For black history month, I thought it would be nice to focus on black theatre (although, really, when do I not?). So for this week’s edition of Theatre News/Worldly Wednesday, I’ve chosen a city a little closer to home: Detroit. Once known for its booming industry and lively arts scene (Motown, anyone?) Detroit has struggled to stay afloat in recent years. From the collapse of the car business to infamous racial and economic disparity and the loss of half its population, one could say Detroit’s star has fallen. But it’s residents beat on, and the arts community continues to make bold, ambitious works. How could they not, considering their history?
Back in the day, Detroit was basically to theatre what New Orleans was to jazz. It was the birthplace of Nederlander (yes, that Nederlander) and his behemoth theatrical organization. It boasts the second largest theatre district in the nation, behind New York, and is home to many fully-restored theatres dating back to the 1920s. And Wayne State University, known for its stellar and comprehensive theatre program, has the oldest graduate repertory theatre (Hilberry Theatre) in the nation. Did you know all that? I didn’t. Maybe it’s common knowledge and I’m just out of the loop, but I would prefer to believe it’s simply under-publicized.
Black theatre in particular had a great moment during Detroit’s heyday. In the 1960s, when the economy and culture of Detroit were flourishing, Woodie King Jr., Cliff Frazier, and David Rambeau launched Concept East, which became one of the nation’s preeminent black theatres, paving the way for other companies such as Harmony Park Playhouse and Spirit of Shango. Plowshares, the only professional black theatre left in Detroit, and in fact all of Michigan, announced a new season back 2011 after a couple years of silence, and again in 2013. Not much information has been released since then, so I’m not sure what their future holds. Plowshares has been credited with producing the work of black playwrights such as Pearl Cleage, Richard Wesley, and the venerable August Wilson. Other organizations committed to promoting artistic expression of underrepresented communities include Detroit Repertory Theatre and Mosaic Youth Theatre.
These days, there are undoubtedly a lot of Broadway imports and absurd mass-appeal shows like Robocop! The Musical. But there are also people still committed to producing great new theatre, like the various community theatres in the city and of course the college and university theatre programs. There is a burgeoning regional theatre community of production houses large and small. Art still pulses through the lifeblood of Detroit.
As a girl who holds a struggling, once-great city (St. Louis) very dear to her heart, I feel a special kinship with cities like Detroit. Motor City’s motto seems particularly poignant these days: “We hope for better days; it shall rise from the ashes.” For art’s sake, for it’s residents’ sake, and for history’s sake, I sure hope so.
Theatre and entertainment news from elsewhere includes:
TV made history at Sundance. A lot of people have said this is a golden age for television, but indie TV is a fairly new concept. I’m excited to see what comes of it.
In that same vein, here’s Variety’s round-up of the best films at Sundance this year.
Lin Manuel Miranda’s newest musical, Hamilton, may be heading to Broadway this spring. I’m DYING to see it.
This play adaption of Around the World in 80 Days seems pretty relevant to this blog, and sounds like a lot of fun.
Today, I missed spin class. Again. Because waking up earlier than usual is hard. On the bright side, I made it to work excessively early and was able to have some much needed only-person-here focus time. Mark my words, I will become an early person (or at least on time person), so help me God. I hate being late and I hate missing out on stuff I enjoy (and paid for!) Any tips for getting my patootie to bed early and out of the door time? Any tips much appreciated.
Love and theatre,