Black Perspectives; The Black Folks Theater Company
Good evening. Welcome to Black perspectives the half hour feature focusing on black issues information and lifestyles in the communities of Boston and the cell shore. I'm your host got a part. In tonight's edition of black perspectives we're going to look at the issues of blacks in the theatrical field and focus on a new theater company here in the city which is doing some exciting things and talking about the black cloak theater company. And with me tonight is the founder and managing director Shawn McGee and Don Mays who is the acting workshop leader. Welcome Sean and on to black perspectives. Thank you for having us. First Shaan can you tell us a little bit about the Black Box Theatre Company and the idea behind the founding of the company. OK well black folks theater company started in February of this year. And we basically came together for two reasons one was to develop a legacy an artistic or I should say theatrical legacy for black artists in this city. We feel that the black performing arts have
been basically. Have not been focused on have not been given it's just deserved. Secondly we form black folks theater company because black actors and black playwrights were not getting a lot of work in mainstream theatre here in Boston but we figure that instead of crying and moaning about the fact that we're not getting work that we should do something about it ourselves. So we form a b f team and as the basis of the company we develop acting in playwriting workshops which are basically the foundation of the Theatre Company and out of those workshops come our productions such as is the man in the side. Where you hold your workshop you know we hold them at the African-American Institute at Northeastern University Dean teeth. Molly was very kind enough to let us use the space for free and in turn we tutor a number of Northeastern students as well. Tell us about your recent production.
Sue Mann was a man came out of our selection committee and we have a five person selection committee that went through a number of manuscripts trying to decide. What piece to do for our inaugural production. We came across the man in our search for a play to do. And it just struck us it was a very timely piece there were very there were many parallels between the Tiffany Moore case. The young girl that was shot and killed in Dorchester in the summer and what happens in the zoo man the play begins the same way were a 12 year old girl is shot and killed by a bullet that was meant for a rival drug pusher. We felt that given the timeliness and given the sense of obligation and responsibility that blackbox theatre has to this around the community that we should do this piece not so much to sensationalize the Tiffany Moore case or any case like that but more so to not let it die because all too often these kind of cases come in the public eye. And just as
quickly as they are in the public eye they just disappear. We wanted to bring out the issues and not only bring out the issues but come up with some solutions to the problems of youth violence in our community as well. Look out people you have on your selection committee. We have people or we have a diversified law. We have educators we have people who work in the media. For instance we have David Coleman who's a professor of Performing Arts at Roxbury Community College. He's also our technical director. For black folks theatre company we have Evelyn Moore who is an educator in the public school system in Cambridge where she also does archery use for say rather we have Nefertiti Burton who runs the Middle Passage educational cultural Resources Incorporated which is basically a sponsoring program for color of artist. It gives them puts them in the public eye. They produce a program called Primary Colors which is actually a booklet that
has biographies of individual artists and organizations. It's a very good resource. And we have Thomas Grimes who's a playwright as well as an actor and including myself that makes five don want to tell us a little bit about the acting workshops and how you select or how people decide that they're going to be in the workshops and what you do with them when they're there. Well one of the good things about the acting workshop is that it is open and available to all who want to come and learn about acting. I want to be actors and we when we do it it's been running since the beginning of backhoes theater and that's where we like we we hone our acting skills. My technique is I study with the National Shakespeare conservatory in New York and what we're doing with with black folks later is just trying to develop a technique for the beginnings of a technique and acting technique with our members and what we do is we
we do we try to break down all the barriers that normal society puts on us as human beings and then we try to rid ourselves of all of those walls and barriers and to get to the core of who we are. And from that point we can begin to. Work on and develop our acting skills. We like to say we like to we have to start with a blank slate in order to create a character. And so we do basic acting exercises improvisation. We do monologues and breakdown monologues for audition pieces for individuals and we just for the general the lay people who just want to come in and who are interested there are valuable things that they can get out of it. As far as just going through everyday life you want to be able to rid yourself of tension and and and just move about through daily life without it. The barrage of garbage that can
be heaped on you. And we have to rid people of that. So you have a range of skills in terms of people who come to the workshop some who have some experience and no experience. Yeah definitely. I mean we have very experienced actors all the way to novices who are just coming in never having taken an acting class and never having been in a production before. And we we use some of those professionals are some of the more experienced actors to help those who are just beginning. And it's a it's really a very community working situation and that we all help each other and we all learn from each other and we try to run in the workshop in a very professional manner and that we we we don't want to get caught up in the in the in the things that can detract from. It's not a party when you come there it's serious business. We are there to work and we're there to hone our skills and and it's really a very
productive and productive thing. What age range do you have. We have from the college students and. We don't have any high school and college students all we have to move 50 yes 50 or so it was like 18 or 19 up to 50 someone and actually how many people usually if there is a varies from say 6 or 7 to sometimes we have after 20 or so coming back as if you haven't zoom in the castle and then and then p nine and five of the people in the cast were from the workshops we had citywide auditions for the play because we want to see what other talent is out there writing about five people made it into the play from the workshops and they have no preference or treatment either because the person who directed it did not know who was in the workshops and who was not. Lois wrote Lois wrote my life into easy. Tell us about the audition process how you how you go about.
