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Afro-centric Theatre

Afro-centric Theatre image
Parent Issue
Day
11
Month
March
Year
1976
OCR Text

Yí Despite the rising interest in Black culture y and the Black theatre, there are still many strivKr ing Black organizations offering entertainment, f messages and philosophy pertaining to Black life y f which go virtually unnoticed by the theatre critics and f their audience. A striking case in point is the WS ríe I heatre (A.C.T.), a struggling Detroit theatre company or which began its existence as a university course, "History of Black Theatre," taueht bv Dlavwrieht Demon Smith ut Wavnp Y County Community College in the f all of 1972. Members of the course challenged Demon, now the producer and director of A.C.T Y as to his credibility vis a vis the Black Theatre; as a result, Jackie Bon-' ner, Roger Ramsey, Larry Dobbie, Joe Jones, Henry Brown and Demon V ,t i i I I 1 T y ' ana , ] m . t I . . i . _ . _ - _ L. t i 1 i i - - B ■ omiui luuircu a incaiic gioup Known men as me Big ö to engage in the f actual practice of writing and producing Black plays for a Black audience. After one vear the coirmanv's menihershin HonhlpH n 7í Aftr thro vy A.C.T. performed "Great Wliite Sale" and "Private Huckleberry" at the Concept East Theatre. "The Inn Crowd" took the company to McGregor Library and ' Wayne State's Community Arts Auditorium. Other pieces performed throughout the city and outstate were "Roots ," "Papa's Daugliter," and "The Job," at such locations as University of Detroit, Tindall Recreation Center (for a group of senior citizens), Ocie 's Paradise Lounge, Mumford Hieli School and manv manv mnre Backed with strong support from local luminaries Dudley Randall (Broadside Press), playwright Ron Milner ("What the Wine Sellers Buy ), and Laura Davis (Michigan Council on th Arts), A.C.T. has steadily gained in stature within both the artistic community and the Black community at large. The Committee for Student Rights, an educational group active in Detroit, recently recognized A tne woik ot the Atro-tentnc Theatre witli an award for the company's outstanding eommunity service efforts, presented at a testimonial ceremony at the Langston Hughes Theatre in December, 1975. Just what does Afro-Centric Theatre mean? According to its members, AfioCentric Theatre represents "the liberation of Black people, with a message to all. A projection of Black images, with positive education for the commumty, stimulating the Black mass to move ever forward in the artistic fields. A needed offering of political messages in an artistic form, A.C.T. is an ' ïnstitution planting the seed ot Black growth. 1 Gaining speed into the present, A.C.T. is a forcé." This forcé could be feit in full strength at Ocie 's Paradise Lounge on the Fenkell Strip for two weekends recently when the Afro-Centric Ineatre presented tnree one-act plays lo large, enthusiastic audiences. The first, "Great White Sale," set in the Jim Crow South, opened with a Black saleswoman (played by Dejanaba) fixing three displays of white images forsale. The wind-up mannequins included a KKK-garbed white racist, pricedat $75.00; a white liberal, at $50.00; and one white hippie priced at $25.00. All represented different stages of the white man. Finding no success in trying to get rid of an image to a brother who wandered in, the images on display eventually decided to turn off the saleswoman in the hope of finding a person who would actually sell i lic in. "Old Judge Moses," the second play, centered on one dead man every Negro had something to rejoice over. The story is told by twojanitors (played by Louis Williams and Edward Carter) employed to clean up the funeral home in whicli the Judge's body lies. One of the brothers, wlio boast- ed of huw he could stand up to the white man, slapped the face of the dead judge for the unjust actions he had brought against Negroes wlio appeared before him in court fc while he was alive. The brother also went so far as to fondle i the body of "Ms. Ann," a woman who worked in the post office and accused Black men of making passes at her. The siglu of physical insults inflicted upon a stitf corpse really made this play quite liumorous, once one understood the thought patterns of an earlier time. The daughter (played by Lisa Lindsay) finally entered the action to pay her respects, easily topping the event. Praising lier father for all his good while complaining that he kept her from getting married. she came across as all "Southern Belles" usually do. "The Black Songs & Rhythm" perfonned the music for the evening. lts bers are Vondi Hall, Dejanaba, and Ricky Hall, a new addition to A.C.T. who has broadened the company s scupe even turther. "Out in the Street" (written by Demon Smith), "People of My Kind" (Ricky Hall), and "New Beginnings" (Gil Scott-Heron) mellowed the vibes and provided a base for the mounting anticipation for "Can Yon Help Us?", the dramatic climax of the evening. Can You Help Us? opened with a rap about the realities of Black Ufe today wliich delineated quite carefully the distinctions between niggers and Blacks. Simply pul, the forms of "niggers" referretl to were the junkie; the Black businessman who tries to mimic the shrewd tactics of his white boss; the teacher who teaches what slie was told to teach; the jive neighborhood preacher who will pray for you if you fill his pocket; the Black attorney who looks out only for himself: the would-be Hollywood star who'd do anything to make it (except contribute to the rise of a Black Nation): the Black newscaster ("I only read what comes over the wire"); the Black cop on tlie street who's laying to open some heads;and last, the soulfiri deejay who plays the sounds because lie gets paid. The brother viewing these characters runs down a piece, tlien poses the "Can You Help Us?"- to eacli nigger. As each refused for one reason or another. each was m olted. I hen carne the tinal statement by the ■ m brother: "Once all niggers are out of the way, f maybe then the birth of the Black Ñation can begin!" Strong theatre, to be sure- but strength and spirit are the words vvhich best characterize the dynamic Afro-Centric Tlieatre, Jone which is bound tu be feit by more and more Detroiters all the time. Now tliat A.C.T. has the chance to mount an extended run witli iis production of Kd Bullins' "The Fabulous Miss Marie" at the Langston Huglies Theatre, opening as we go to press, no one interested in the healthy present and future of creative theatre in Detroit should miss tliis powerful company. Bcniadette Harris, presentir a student at Wayne Counfy Comntunity College, is a frequent contributor to Kulchur. During the course of her research for tliis article, herfirst fuU-length SUN feature, Ms. Marris became mvolved vnth the Afro-Centric Theatre Co. and is iidw a performing member of the group.