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Introduction to African American Theatre

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African American theatre - Handout

  • THE Primordia
  • BROWN’S AFRICAN GROOVE THEATRE
  • THREE PHASES
  • 1816-1821 – Inner life, singing, dancing and reciting
  • 1821 – African Groove Tea-Garden
  • Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785-1851)
  • Sheriff of New York, judge, politician, playwright, critic and editor of National Advocate
  • Political notice
  • Closed the Tea-Garden
  • SHAKESPEARE’S RICHARD III
  • 1821-1823 – Theatre as a way to protest racism
  • Outer life protest plays
  • June 20, 1823 – The drama of King Shotaway
  • 1st African American play known to have been written strictly for political purposes
  • Plot: 1795 Garifuna Insurrection against the British on the island of Saint Vincent.
  • AFTER: BROWN DISAPEAR
  • Noah originated negative African American stereotypes in drama
  • Noah said “apes – the imitative kitchen inmates with oily faces, surprised eyes and triple lips”
  • African American themselves picked and projected these images for the next 75 years.
  • DUBOIS SCHOOL OF DRAMA
  • DuBois – 1911
  • Teach the “colored people” the meanings of their history and their rich emotional life.
  • Wrote:
  • Suppression of the African Slave Trade (1896)
  • Philadelphia Negro (1899) – Sociologic study – made to identify social problems in the Afro-American community
  • DuBois school of theatre – strictly political
  • Criticize Broadway: “decadent” stories about “clowning people”
  • PLAY: STAR OF ETHIOPIA
  • 5 scene play
  • Performed in:
  • 1913 – New York
  • 1915 – Washington
  • 1916 – Philadelphia
  • 1925 – Los Angeles
  • Scene 1 – Gift of iron: prehistoric black man who gave to the world the gift of his own invention, the welding iron
  • Scene 2 – The dream of Egypt: depict Ethiopia, as the mother of men, then leads the mythic procession of historic events past the glory of ancient Egypt, showcasing Africa as the center of art and commerce with the splendid kingdoms of Sudan and Zimbabwe
  • Scene 3 – Glory of Ethiopia, the evolution of human conflict
  • Scene 4 – Valley of humiliation, diaspora and the tragedy of the American slave trade with the resistance to oppression
  • Scene 5 – The vision everlasting highlighting African-American in various professional roles up from slavery. Slowly, the black race writhes back to life and hope, on which the star of Ethiopia gleans forever.
  • CONFLICT: DUBOIS VS ALAIN LOCKE
  • Locke – DuBois school of protest was indigestible
  • Spent 12 years trying to change DuBois school from the inside
  • Started to push artists away from protest writing  -> believed in the first ideas of Brown’s theatre “Inner Life”
  • 1922: publishes “Steps toward the Negro Theatre” in DuBois Crisis Magazine
  • “New Negro”
  • “Criteria of Negro Art” – DuBois answer to Locke
  • “By agreeing to focus on Inner life themes and people, Locke’s New negro artists were being hoodwinked into stopping agitation on the African American question”
  • Art is merely propaganda
  • DUBOIS SCHOOL OF THEATRE VS ART THEATRE OF LOCKE

DuBois

Locke

Plot

Revealed African Americans

Full of these people’s “lusty” lives, myths, legends and histories

Characters

“Came from the same mold as model human beings and historical figures, characters who pine because frustrated hope”

“Off the streets, who came out of joints and dives – people who, while ‘cutting the fool’ expressed honest and personal emotions, irrespective of politics”

Themes

Pricked the consciences of white people

Directed themes almost exclusively to African Americans. Without sentimentalizing issues, he sometimes indicated whites

Language

Spoke up for “literate and thought provoking”

Ordinary folk – dressed up with poetry, music and dance

...

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