S NOTE: ÍMngston Hughes is now recognized as one of the Icading poets America has produce J in this century. Bom in Joplin, Missouri, in 1902, where he gradúa ted from high school, Hughes spent a year in Mexico with his father. then a year studying at Columbio University. His first poem in a nationally known magazine was "The Negro Speaks of Rivers, " which appeared in Crisis in 1 921. In 1 925, he was awarded the First Prize for Poetry of the magazine Opportunity, the winning poem being "The Weary Blues, "which gave its title to his flrst book of póems, publisheü in 1926. A cenr rul figure in the "Harlvm naissancc " movement of the 20 's and 30 's. Langsion Hughes - devoted his time to writingand lei uring front V26 uittil his death in 1 96 7. He wrote poetry, short storics, autobiography, song lyrics, essays, humur and plays. A cross sec t ion ofhis work was published in 1958 as The Langston Hughes Reader, and liis Selected Poems f 1959) has recently been published in a paperback edition by Vintage Books. _ John Sindair iL? H Bl f %s m fíH 'III i L'in 1 1. ueLemNTPLArsMoviEzcoNCterci, L vontinued from page 11 to write something for production at the thcn-new Concept East, a seminal new-culture theater wliich featured black drama by locáis like King and such others as LeRoi Jones (now known as Amiri Baraka). '"I thought play-writing was just writing dialogue, so it would be easy," Milner laughs knowingly. "It wasu't. "Actually, 1 really wanted to be a musician. And the thing 1 dug about the theater was its immediacy just like musie, you get an immediate response from your audience." Milner says he and other playwrigltts of his genre have learned a lot about relating to audiences since the days of the Concept East, when "relating" usually meant chaflenging people with new. startling radical ideas. "Now we see the artist as a friend of the audience, trying to move them rather than just put them off. We're not trying to run a specific ideology on them; we're trying to move them, help them see it's in t hei r best interests to move in the fust place." The need to reach and affect the ímotíons of lus audience has led Milner to production of his lirst musical, Season 's Reasons (see review on this page), which premiered at The Langston Hughes Theater Octobei I 5 and will continue tliere through November. The possibilities of black theater have changed, too, and Milner thinks tliis has made it easier tor black dramatists to write. "It's now possible to talk directly to black people;you don't have to strain, like wc once did. to Iry and inake white people onderstand. "'It's not closed to white peoplc, but black theater na longer thinks it ticcJs whites to exist. So we talk in u clear voice, in out own language, to our own people." Milner says he chose to stay in Detroit because he beÜeves that it can become a culi mal center on a par with. or surpassing, New York City. Unlike people who think "it has to be trom out of town to bc hip," Milner feels Detroit has iU own particular reality that turthers the growth of art here in its own, unique way. "New York is so closed that you have the phenomena there of' 'art thriving on art'. . . an unuatural situation. In Detroit, art thiives on lit'e." Indeed it does. Thanks to people like Ld Vaughn, and Ron Milner, and everyone else involved in the productions currently being held on Livernois at Davison, art is very much alive and growing in Detroit, at The Langsion Hughes Theater.