Black theater is alive and booming. Many Black theater companies across the nation weathered the pandemic and are back on stage to produce theater and art that speaks to the African-American experience.
From original productions and musical revues to dramatic renditions of classic plays, these are the companies that are making sure that Black productions get the spotlight. There’s a little something for everyone, including a rousing musical that stars a grown-sized velveteen rabbit.
True Colors Theatre Company
Founded by Tony Award-winning and Emmy-nominated Broadway and television director Kenny Leon in 2002, True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta is a nonprofit regional theater company that celebrates the rich tradition of Black storytelling while giving voice to bold artists from all cultures. True Colors Theatre Company is also active with community events and education programming. Currently celebrating 20 years on stage, True Colors is hosting an Anniversary Cabaret & Fundraiser beginning November 11.
Encore Theatre & Gallery
Nestled in the Roebuck Springs neighborhood of Birmingham, Alabama, the Encore Theatre and Gallery is a performance space for indie and urban works. With the motto of “Support the Arts for the Culture,” it offers a robust calendar of shows year-round. This winter season includes a run of Steel Magnolias (November 13-20), Marc Raby’s Soul Food: Tis The Season, a holiday comedic drama (December 1-4) and Soul of Christmas: A Musical Revue (December15-18).
Black Theatre Troupe
Since 1970, the Black Theatre Troupe has provided performance opportunities for multiethnic and underserved artists. Through productions that illuminate the African American experience and culture, the Troupe educates, enlightens and entertains a diverse, multicultural audience. Barbecue, an original play highlighting American family dynamics, plays through November 6. A production of Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity returns to the BTT stage for a limited engagement beginning December 2.
Lorraine Hansberry Theatre
The San Francisco-based theater is named for the playwright, director, and activist Lorraine Hansberry, the Drama Critics Circle Award-winning writer of A Raisin in the Sun, who was the first African American woman to have a play produced on Broadway. Stanley E. Williams and Quentin Easter founded the theater in 1981, which is currently under the artistic direction of Margo Hall. Upcoming productions at Lorraine Hansberry Theatre include the world premiere of Halie! The Mahalia Jackson Musical (December 2-24), which is written by Wendy E. Taylor and Darryl V. Jones.
The M Ensemble Company
Founded in 1971 in Miami, The M Ensemble Company is the longest-running Black professional theater company in Florida. Founded on the University of Miami campus, its original directors, T.G. Cooper and his wife Grace, set out to preserve and promote African American culture and experiences through the performing arts. M Ensemble Company will kick off its next season on February 9, 2023, with a production of The River Niger by award-winning playwright Joseph A. Walker.
Black Ensemble Theater
Playwright and educator Jackie Taylor founded Black Ensemble Theater (BE) in Chicago more than 40 years ago. Her mission to create a strong institution committed to eradicating racism is delivered through BE's original productions and educational outreach programs. The company is known for productions related to African American culture, especially musicals that depict notable Black musicians and performers. These productions are performed at the Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, a $20 million dollar venue space. See Blue Heaven, written and directed by Daryl Brooks and featuring the music of B.B. King, Big Mama Thornton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf, beginning October 22.
Pyramid Theatre Company
Founded in 2015, the Pyramid Theatre Company in Des Moines was formed under the leadership of Ken-Matt Martin, who had just finished producing and directing successful runs of August Wilson’s Fences and Charles Fuller's A Soldier's Play with the Des Moines Social Club. As Iowa’s only Black theater, it aims to bring important African American works to its community. The company just finished a run of Beaufield Berry’s Buffalo Women: A Black Cowgirl Musical Dramedy and is gearing up for its 2023 season.
UpStage Theatre Company
UpStage Theatre Company was established in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 2002 to nurture and expand the talents of African American artists. UpStage works to establish artists and create and develop works that challenge the Black community to see itself and the world in new ways. Its offerings include acting workshops, the Emerging Playwright Project, open-mic nights and youth productions. UpStage is presenting Home for Christmas, a family tale, on December 4 and 10.
The Front Porch Arts Collective
With a namesake signifying a communal spirit, The Front Porch Arts Collective is a gathering place. The collective is committed to advancing racial equity and rewriting narratives through theater in its hometown of Boston. Through active collaboration, it produces art that is inclusive of all communities and audiences to inspire a more tolerant and inclusive city. The Front Porch Arts Collective will perform the raucous family comedy Chicken & Biscuits for the holiday season beginning December 9.
Arena Players Inc.
