Sunday, March 7, 2004

Black theater fest still thinking big

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The theme is "topola" - to share so that all are included - for this year's edition of the biannual Midwest Regional Black Theatre Festival, a big title for a largely local effort with public performances scheduled April 3-10 by Cincinnati Black Theatre Company.

The schedule still isn't finalized as theater company executive director Don Sherman crosses his fingers for any 11th hour funding, but the opening weekend is anchored by one-person shows by visiting artists:

• Hip-hop performer Psalmayene 24 earned a Helen Hayes Award nomination in Washington, for the one-man show Free Jujube Brown!, which explores a young man and his community when he is provoked to shoot and accidentally kill a police officer.

The show has been a success at the Kennedy Center in Washington, the Hip-Hop Theatre Festival in New York and the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C.

There will be one performance at Robert A. Taft Information and Technology High School (420 Ezzard Charles Drive), time to be determined, closing a day of hip-hop workshops for teens at the school.

• A Song for You...The Civil Rights Journey of a Negro Woman: Lena Calhoun Horne is booked for April 3-4 performances at Cincinnati Museum Center's Reakirt Auditorium.

Written and performed by Wendi Joy Franklin, the play follows Horne from her childhood in the South in the 1920s through the prejudice she encountered during her early music and film career and to the March on Washington and her work as a civil rights activist. The New York Times wrote, "Miss Franklin's rendering of her subject is uncanny."

The remainder of the lineup is mostly revivals of past Cincinnati Black Theatre Company shows. Despite putting out a call to artists, festival organizers found nothing suitable beyond their own circle, and, says Sherman, many proposals came in after deadline.

Cincinnati Black Theatre Festival will revive A Tribute to Motown from earlier this season (April 3-4 at Cincinnati Art Museum) and the recent For Colored Girls... for one night (April 8); The Kitchen Committee from last season, both at Arts Consortium; and Phillip Hayes Dean's An Evening with Paul Robeson, which has been presented previously by Arts Consortium, and will be performed April 8-9 at Reakirt Auditorium.

It's a far cry from materials sent to potential supporters which promised "new and established plays and musicals, workshops and seminars, poetry, music, dance and visual art presented by local, regional and national" representatives and anticipated attracting 10,000 people to the festival.

"We're not finished yet," Sherman says. "We're still keeping our options open. If funders come through and if space is available, we'll add more shows."

With a budget of $20,000, says Sherman, the festival is limited in what it can bring in. "We're better off than we've been in the past."

Sherman also promises readers theater evenings April 5-7 at Arts Consortium. Children's programming and workshops are scheduled both festival weekends. An opening gala is scheduled April 2.

Tickets to all performances will be $25.

The theater company is looking for volunteers for the festival, including production interns, stage managers, producers, set builders and painters, makeup artists, costume designers, dressers, prop master, sound designer and crew, lighting designer and crew, stage crew, production crew, technical helpers, administrative assistance and someone to work the phones.

For more information and reservations, call 241-6060 or 421-1100.


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