Paring down the actors that you have before you to making a decision about these people are the ones we want to see and zoom in for the audition process. OK well Lois. Did not use any prepared text. They did not have to come in and do prepared monologues. She wanted to come in and see how they do it with a cold reading which is basically where a person is given a script and just told to go at it and basically it's basically it has a lot to do with one's instinctual or innate ability. So instead of coming in and really intellectualizing a piece you're given a piece on a moment's notice and told to go at it. Basically she saw how people handle that because she felt the Z-man the sime was a very raw play and the issues were very raw and she wanted to see the rawness of the actors who had not had a chance to really intellectualized but to feel it she want to see how they felt the role she felt that you had to really feel these roles in order to do justice to the role. And that's how she came up
with people like Alan Oliver who played Sue man who's been in the Boston acting scene for four years. Yeah. While the Mormon play the father Robin Scott played the mother and so on and so on. It was a difficult process to select the actors and actresses who were finally chosen. Oh yeah there's a lot of good talent out there and a matter of fact there were a lot of people I was coming across. I said I never knew about you and a good thing about BFC in the workshops as well is that it serves as a networking mechanism. A lot of the black actors are black theatre artists don't even know about each other. I mean they're floating around out there trying to get gigs but they don't even know about each other. What this provides them with is an opportunity to come together not only network as human beings an artist but a network in terms of job opportunities to get together and let each other know about auditions coming up. When I ask them where have you been you are great when I saw them in auditions. They said that we don't do mainstream theatre we only do black theatre and there has not been any black here
for the last three years therefore we don't do any theatre. So that's that's why they said we're coming out now. And so you really open up some opportunities knowledge to the addition process with. The actors and actresses that you finally selected. And they get some exposure. I've seen good reviews I saw the review in The Globe which is a very good review. And you say that there are other reviews that are imminent. What we're trying to do is is be a network mechanism. Don and I on the right on the right over here to WM B. We're going over some potential job opportunities. This was something that we foresaw this is one of the reasons why black folks theatre started. We're trying to get blacks in the mainstream theater too. We believe that there are the mainstream theatre should make a commitment to multicultural casting or colorblind casting which has to do with being cast based on your talent not on the color of your skin. So what is happening now is I think that the amount of
multicultural casting has risen directly because of theater companies like black box theater company. These are mainstream theatre companies are giving me a call in like the Huntington theater Wheelock family theater which already has a commitment to multicultural Hassen and other theater companies and like saying we need black actors. I always quiz them as to what the rules are for we do not do slaves we do not do butlers. We do not do maids pimps or prostitutes. And once I find out that the rules are cool I ask about money because we we want to become professionals. The money has to be involved because art for art's sake unfortunately. Does not cut it anymore. Peter I have to pay the bills and the light bills the rent bills. Whatever the case may be. So what we're doing is we're making inroads into mainstream theatre as well and people are getting a lot of work. I was going to how you described it. Are you optimistic about very general. Yeah very optimistic the response from the mainstream theatre companies has been fantastic. I have established a
rapport with them. They now have a centralized place where they can go and ask about actors. Soon as I get information I put out the call I actually do the calling myself I call and give everybody the information. Right now in my bag that's floating around here somewhere I have a listing of about. Five or six acting job opportunities in this area and they're all paying jobs whether they're for stage work or industrial films or commercials right. Right. Tell us a little bit about the. Zoo man I was stationed at Suffolk University. And how did you work that connection. Well we had to rent a facility and we made inroads over there because of a gentleman named Burton. Who along with his wife runs an operation Middle Passage. An opera teaches a night course over there and an adult education course and video. And he knows the people over there so he helped us out on that.