Arena Players Inc., located in Baltimore, Maryland, is known as the oldest continually performing and historically African American community theatre in the United States. A small aspiring group of ambitious fledgling actors began the group after taking their final bow in William Soroyan’s one-act drama, Hello Out There, in 1953. Arena Players Inc. has performed at its permanent home, 801 McCulloh St., since 1962. The Face of Emmett Till, a drama directed by Daniel Parker, is the repertory's dramatic offering through October 30.
The St. Louis Black Repertory Company
The St. Louis Black Repertory Company is a 45-year-old legacy arts organization in the city that produces, re-imagines and commissions work written by Black playwrights. It also establishes opportunities for new voices. Founder Ron Himes had a vision for a more equitable distribution of opportunities and resources for Black professionals and students in theater, as well as improved representation on and backstage in the industry. The Black Rep is hosting its 46th Anniversary Gala Concert on November 12 and will resume its current season with Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller on January 11, 2023, at Edison Theatre, Washington University.
Crossroads Theatre Company
Co-founders Ricardo Khan and L. Kenneth Richardson started Crossroads Theatre Company in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to give themselves an opportunity to act in substantive, non-stereotypical roles. Since then, the company, a Tony Award recipient for Outstanding Regional Theatre in the United States, has grown into a major institution committed to producing literary works that examine the African American experience and can be appreciated by all people. Douglas Lyons’ Chicken & Biscuits will be performed by Crossroads December 21-31.
Playwright, director and filmmaker Carl Clay founded Black Spectrum Theatre Company as a traveling theatrical troupe in 1970. Over a half-century, Black Spectrum in Jamaica, Queens, New York, has grown into a multifaceted performing arts and media company that has produced and presented over 150 plays, 30 films, and numerous works of music, dance and performance art. Black Spectrum Theatre is launching its 2022-23 season with a performance by Jazz fusion artist Roy Ayers on November 25.
North Carolina Black Repertory Company
Larry Leon Hamlin founded North Carolina Black Repertory Company, the first professional Black theatre company in the state, in 1979. This Winston Salem-based group aims to engage, enrich and entertain with innovative programming that resonates across the community and challenges social perceptions. It is committed to exposing diverse audiences to Black classics and to developing and producing new works, as well as improving its artistic quality and sustaining Black theatre internationally. The equity house will present Nativity According to the Gospels, an electrifying rendition of the Christmas story told with an infusion of gospel music, Afro-centric dance and spoken word, December 8 -18, at Hanesbrands Theatre.
PassinArt: A Theatre Company
With a desire to educate, entertain and celebrate culture while highlighting issues that impact the community, the goal of PassinArt: A Theatre Company is to increase the visibility of emerging and experienced African American and multicultural artists, playwrights and directors by collaborating with and highlighting their work. The Portland, Oregon-based theater also strives to provide access to quality yet affordable productions, staged readings, cultural events and workshops. Already prepped for its 2023 season, PassinArt will present Seven Guitars by August Wilson starting next March.
The Jubilee Theatre’s mission is to create and produce theatrical works that give voice to the African American experience, as well as promote and present new plays and musicals that deliver a universal message and involve a diverse and multicultural audience. Founded in 1981 in Fort Worth, Texas, Jubilee Theatre is the original home for African American theater in North Texas. The company is currently producing Plenty Of Time, a love story that spans 40 years, through October 30.
Ekundayo Bandele founded Hattiloo Theatre, named after his daughters Hatshepsut and Oluremi, in Memphis in 2006. The theatre opened in a small storefront in Memphis’ Edge District. By 2017, Hattiloo had purchased and opened HattiHouse, a residential space, becoming the only freestanding Black repertory theatre within five surrounding states. Hattiloo’s bustling slate includes Kill Move Paradise, a play inspired by the ever-growing list of slain Black men and women, which runs through October 30. Hattiloo will then presentVelveteen Rabbit, The Musical, beginning November 26.
Art Forms and Theatre Concepts
Art Forms & Theatre Concepts, Inc. in Charleston, South Carolina, has a mission to provide professional theater by respected playwrights that depicts the African American experience for its community. The company was founded by Arthur Gilliard, who also serves as its artistic director. Art Forms will stage Smart People, by award-winning playwright Lydia R. Diamond, December 1-11. This dramatic comedy takes place on the night of Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential election, where four brainy residents, despite their best intentions, learn that broaching the topic of race is a treacherous one. Gilliard is set to direct.