All Articles Tagged "black theater"
By Darralynn Hutson
Not very many African American women are producing plays on Broadway these days. And fewer of those Broadway productions are featuring an all-black cast. Alia M. Jones-Harvey, 38, of Front Row Productions is working to change all of that. Collaborating with veteran investment banker Stephen C. Byrd to produce Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 2008, Front Row Productions made history selling over $700,000 in tickets opening week, largely to African American audiences. Before previewing the company’s encore production of another Tennessee Williams classic, A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Blair Underwood and Nicole Ari Parker, Alia Jones-Harvey sat down with madamenoire.com to fill in the blanks of her path to Broadway.
Madamenoire.com: What does it take to produce a Broadway play?
Alia Jones-Harvey: Producing a play is like starting a new business. Each time you are selling the concept, engaging the right cast members, getting investors, optioning the rights and most important, building a team of people that will make the show happen.
MN: Your partner at Front Row Productions is also new Broadway, Stephen Byrd. How did you two meet?
AJH: He was introduced to me while I was in NYC Business School. After school, I’d gone into consumer producer and financial services but always kept a love for the arts in my heart. In 2006, I called him and he became a business mentor. He’d been working on the production (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) for many years and like the world of theater, all of the stars were aligned. It was the right time.
MN: What skills did you tape into for your first production; having no production experience?
AJH: I had a wealth of confidence and determination. I always say that people aren’t investing in the production as much as they’re investing in us as people.
MN: What were the steps involved with producing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?
AJH: First we had to option the rights to the material from Tennessee Williams’ estate. Then we had to confirm the ideal cast members. James Earl Jones and Phylicia Rashad came aboard first. Terence Howard was more of a challenge because he needed to be convinced that theater was the right way to go in his career. Anika Rose just felt right as a member of the cast. Then we secured Debbie Allen to direct and we felt that we had a strong team. Building the right team is vital to any production.
MN: How did you appeal to investors?
AJH: We reached out to investors in our own community. A lot of the investors were first timers to Broadway. We tapped into our business relationships and targeted people that were always curious about entertainment and the arts but had never gotten an opportunity. Because Tennessee Williams’ work is recognizable and the cast was exceptional, we were able to raise the money.
MN: Why do you believe Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was such a success?
AJH: We were able to carve out our position. An all black cast of classic work was our selling point. I attribute our success to the cast. Theater audiences had seen the work and it was successful to the general market. People were just curious to see the all black cast. Most of the cast members had huge fan bases and that always helps. We were able to bring in both traditional Broadway patrons as well as new audiences. General markets are being courted by every other play on Broadway. We believed that there was an authentic audience for our production and we targeted those people.
by Tyrus Townsend
In most recent years, black performers, playwrights and producers have become increasingly visible on the Broadway stage and this fall is ushering in a stellar line-up that will be sure to command the attention of the biggest critic. From revivals to adaptations , these five pieces are filled with the electrifying talent of African-American actors and storylines of Black playwrights.
Have you ever wondered if there were any truths behind the rumors surrounding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and his numerous encounters with women? In this play, thespians Samuel L. Jackson portrays the late Civil Rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner and Angela Bassett (who replaced Halle Berry) plays a hotel maid. Their paths cross right before his famous “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” speech in Katori Hall’s play. Under the direction of Kenny Leon, known for his revivals of Fences and A Raisin In The Sun, the production is slated to hit the stage on October 13th at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.
If Stew, who goes by one name, needed any endorsements for “Passing Strange” beyond it’s Tony Award, he could have looked to the fact that Denzel Washington, Whoppi Goldberg, Samuel L. Jackson and Diana Ross all came for a look-see. Or the fact that Toni Morrison and Angela Davis were so moved as to come back for seconds and thirds. But it is Spike Lee who got behind the work in the most supportive way. After a double helping in a single weekend he was distraught enough about the inevitable close of the show to devise a posterity plan. A tale that found itself beyond convention both in content (the coming of age of an African-American rock musician by way of LA, Amsterdam and Berlin) and form (a concert trapped in a play), Lee initially wanted to develop it as a feature production. In the end he got his Tyler Perry on, set up cameras as he had with Roger Guenveur Smith’s brilliant one-man show, “A Huey P. Newton Story”, and began rolling.
This worked out quite nicely. “Passing Strange” showed at Sundance and is now only a Netflix mailing away. But obviously waiting for Spike Lee to have a conversion experience is a less than efficient process for preserving great theatrical work. In the hopes that someone with a camera will hear the call, we propose seven black playwrights deserving of a wider audience. Some already have filmmaking irons in the fire, yet all are ripe for the opportunity.
