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Most widely held works by Federal Theatre Project U.

African American Theatre, Drama, and Performance in the Harlem Renaissance, 1910–1927

Book 17 editions published between and in English and held by WorldCat member libraries worldwide. Liberty deferred and other living newspapers of the s Federal Theatre Project Book 3 editions published in in English and held by WorldCat member libraries worldwide. Six plays for young people from the Federal Theatre Project : an introductory analysis and six representative plays Book 1 edition published in in English and held by WorldCat member libraries worldwide. Folk tunes from Mississippi 7 editions published between and in English and held by WorldCat member libraries worldwide.

Columbinus by Stephen Karam Book 1 edition published in in English and held by 78 WorldCat member libraries worldwide. Federal theatre in English and held by 59 WorldCat member libraries worldwide. Theater program in form of tabloid newspaper. Folk songs mainly from West Virginia 2 editions published in in English and held by 50 WorldCat member libraries worldwide.

Traditional ballads : mainly from West Virginia 2 editions published in in English and held by 44 WorldCat member libraries worldwide. Folk-songs of America by Robert Winslow Gordon 2 editions published in in English and held by 37 WorldCat member libraries worldwide. A list of negro plays by Federal Theatre Project U.

Over the next few decades, what followed was a variety of dramatic pieces of very uneven quality. Du Bois published The Star of Ethipia in The black presence in lighter types of drama such as minstrel shows, musicals, vaudeville, librettos and comic operettas was very significant.

A prominent example is Pauline E. These plays and dramatic pieces had several aims. Some of them sought to use the medium of drama to shed light on pressing social issues of concern to black people. Starting from the eighteenth century, African Americans had been writing, and by the mid-nineteenth century had achieved renown in non- fictional forms such as the slave narrative, of which Frederick Douglass, William Wells Brown and Henry Bibb were the best-known practitioners.

Why was theatre and drama so lacking in vitality during the pre-Harlem Renaissance era, and, indeed, well after? Many reasons have been adduced for this state of affairs, and they represent a significant commentary on the nature of race relations in the United States, and the way in which those relations affected literary production. One of the greatest obstacles to the quick emergence of African American theatre was what William Couch, Jr. As Couch points out, Poets and novelists work in solitude, their task being accomplished when they have had their say; but in the world of the theater, which demands relationships and interaction, the national ritual of race predominates.

For nearly two centuries, African Americans were no permitted to act in productions featuring white actors, even when the roles in question were meant to portray black people. During the same period, they were not allowed admission to white-owned theatre establishments, even if they could afford the high ticket prices. The best they could hope for was to accept segregated seats, a humiliating option which was enforced even when African American dramas with black actors and actresses were being featured.

The emergence of the minstrel tradition in the United States helped to entrench prejudiced attitudes to African Americans as subjects of dramatic treatment, as actors and as an audience.


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Created by enslaved African Americans as a form of entertainment, minstrelsy involved comic and sentimental songs, skits, jigs and shuffle dances. Its popularity was soon noticed by whites who subsequently began to imitate the form by applying burnt cork to darken their skins. Even white Americans who had had no close contacts with blacks as a people came to see them in the light of such white minstrel shows, which came to exercise a tenacious hold on the popular imagination.

As George E. The lens was that of minstrel tradition. Some of the earliest practitioners were in fact forced to take on roles as actors in minstrel shows because those were the only ones available to them at the time. However, its radically new techniques of presentation helped to move African American dramatic entertainment away from the minstrel tradition. An intrinsic part of the sociology of the theatre which hampered the development of African American theatre related to the very nature of the form.

Unlike poetry and fiction, theatre was a more overtly technical genre, requiring the skilled input of directors, costumiers, lighting experts, set designers and make-up people in addition to playwrights and actors.


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  • This meant that it needed continuous financial backing, space often in form of a permanent location , the establishment and maintenance of networks and contacts, as well as the commitment of those involved in the various elements of theatrical production. Inundated as they were with the negative images of blacks as generally portrayed in drama, many theatre owners, producers and theatre-goers were not prepared to have their comfortable assumptions about African Americans disrupted by plays or actors and actresses which sought to show them in a more sympathetic light.

    This meant that plays with serious artistic intent written by African Americans had to be self- financed or depend upon the generosity of wealthy patrons to reach the stage. Those plays that did make the mainstream stage often had to take the beliefs of the mainly white audience into consideration and accede to their bigoted expectations. In spite of the difficulties that confronted them, African Americans working in the theatre made the best of what they had to achieve their aims, and in doing this, they drew upon the strengths of their cultural heritage.

    As identified by Alain Locke, some of the advantages enjoyed by African American theatre include: Dramatic spontaneity, the free use of the body and the voice as direct instruments of feeling, a control of body plastique that opens up the narrow diaphragm of fashionable acting and enlarges he conventional mannerisms of the stage — these are indisputably strong points of Negro acting.