In that aspect we were looking to do something closer to the community. We tried a number of facilities close into the community but. They were not. Receptive in that in terms of the programming but in terms of the rental fee you know we were a fledgling theatre company and we can afford to pay thousands of dollars in rental fees and we were able to work out a very good. Set up with Suffolk University they were very helpful. But we are we are definitely going to take you man aside into the community. It has to come down off the hill and go down into the community. And we have to address these issues and we want BFD to be a focal point for a lot of issues and things that take place in the communities of Roxbury Dorchester in that opinion. We are their theater company. So what are your plans next for zoo man. Well to take it into the school system hopefully. You know hopefully we can work out a deal get around the
problems of the language that exist in the play. Some of the harsh language and work out a deal where we can do the show for the kids get some feedback. And maybe take it on the road to Providence or Hartford into the school systems as well. The people that need this show the most are the children. They need to see these issues on stage but not only on stage to bring the issues off the stage and discuss them with the activists or any community members that might like to come in such as Thomas from the Big Brother so Station or minister or band haith. Or Georgette Watson from dropping down on crime. What kind of a funding have you put in place for the theatre. Right now we're being funded by the mass Council on the arts and humanities the Heritage Program. And they've been very very helpful in terms of not only funding but in terms of feedback on. Who to connect with in terms of additional funding in terms of who to go to for potential future theatre space and so on and
so on. I think the point that we have to bring up here is that there is an interdependency. Theatre companies such as our kinetic care such as ours cannot exist independent of other organizations. We are connecting with organizations such as the African American Institute in north eastern we're connecting with institutions such as Roxbury Community College. We would love to become a theatre company in residence at the new performing arts center at Roxbury Community College and we're connecting with other institutions we have to realize that we have a commitment and an obligation. To other organizations and individuals besides ourselves and that's what I think what makes black folks theater so strong is that we realize that we do have that commitment. And not only do we realize that we're seeing that commitment through. It while we take a break I'm speaking with Sean Magee and Don Mays from the Blackhawks theater company here on WNBA FM ninety one point nine black perspectives will be back in just a minute. When. You're
younger you feel every weekend on ninety one point nine FM big band music information and more right here on Wu and the Af-Am Boston. OK we're back here on black perspectives ninety one point nine WNBA fm I'm speaking with Shawn McGee and made from the black box theater company that just the stage zoom in on the sign a very successful first effort I might say. And I want you to talk a little bit more also about the Hollow U.S. the field of black actors here in the Boston area. Do you do you see a fertile field out there to the soul. Actually yes we are. We're thoroughly excited about the talent that it is here in Boston and zoom in is an example of the type of talent that we have and like shall I say before now other theater companies are
and are seeking out black actors and I don't think that there will be any law that shouldn't be the claim that there aren't any black actors out there we can't find them because now they know exactly where we are right and from the reviews and from what they have seen in only this short short run they know that there is a lot of there's quite a lot of talent out there and we're developing the talent ever more in the workshops. It truly is really exciting to see and I'm like very much looking forward to the next production and productions to come. Working with the actors on the level that I work in the workshops is also very exciting because there we are honing this talent and you know we're discovering talent. We are we are developing would be actors into genuine professional actors. And it's it's really it's really rewarding to see this and to be a part of this.
