Black Theatre Day is a global celebration designed to acknowledge the vitality and vibrancy of Black theatre institutions, in the United States and around the world.
On September 17th, the Black theatre field unites for the third annual Black Theatre Day, celebrating the enduring legacy of the African Grove Theatre (AGT) and contemporary Black Theatre institutions and organizations.
Black Theatre Day is an annual, international “Day of Service and Solidarity” where all are
encouraged to support and engage with Black theatres. Black Theatre Day, is a collective effort launched by The International Black Theatre Summit, which is led by Dr. Monica White Ndounou, Associate Professor of Theater at Dartmouth College and founding Executive Director of The CRAFT Institute, with additional support from WACO Theatre Center, Project1Voice, and Plowshares Theatre Company with regional planning committees that include Support Black Theatre, African-American Shakespeare Company, Birmingham Black Theatre Collective, the Hansberry Project, the Black Theatre Network, and St. Louis Black Rep. Cohorts and allies throughout the Black Theatre field include numerous participating organizations and supporters over the past two years.
The African Grove Theatre (AGT), a company of Black American and Afro-Caribbean artists, was founded in New York City 1821, by William Alexander Brown, a pioneering actor, playwright, producer, and free Black man, from the West Indies. The AGT’s inaugural
performance was William Shakespeare’s Richard III, which opened on September 17, 1821.
Though short-lived, the AGT left its mark on history as the first known professional Black theatre in the United States. It also cultivated the skills of Black acting legends James Hewlett and Ira Aldridge as well as produced the first, full-length Black-authored play written and performed in the United States; all important milestones for contemporary Black theatre.
Black Theatre Day is a global celebration designed to acknowledge the vitality and vibrancy of Black theatre institutions, in the United States and around the world. The rich legacy of Black theatre remains strong as its future is constantly at risk. The late playwright August Wilson once said “If you do not know, I will tell you: Black theatre in America is alive, it is vibrant, it is vital…it just isn’t funded.” Consistent and sustained support and engagement is imperative to keep Black theatre alive for generations to come.
Additionally, Black theatres have successfully launched and/or cultivated the careers of
countless creatives from various backgrounds in all aspects of the arts. This includes many of the world’s most celebrated and accomplished artists who got their start or worked at a Black theatre at some point in their careers. Those whose careers are connected in some way to Black theatres include Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, James Earl Jones, Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Chadwick Boseman, Samuel L. Jackson, Phylicia Rashad, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, LaTanya Richardson-Jackson, Giancarlo Esposito, Debbie Allen, Charles Fuller, Ntozake Shange, Leslie Odom, Jr., S. Epatha Merkerson, Wynn Thomas, Michael Schultz, and thousands of others.
Dr. Ndounou observes, “Black theatre’s brilliant legacies and bright futures are an outgrowth of the African Grove Theatre; stemming from the historical roots and contemporary branches of cultural traditions throughout the African diaspora. The complex and multi-faceted story of Black theatre, and the stories of Black life that Black theatres produce, are a true testament to the ingenuity, tenacity, and collective power of Black people and Black theatre institutions, even in the most dire circumstances.” She elaborates, “Currently, only seven Black theatres in the U.S. own their spaces, quite possibly fewer in places like the UK. There are close to 100 Black theaters across the US. Many of them survive on budgets of less than $3 million a year. Each has been made more vulnerable due to the devastation of the converging pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice. Still, Black theatre persists despite unique challenges; serving communities throughout the US, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe. Black stories matter. Black theatres are worthy of support.”
Gary Anderson of Plowshares Theatre Company shares, “Black Theatre Day is a significant day in American and African American history. It marks the anniversary of the inaugural opening night for the African Grove Theatre in 1821. Every September 17th affords us the opportunity to pause and acknowledge the first known Black-led and centered theatre company in the United States. Before our ancestors were freely born citizens of this nation, they hungered for a safe space where they could be unfiltered, unedited, and resolute. This day celebrates the audacity of Black creatives who believe in the importance of telling Black stories and uplifting the experiences of Black people.”
“Black Theatre and Black Theatre Day were founded as acts of resistance, resilience, and
reclamation—Black joy. And in a time when our daily news feeds are inundated with images of trauma and microaggressions, Black joy and Black Theatre are vital now more than ever,” says Erich McMillan-McCall, Founder/CEO of Project1Voice and a member of the Black Theatre Day Planning Committee.
This year, Black Theatre Day will consist of a social media campaign along with Black theatre celebrations and activities throughout the country and around the world.
Donate money and/or other resources: $5 and/or 5 hours of service to Black theatres in your region and encourage 5 family members and friends to do the same in theirs!
To sign up, get involved, and access donation links and details about Black Theatre Day
celebrations in your area, visit: www.thecraftinstitute.org/black-theatre-day.
Happy Black Theatre Day!
This news brief was curated by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on social media @Ntellectual.