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‘Stages of Struggle and Celebration’ launches 5-city exhibition tour

Stages of Struggle and Celebration

Posted by Jayme Blaschke
University News Service
March 30, 2016

Texas State University’s Sandra M. Mayo, associate professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance, and Elvin Holt, professor in the Department of English, will launch a five-city exhibit tour, Stages of Struggle and Celebration: Black Theatre in Texas,  Saturday, April 9 at the George Washington Carver Musuem and Cultural Center in Austin.

The museum will host a reception from 2-4 p.m. including brief readings by black Texas playwrights, introduction of local artists, book sales and signings, and refreshments. The reception and exhibition is free and open to the public.

The exhibit showcases Mayo and Holt’s groundbreaking research featured in their two books on black theatre in Texas, Acting Up and Getting Down: Plays by African American Texans and Stages of Struggle and Celebration: A Production History of Black Theatre in Texas, published by the University of Texas Press.

“We want the nation and the world to know, in the words of a Dallas theatre critic, blacks are ‘acting up and getting down’ in Texas,” Mayo said.

Acting Up and Getting Down

Black theatre in Texas can be traced back to the 1800s with minstrel companies and the playwriting of Sherman Dudley with his play, The Smart Set, which premiered in 1896. In Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio black theatre has been the corner stone of arts activity through persistent theatre groups since the turn of the century and earlier in community centers, churches and historically black colleges. A few of the active theatre groups before the 1950s include the Thespian Society for “Cullud genman” in Houston (1866), the Myra Hemmings Players in San Antonio (beginning about 1913), the Log Cabin Players at Wiley College in Marshall (1925) and the Charles Gilpin Players at Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View (1929). With the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s many more black theatre organizations emerged. Texas was a part of this explosion, or new Black Renaissance in the arts, with the Urban Theatre in Houston (1969), Black Arts Alliance in Austin (1970s) and the Sojourner Truth Players in Fort Worth (1972) among them.  

Black theatre endured in the major cities in Texas in the last 30-40 years with a number of theatre companies, including those featured in Mayo and Holt’s Stages of Struggle and Celebration. These companies with others, including newly established groups, have graced the stages of Texas in their respective communities with a focus on original works and produced some of the most celebrated African American playwrights in the country.

Black theatre has served as a training ground for several generations of aspiring playwrights. The playwrights featured in Mayo and Holt’s Acting Up and Getting Down include Ted Shine, Eugene Lee, Celeste Bedford-Walker, George Hawkin, Thomas Meloncon, Elizabeth Brown-Guillory and Sterling Houston.

Mayo and Holt established the Preserving the History of Black Theatre in Texas Project as a multifaceted diversity project at Texas State approximately five years ago. They have promoted this work through their research, conference presentations, book development, archiving, web development and exhibitions.

The tour dates include:

April 9-June 25
George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center
1165 Angelina Street, Austin

July 2-August 28
Central Library
500 McKinney, Houston

September 3-October 30
Dallas Public Library, Central Branch
1515 Young Street, Dallas

November 4-December 11
Carver Community Cultural Center
226 N. Hackberry Street, San Antonio

January 14-February 19
Fort Worth Library, Central Branch
500 W. 3rd Street, Fort Worth

For more information, contact Sandra Mayo at sm37@txstate.edu.