And. We're just looking forward to doing great things and we will you know black folks theater is like I say like I was saying we were very young but we're also very hungry and our youth isn't isn't green. You know we're raw but we're not green where we are ripe and ready to exude veriest youth. Yeah yeah. They were only useful because there hasn't been any theater here. Right. And now that we have now that we are stablish ing ourselves we're going to just explode onto this Boston scene and doing good really great things. QUESTION When you look at where you'd like to take the Blackhawk theatre company what are some of the models out there that you see that you'd like to become become like as you look around the country Oh there are a lot of you know we are going to hop the top of the line of a short while ago the Negro Ensemble I was going to say the New Year Ensemble Company. I see us following in their footsteps. I would like us to not only
become big in terms of the city not only regionally but nationwide. We're looking we have a long and long term perspective you know this is not a short term kind of situation or a deal. We're looking to grow. We know that growth is going to take time rather than 15 20 years. We like to have some national recognition in order to secure our longevity we are tapping into the black community for resources in terms of developing our board of directors were tabbing. Into the black community we're tapping in black professionals. We're getting pro bono work done legal work. There's no planning. So this is not a grassroots organization. We address grassroots issues but in terms of how the organization is going to run and is running is very proud of a very professional level and that's the only way you can do it if you're going to have a lot if you don't have longevity we would like to secure our own space we hate. Being at the whim of other institutions to
get into the space to use it. One problem that we had with the zoo man and the sign is that the actors only had a total of three hours on the stage to do actual work on that stage and something before the show went up. And that's ludicrous you need to live and work in a space for a while to get used to it. We rehearsed in other spaces but they only had three hours in that space. I think what black folks theatre has done too is that there's been an artistic drain in the city and you get people with that amount of talent to choose to go to more fertile ground. There are no opportunities here for them especially actors of color. And just like we have in intellectual brain drain in the city a lot of the indigenous indigenous people who grew up and go to school in this area choose to leave. You do have black intellects here but they're usually from out of state. And what happens is that they that they don't identify with the indigenous black population so there is that separation. And so what we have to do is develop mechanisms that keep
the talent whether artistic or intellectual or whatever the case may be in the city of Boston and what BFG is doing is keeping those people here for the time being. But we need everybody's support we can do it on our own and we don't want to do it on a on our own. What kind of productions is a theater company looking at Nexus possibilities. Well one we would really like to do new works and I like to throw a challenge out to the listening audience that if you're a playwright or an A and aspiring playwright We also have a playwriting workshop that runs every Saturday that sell at the African-American Institute at Northeastern 40 in the street and that's every Saturday from 3:00 to 5:00. If you're not interested in sitting in a playwriting workshop every Saturday we would love to have you send in your manuscript. If you're a playwright we want to do new works but it looks like we're going to do it and establish work. Maybe this is a tentative call the Colored Museum and that's slated for late
March. His work is that I have the play in my bag too. I knew it and as my mind is just so you may do it you may not do it we may do it again. It was a hot play and it says a lot about the black community. There's a lot of things about we as a people that we might not like to hear or want to see but these are issues that have to be addressed so we can get all as a people get back on track. Is there a phone number that I think members can reach either of you. Yeah if you want more information if you'd like to get on our mailing list you can call for 2 4 8 8 4 9 that's 4 2 4 8 8 4 9 and I think I'll hold back on the address though. If you're an aspiring playwright or an actor just call that number and it will get you situated and the one of the acting workshops held by the actor works after a Sunday afternoon from three to five at the African-American Institute and the playwright workshop is Saturday at 3 to 5 the same place an
African-American Institute. Now do you see. You mentioned earlier that you as far as the acting talent you see that there is that talent out there what about the play writing the playwrights do you see that playing level of talent out there here in Boston here and yes definitely I am when I first joined. Not that I'm blowing my horn but when I first joined Lycos data it was because of the play writing workshop. And because I write myself and I'm trying to develop several things right now and I've. Go to the playwriting workshops infrequently now because I'm teaching the acting workshops. But there's always there's always a lot of talent out there a lot of good things that are being developed and we look forward to doing some of the the works that come out of the playwrights workshop we look forward to doing some of them both in the acting workshops just to test them out like stage readings and even even break down scenes and do a whole scene presentations for the company and possibly for an invited audience but this would be you know this is in the planning.
