LOS ANGELES -- Two important panels on the future of Black theatre took place recently here, one at the Getty Research Institute, the other at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. Emotions soared highest at the LATC, especially when L. Kenneth Richardson and August Wilson squared off against each other.
Richardson, head of the Mark Taper Forum's Blacksmyths workshop for black playwrights, said that serious black plays "appeal to a very small, bourgeois audience. The reason why there's a 'chitlin' circuit'"-- the touring gospel musicals and broad comedies which play for three or four nights in major cities--"is because these plays appeal to the majority of blacks...I want to see black plays that deal with contemporary black America."
"I'm a black playwright," replied Wilson. "I do not write for the black community. I work as an artist. An artist for one--that's who I have to satisfy."
He was fortunate in finding theatres that helped him develop his plays, he said, but most upcoming black playwrights lack these opportunities--a gap that his campaign for stronger black theatres is designed to fill.
Wilson's campaign was triggered by his 1996 speech in which he criticized colorblind casting and called for more money for black theatres. These sentiments led to a conference at Dartmouth College last year, which has since inspired a training program for managers of black theatres and a newsletter and website. The Getty has offered to be the local home of the initiative. In response to the proposal to train black theatre managers, actress Lee Chamberlin asked, "Where will the money come from to create the theatres these managers can manage?"
"It's our fault we don't have those theatres," Wilson said. "We're seeking to build relationships with funding institutions."
-- By Willard Manus
Southern California Correspondent