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THEATRE

BLM Theatre Company

An Enduring Theatrical Contribution to Black Lives Matter

Me?

It was while attending a workshop in Chicago at Steppenwolf in 2000 that I took pot luck with a show at the Goodman theatre. It was August Wilson’s ‘King Hedley II’. To my shame, I had never heard of August Wilson until that evening, but I was so impressed by the show that I looked out for his work whenever performed thereafter; and have had the immense privilege of seeing most of his cycle of ten plays which describe the experience of African Americans across ten decades:

  • Gem of the Ocean (set in the 1900s) at the Tricycle theatre, London 2006
  • Joe Turner's Come and Gone (set in the 1910s) at the Young Vic theatre, London 2010
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (set in the 1920s) at the Royale theatre, New York 2003, and at the National theatre, London (3 times!) 2016
  • The Piano Lesson (set in the 1930s) not yet seen
  • Seven Guitars (set in the 1940s) not yet seen
  • Fences (set in the 1950s) at the Duchess theatre, London 2013 and movie 2017
  • Two Trains Running (set in the 1960s) not yet seen
  • Jitney (set in the 1970s) at the National theatre, London 2001
  • King Hedley II (set in the 1980s) at the Goodman theatre, Chicago 2000, and at Stratford East, London 2018
  • Radio Golf (set in the 1990s) at the Tricycle theatre, London 2008

I found each play I saw to be on a par with Eugene O’Neil (my summit of praise!) but with the added quality of the entire cycle being more than the sum of its parts. It is a unique cultural contribution unmatched by any other playwright of the 20th or 21st century and, to my mind, of momentous historic importance.

To my astonishment, my ignorance of August Wilson in 2000 is matched today in the UK by that of virtually everybody I know outside the theatre community despite the fact he has had two Pulitzers and a theatre on Broadway named in his honour. My personal ambition was one day (when I had the funds!) to produce the entire cycle (a bit like Wagner’s ring cycle) so that the world could properly appreciate the immensity of August Wilson’s achievement.

Enduring Contribution?

The Black Lives Matter movement has made me re-think my personal ambition and realise now is the time for a social and cultural mission on a much larger scale, which recognises and promotes an extraordinary black playwright, employs black actors on a permanent basis and contributes an enduring theatrical contribution to Black Lives Matter (BLM) by acknowledging the genius of black theatre.

I am proposing that there should be a BLM Theatre Company (BLMTC) on a par with (and exceeding!) the mission of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).

  • Like RSC’s mission to produce Shakespeare’s plays, BLMTC’s mission is to produce August Wilson’s extraordinary play cycle.
  • Like RSC’s mission to produces other formidable plays of Shakespeare’s era (e.g. Marlowe’s ‘Edward II’), BLMTC’s mission is to produce other formidable plays by dead black playwrights (e.g. Lorraine Hansberry’s ‘Raisin in the Sun’ or Errol John’s ‘Moon on a Rainbow Shawl’).
  • Like RSC’s mission to produce formidable foreign plays of Shakespeare’s era in translation (e.g. Moliere’s ‘Tartuffe’), BLMTC’s mission is to produce formidable black foreign plays in translation (e.g. Aimé Césaire’s ‘Une saison au Congo’).
  • Like the RSC, BLMTC’s mission is to perform for a theatre-going paying public in major commercial venues and on tour.
  • Unlike the RSC, BLMTC’s mission is to perform for a student audience in schools and colleges.
  • Unlike the RSC, BLMTC’s mission has academics (e.g. historians) to complement performances in schools and colleges.
  • Unlike the RSC, BLMTC’s mission is to produce formidable plays by contemporary black playwrights (e.g. Adrienne Kennedy, Antoinette Nwandu, Arinzé Kene, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Bola Agbaje, Dael Orlandersmith, Debbie Tucker Green, Inua Ellams, Jocelyn Bioh, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Marcus Gardley, Mfonsio Udofia, Roy Williams, Tarell Alvin McCraney, etc.).
  • Unlike the RSC, BLMTC’s mission is to produce formidable plays on the black experience (e.g. Lolita Chakrabarti’s ‘Red Velvet’).
  • Unlike the RSC, BLMTC’s mission is to produce in five territories (USA, UK, France, Africa, Caribbean).
  • Unlike the RSC, BLMTC’s mission is to produce in two languages (English for USA, UK and English-speaking Africa & Caribbean. French for France and French-speaking Africa and Caribbean).

Founding Members?

For such a dream to become reality, it has to kick start on a scale which is equal to the project. I have therefore mailed the most talented, outstanding and celebrated actors/directors/writers to see if there is sufficient support to get this up and running by inviting them to become Founding Members of the BLM Theatre Company.

Next?

At present, I am the sole director of the BLM Theatre Company. I will do only three things until a proper Board is elected to oversee the company and its mission.

  1. Create a website to declare the mission and promote the Founding Members
  2. Invite Founding Members to be candidates as Board Members
  3. Hold an election where each Founding Member can vote on candidates to select an 11-member Board (including at least 6 black Founding Members)

I will be subject to election like any other Founding Member, and if not elected will ensure that I appoint the full Board before resigning (and offering to serve the Board in any other capacity the Board may determine).

If you are interested in supporting the BLM Theatre Company, please let me know at contact@tambar.co.uk .

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