And this would be something that's not not a black box theater production it would be a an acting workshop or a playwrights workshop and to eventually some of the work that comes out of the play writing workshop will be produced as black folk theater productions. And we're hoping that it will. We're hoping that'll happen real soon. I'm hoping that one of my things will happen to both of them. Well kind of. Place of the gun ready to be produced. All right now I have a I have a film short that is ready to be produced if it takes place in the Midwestern Baptist Church and it is just about a little girl's experience of getting baptized and a total immersion baptism local and then I also have a couple of callings play that need some work that I don't often find the title the title of the All-England the Polings players right now it's called Sunset on the River Jordan
and the Baptism is the film short and then I have a couple other things that I'm working on. And so how did you get involved you mention that you were involved a Shakespeare Company in New York without it. What stimulated you to pursue this particular who told them where you live. First Yeah I live in Newport Rhode Island and I come up here every weekend specifically for the acting and playwright workshop and whatever else I can do with and for black folks there but I was sitting on the lawn of the Newport Jazz Festival. And you ran into a friend of Steve Tompkins and they just struck up a conversation they didn't know each other and their link isn't spread out on the lawn next to each other. And that's how Doug got involved. Yeah yeah. Steve gave me Stan's number by the number of the black folks they were and I called up immediately and said I want to jump in I want to get in involved in this. And before I knew it I was teaching the acting workshop. So Shawn if you look five years from now where would you like to see the black clothes theater company at
that point. Well we would like to have our own space secured. We would like to in the black community. We would like to to be producing works year round in particular new works. We think the playwrights the new playwrights have to have their work thrust into the public arena. The only way they're going to develop is a have their their work put out there in some critical analysis done of their work. We have right now in my mind a lack of new young playwriting talent out there we have a few like August Wilson and the brother that wrote the Colored Museum. We would like to be firmly entrenched in the Boston community in terms of the people of this sit on our board of directors and who work with us. We would love to have untold untold amount of thousands of dollars coming in from corporate sponsors and private sponsors. But we see we see ourselves in five years this really being. When you think
of Boston you think of black folks theater company. We would like to be a mecca for performing artists from all around the country to come out here and cut their eye teeth on some work whether it be play writing or acting. And we also want to delve into in our five year program we want to delve into film production video dramas as well. So we're not going to just stick to the stage we want to do adaptations for video and film as well we want to. Procure and secure our own facilities to do that as well. So this is big business but it's big business with a heart. And just just if I can throw in the eye no pun intended. I think black folks later in the next five years is what we want to be looked upon as a working theater. You know working theatre groups already are going to be pumping out both actors quality actors and pumping out quality Productions. And when people look at it look at black box theater in our development over the next five years and from
- Black Perspectives
- The Black Folks Theater Company
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- Host Philip Hart talks with Sean McGhee, founder and managing director of Black Folks Theater Company; and Don Mays, the company's acting workshop leader. The two discuss the company's founding, its inaugural production, "Zooman;" the company's acting workshops, and their efforts to get more black actors working in local theater companies. They also discuss the local talent pool of black actors, the national landscape for black theater actors, Mays's playwriting, and the future of Black Folks Theater Company.
- Black Perspectives is a public affairs talk show featuring in depth conversations about issues of interest to the African American community.
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Copyright Holder: WUMB-FM
Guest: McGhee, Sean K.
Guest: Mays, Don
Host: Hart, Philip
Producer: Pierre Louis, Gary
Producing Organization: WUMB
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Identifier: BP45-1988 (WUMB)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Black Perspectives; The Black Folks Theater Company,” 1988-11-30, WUMB, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 20, 2020, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-345-37vmd00s.
- MLA: “Black Perspectives; The Black Folks Theater Company.” 1988-11-30. WUMB, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 20, 2020. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-345-37vmd00s>.
- APA: Black Perspectives; The Black Folks Theater Company. Boston, MA: WUMB, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-345-37vmd00s