Black Theatre

While living in the San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose metropolitan area (Bay Area) from  2001-2013, I was introduced to ‘Black Theatre,’ a genre in and of itself.  I broadly expand ‘Black  Theatre’ to include musicals, dance, choirs, opera, ballet, and other performing arts that are  performed, directed, produced, created, or influenced by African-American artists.  I also include  Big Band Jazz due to its history, large ‘cast,’ and grand presentation (e.g., Cotton Club, Savoy  Ball Room). 

For me, seeing a play performed live, with dialogue, lighting, sound effects, music, costumes, and set changes happening simultaneously in synchronized real time, was an epiphany of sorts and literally, blew me away (as an engineer)!  Moreover, having ‘our’ stories or life experiences  told, and seeing highly trained, talented, and dedicated artists who look like me perform gave me a great sense of pride and a warm feeling. 

Understanding the connection between the 1920s Harlem Renaissance, a cultural, social, and  artistic explosion, and the writers and playwrights that it produced and inspired to tell ‘our’  stories, perspectives, and experiences (the “American Experience”) is vitally important: Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry, James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph  Ellison, James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Charles Fuller, Ntozake Shange, August Wilson, Maya  Angelou, Toni Morrison, Terrell McCraney, Alice Walker, Anna Deavere Smith, Lynn Nottage,  Suzan Lori-Parks, Dominique Morisseau, Marcus Gardley,… 

In the ‘diverse’ Bay Area, perhaps due to changing times, I discovered that most white-owned  theatre venues included at least one Black-themed play in their five- or six-play seasons.  This,  combined with the few Black-owned or -operated theatre venues (e.g., S.F.’s Lorraine Hansberry  Theatre) and theatre companies, meant that I had the opportunity and took the time to see several  wonderful plays during those years. 

Not limiting myself to Black-themed plays only, I also include plays and stories that deal with  politics, religion, adoption, gender identity, mental illness, reproductive rights, apartheid, aging,  and magic, as well as American classic plays. 

In fact, in 2018, I wrote a book, titled “Break A Leg! 2016-17 Black Theatre Season: 128 Great Plays, Musicals, Dance, Choir, Opera, Ballet & Big Band Performances In The ‘DMV’ “, in which I share my wonderful experiences as a fan (NOT a critic) by offering ‘impressions’ of each and every play attended that theatrical season.

Finally, I’d like to acknowledge my two West Coast Black Theatre ‘mentors’ for collectively  turning me on to Black theatre and exposing me to the Black performing arts: 

• Wanda Sabir: arts critic/editor, radio podcast host, freelance journalist, and educator (English professor)

• Awele Makeba: storyteller, actress, director, lecturer, recording artist, and educator (Drama teacher)

Below are listings of plays that I have seen over the years in the Bay Area, as well as in the ‘DMV’ and New York City.

Black Theatre Season (September thru August)