Jerry Rapier
Artistic Director, Plan-B Theatre

Five theatre companies. Four free readings. Three full productions.

When I realized that Grand Theatre was producing HAVING OUR SAY: THE DELANEY SISTERS FIRST HUNDRED YEARS; we at Plan-B were producing WALLACE; and Pygmalion Theatre Company was producing LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL – all in the same season, within the first few months of 2010 – I kept thinking there has to be a way for us to connect. So I arranged a meeting of the three companies. And then I found out that Utah Contemporary Theatre was doing a reading of NEGLECT so I invited them to join us as well.

That meeting was fantastic. We had a great discussion about the appropriateness of non-black producers staging works about black characters. About the serendipity of having scheduled our work so close together. About how none of us had been drawn to ‘black plays’ – we’d each been attracted to stories that just happened to be centered around the black experience in America.

I met with Richard Scharine and he was debating the future of People Productions since Edward Lewis, with whom he co-founded the company, had passed away in 2009. I suggested that we add a series of free readings presented by People Productions to the mix. Richard got excited, immediately planned three readings (MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM, presented by Grand Theatre; THE TALENTED TENTH, presented by Plan-B Theatre; and WEDDING BAND, presented by Pygmalion Theatre Company). In a matter of days we have ourselves a festival.

There’s trepidation in our theatre community regarding how to cast ethnically-specific scripts. But over the past few seasons, several companies have had great success: Wasatch Theatre’s CAROLINE, OR CHANGE; Plan-B’s BLOCK 8; Hale Center Theatre’s RAGTIME; Salt Lake Acting Company’s THE OVERWHELMING; Pioneer Theatre Company’s MISS SAIGON; Grand Theatre’s CROWNS. The talent is here. The productions are possible.

It’s essential that the diversity of our community be reflected in every aspect of the community. That includes the stage. Simple as that.

The Edward Lewis Black Theatre Festival runs January-April 2010. Click here for ticket information to the four free readings and the three full productions (each of which offers a Festival discount).

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