    It was upon these advantages that African American actors, producers and playwrights built in their attempts to create a viable theatre tradition. These companies subsequently boosted theatre activities by blacks in major cities of the northern United States. Thus, starting from , a number of little-theatre groups began to emerge in various African American neighbourhoods with the aim of catering to the theatre needs of their local communities. Although they were often short-lived, their impact on the growth of African American theatre is significant, and can be most clearly seen in the fact that one such group, the Lafayette Players of Harlem, helped launch the distinguished career of Charles Gilpin.

    As pioneers, both Gilpin and Robeson spent much of their acting careers fighting the racism of some white citizens.

    Craig, E. Quita (Evelyn Quita) 1917-

    In spite of his virtuoso performance in The Emperor Jones, Gilpin was unable to find enough work and was a target of petty racism from his own theatre community. May C. In its efforts to ensure that its impact was as widespread as possible, the FTP set up production units across the United States, encouraged the development of community theatre, staged minority-language plays and consciously sought to highlight all aspects of the performing arts.

    These measures made the FTP the direct antithesis of commercial theatre, and its more accommodating and experimental stance made it possible for emerging and established African American playwrights to make significant contributions to the growth of African American theatre. The artistic freedom provided by the Federal theatre Project enabled them to present plays that would never have made the commercial stage.

    Relatively low ticket prices made their production accessible to African American audiences.

    The City of Conversation | Horizon Theatre

    African American theatre personnel were able to receive training in modern stagecraft. The positive influence of the FTP was to continue even after its abrupt termination by the U. Congress in One of its major effects was to help in establishing the American Negro Theatre in The ANT, in turn, helped to promote playwrights, actors and productions, thereby ensuring the growth of African American drama in the post-Second World War era.

    What follows next is an examination of a representative set of African American dramas written and staged during the Harlem Renaissance. It is intended to show how the beginnings of a tradition of theatre were built upon, often slowly and in the face of great adversity, but with the drive and talent of individuals who were determined to make a place for themselves where none had been set aside for them.

    As a play dealing with the traumatic after- effects of lynching upon a sensitive African American woman, its debut in Washington, D. Some members thought that its propagandistic intent was too obvious, while others a majority felt that the play adequately expressed its central concern.

    go to site Rachel thus inaugurated in African America letters the age-old debate as to whether theatre had an essentially didactic or aesthetic provenance. It also initiated debate over how the African American was to relate to the larger society, and here the choices were between maintaining racial exclusivity and actively seeking to integrate into the mainstream. The play is in many ways a continuation of these never-ending struggles. Rachel opens in the living room of a middle-class African-American home. The audience is introduced to the Loving family, mother, son and daughter whose affectionate relationship show that they are well named.

    Table of contents

    However, amid the general picture of happy family life, there is an undercurrent of distress, especially in the mother, Mrs. This is later revealed when she tells her children, Tom and Rachel, that her husband and son were lynched by a white mob. The news is profoundly distressing to both. For Tom, the enormity of the injustice is almost impossible to bear; for Rachel, however, the impact is even more devastating because it strikes at her most cherished feelings — her love for children.

    Act Two begins in the same location, four years later. A young orphan named Jimmy has come to stay with them. He is especially attached to Rachel, who is virtually a mother to him. As he begins to go to school, the harsh world of American racism impinges negatively upon his developing consciousness as older boys insult him. Rachel, who had been living in dread of this, has her forebodings confirmed by the pathetic tale of a little African American girl who has been traumatized by the racial slurs of white schoolmates.

    She comes to believe that the grim reality of racial humiliation is the inevitable lot of every African American child: … suddenly, some day, from out of the black, the blight shall descend, and shall still forever — the laughter on those little lips, and in those little hearts. Act Three starts in the same location a week later.

    She constantly vacillates between her love for Jimmy and her awareness that she can do nothing to save him from the pain of being black in America. Her thoroughly bourgeois characters speak good English, are always courteous and display great self-control even at the most stressful moments. The huge role assigned to Jimmy underscores its sentimental nature, as do its very long speeches.

    Beyond this somewhat maudlin style, however, Rachel does examine real concerns, particularly the emotional and psychological trauma wrought by lynching as a manifestation of American racism. The play is striking for its implicit contrast between the solid middle-class comfort of its setting, and the physical and psychological insecurity that bedevil African American life. Nelly Y. Du Bois. The drama-writing contest had the aim of encouraging talented black authors to write plays which reflected authentic African American experience in America.

    Black Drama of the Federal Theatre Era: Beyond the Formal Horizons

    Richardson is a pioneer of African American drama. It is a one-act play examining the disintegration of the life of an African American man, Matt Turner. The play begins with Matt trying to play his banjo.