Nashville is a hotbed for African American Theatre. — Shades of Black — AAPEX

Monday, July 23, 2007

Nashville is a hotbed for African American Theatre.

Nashville, Tennessee Sunday, July 22, 2007

Since the day it was founded, the city of Nashville has been recognized for something.

First it was one of the most significant outposts of a rapidly expanding nation.

Next it was a major player in America's railroads.

Then, in part because of the railroads and the money that ensued, it became known as the "Athens of the South" because it was home to more universities than any other Southern city.

In the 1950's Nashville's academic status was eclipsed by the seriously non-academic forces of country music and, for better or worse, the city soon became known as "Hillbilly Hollywood." As country music is pretty much dominated by "majority" rather than "minority" artists, the city became positioned as pretty much a mecca for white entertainers - almost nervously so.

There are always undercurrents, however, and suddenly, today, Nashville is home to an astounding 10 African American theater companies and two significant black university theater departments at Fisk and Tennessee State University - not to mention serving as the home base for the newly founded African American Playwrights Exchange.

The energy created by this sudden explosion of black talent is overflowing in to the city, as evidenced by two theatrical events of this past weekend and the upcoming Shades of Black Theater Festival, which kicks off with a serious mixer at The Darkhorse Theater on August 17th.

This past Thursday, Barrry Scott's production of THE BLACKS kicked off at Tennessee State University to an enthusiastic audience which included ladies from the Red Hat society, faculty and students from TSU and a huge turnout of folks from a local Bastille day party who had enjoyed a snippet of the production as part of the Bastille Day entertainment. Intermission turned into a symposium on Genet which focused on the heightened language of the piece, and pretty much a majority of the audience from opening night agreed to meet again at the closing performance to see how the actors have evolved in their roles. Genet's daunting and mystifying work is unlike almost anything folks around here have seen before.

The following night marked the opening of an all black production of WEST SIDE STORY which played under a tent in a local park to an opening night audience of around 350 people. The production is the work of SALAMA URBAN MINISTRIES and featured a cast of "at-risk" youth - all high school students, grades 9 - 12. Dr. Persephone Felder-Fentress (director) and Dr. Peter Fields (choreographer) have done a knock out job with this young cast and the dancing and singing in particular were spectacular. If "Music City USA" has a role in the future of the American Musical theater, these kids and their mentors are the folks to watch.

WEST SIDE STORY has one more performance (tonight) and THE BLACKS will run through next weekend, then Nashville will begin gearing up for the second annual Shades of Black Theater Festival at the renowned Darkhorse Theater. Producers Mary McCallum, Shawn Whitsell, Eugenia Sweeney, Candy Robins, Kenny Dozier and Michael L. Walker will unleash a month of black theater which is not to be missed and begins with a mixer at the Darkhorse on August 17. For more information go to

Or even better - come to Nashville and go to the theater.

Jaz Dorsey
The African American Playwrights Exchange
Nashville, Tennessee

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