(Chicago News Cooperative) — Compared to the rest of Chicago’s theater community, where companies can rise, fall and change directions seemingly from show to show, African-American theaters have been a bastion of stability–or, according to some critics, stasis. The Black Ensemble Theater could be counted on to do jukebox musicals at its space in the Jane Addams Hull House; eta Creative Arts reliably produced new works whose educational content often overwhelmed their artistic power. Congo Square Theatre and MPAACT presented first-rate plays by contemporary black playwrights but sometimes went dark because of managerial or financial difficulties. Now signs of change are sweeping through the black theater community. Last month, eta co-founder Abena Joan Brown retired after 40 years; next month, Congo Square will announce a new artistic director; in the fall the Black Ensemble Theater will open a cultural center in Uptown with two theaters and broader programing. The developments are largely in response to the rise of a new generation of African-American theatergoers.
(Broadway World) — Grammy Award-winner Alicia Keys with Reuben Cannon & Nelle Nugent are proud to announce the Broadway premiere of STICK FLY, the critically-acclaimed American play by Lydia R. Diamond and directed by Kenny Leon, opening on Broadway on Thursday, December 8, 2011 at the Lyceum Theatre (149 W. 45th Street). Performances begin Friday, November 18, 2011. Tickets are now on sale through Telecharge.com. ”This is a story that everybody can relate to,” said producer Alicia Keys. “I’m passionate about this play because it is so beautifully written and portrays Black America in a way that we don’t often get to see in entertainment. I know it will touch all audiences, who will find a piece of themselves somewhere inside this house.”
The Tony nominations are in and while the black theater community celebrates the recognition of The Scottsboro Boys and Whoopi Goldberg’s production of Sister Act, some are undoubtedly chafing over the failure to recognize James Earl Jones for his role in Driving Miss Daisy or Chris Rock’s Broadway debut in The Motherf**ker With the Hat. Such is the nature of awards. But beyond the stars and the backstage artists, a host of other talent is needed to bring Broadway to life. The Atlanta Post takes a look at five African-Americans who approach the theater on business terms. The first, Stephen Byrd, made his money on Wall Street before heading to New York’s other famous thoroughfare. We learn about how he and his colleague Alia Jones shook up assumptions about Broadway patrons. We also look at three women who have staked their careers on attracting an audience for the stage.
Stephen Byrd’s education in theater as an enterprise started with a trip to the bookstore. It wasn’t long after devouring a stack of guides on the subject that he established Front Row Productions and set about bringing the famed Tennessee Williams play, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof to Broadway with an all-black cast. Despite having James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan and Debbie Allen on board, theaters were skittish about signing on. Would people come? A former investment banker for Goldman Sachs and co-founder of private equity firm, StoneHedge Capital, Byrd knew this was a money-maker. When they finally secured a venue, black people turned out in droves, parties recouped their investments within twelve weeks, and when it was all said and done, Cat was the highest-grossing show of the 2008 season.
(The Grio) — The prestigious Tony Award nominations are in!Today, Anika Noni Rose and Matthew Broderick made the announcements. In the months to come, Broadway’s best will wait in anticipation for the official awards ceremony. The predominantly African American cast of The Scottsboro Boys cleaned up with a total of 12 nominations. The musical based on the 1930s Alabama court case involving nine black men wrongfully convicted of raping a white woman closed in December of 2010 due to low ticket sales, but is campaigning for a return to Broadway after posthumous acclaim.
(Black Enterprise) — Over the course of the past decade Tyler Perry has dominated the entertainment industry. His stage plays, motion pictures, DVDs, sitcoms, online talk show and book, based on commentaries from his popular character of Madea, have collectively grossed hundreds of millions of dollars. As the most commercially successful Black filmmaker in history, Perry is quickly making his way to billionaire status not by following the rules but by breaking them. Staying true to his core audience and pushing his message of family values, the media mogul has a lock on a lucrative slice of the African-American market. Whether you love him or you love to hate him, you definitely can’t ignore him. If there’s still any doubt, here are a few reminders of Perry’s influence, decoded.
The Black Theater: Not since the days of Lorraine Hansberry and Langston Hughes has Black theater been as popular and as relevant. When Perry hit the scene in 1998 with his first screenplay, “I Know I’ve Been Changed,” veteran playwright David Talbert had been one of only a handful of theater producers in what was known as the “chitlin circuit,” where theatrical musicals toured smaller venues throughout the south. How Perry flourished was in trademarking his stage plays by recording the performances and later selling them on tape. According toForbes, by 2005 he’d garnered more than $100 million in tickets, $30 million in videos and an additional $20 million in merchandising.
(AP) — The producers and playwright behind the Broadway play “Lombardi” aren’t done with sports just yet. They’re planning to go from football to basketball with “Magic/Bird,” a new play that will chronicle the lives of Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson.