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November 14, 1979 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1979-11-14

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Area Black theater needs boost

The recent Showcase production of Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka's The
Lion and the Jewel sparked an interest in the black theater program, or more ac-
curately, the lack of one. Directed by Ph.D. student Janice Reid, the production
represented the efforts of her black theater workshop and interested black studen-
ts outside the theater department..
The black theater program got its initial push from the 1970 BAM (Black Ac-
tiop Movement) strike that pressured the University to recruit black students and
thereby .reach the mandatory quota of ten per cent black enrollment. This
recruitment program included a promised theater major geared to the black
w From 1972 to 1976, there was a progression of undergraduate black theater
courses with one black production per term. Also included in the opportunities for
black theater students was a group called Black Theater on Tour which provided a
good experience and a chance to travel with such shows as Five on the Black Hand
THE GROUP traveled to nearby communities, facilities such as The Maxey
Boys Training School, and various regional black theater festivals. Unfortunately,
in 1977, Von Washington, a doctoral student, teacher of black theater and driving
force in the production of shows, left the University. Since then, the push to
prpduce a black company has dwindled, perhaps in part due to lack of funds or to
lack of interest in putting in the necessary large amounts of work.
For the past few years, there has existed a group called The Back Alley
Players. The troupe was conceived and originally started by Ron "O.J." Parson,
who wished to address the problem of inadequate parts for black actors. The name
Back Alley symbolized the way that the group got its start - by beginning in the
background and eventually coming to the attention of the theater community.
- This year, the Back Alley Players no longer exists as a functioning theater
group. This serve to narrow the openings for acting experience among black
students. The troupe was first designed to be small and they did a lot of traveling to
different campuses, also doing service shows for institutions like The Huron Valley
Women's Prison.
SHOWS WERE performed yearly in September, December and April in
auditoriums used by the theater department. Shows done by The Back Alley
Players were No Place to Be Somebody in September '77, Short Eyes in April '78,
and Ladies In Waiting in September '78. The last show performed by the group was
The Taking of Miss Janie in March '79.
Although the Back Alley Players were not officially affiliated with the Univer-
sity Theater Department, the department depended on the troupe to make up for
the lack of opportunities for blacks within the University. Former active member
of 'Back Alley and graduate of the University Theater Department, KayJona
Jackson, sees this as part of the problem.
The faculty was taking the presence of Back Alley for granted, yet was not of-
fering support. She also sees a lack of support from the students as contributing to
the demise of the troupe. Although they were never wanting willing participants
wh'o loved to act, many students were not willing to put in the necessary time to
work the technical aspects of theater.
According to KayJona, if the group ever hopes to start up again, "It's going to
take a large work force of really devoted people and students just don't have the
CURRENT STUDENT trends point away from the direction of the dedication
needed to re-establish the black acting company. Specifically, the enrollment of
black students here at the University is dropping, and this diminishes the demands
for black theater that manifested itself in the late 1960's.
The overcrowded libraries and study areas attest to the fact that a lot of
students are spending more time attending to academic pressures and less on ex-
tracurricular activities.
This year there has been one black production, The Lion and the Jewel, chosen
by Janice Reid, who is currently studying and writing about author Wole Soyinka.

Another show is scheduled as part of the Professional Theatre Program's Guest
Artist Series for next term's season in the Power Center. The play is Eden and will
be directed by guest artist Mel Winkler who returns to the University after a suc-
cessful visit last year when he starred in The River Niger. While here, Mr. Winkler
plans to devote time to teaching a reader's theater course and a black theater
AT PRESENT, there is no faculty member within the theater department
qualified to teach black theater. Consequently, the teaching assistants Janice Reid
and Rhonnie Washington are counted upon to keep interest high. What is needed,
according to Reid, is a specific faculty member for the specific job of serving the
black theater interest.
The interest in getting a chance to act is very high. The Lion and the Jewel had
a large cast with many more interested in acting. Another indication of high in-
terest is that one reason for the end of Back Alley was that it got too large for
students to handle the amount of work needed to coordinate the shows and run
publicity with no cohesive guiding force.
Janice Reid and Rhonnie Washington see a need for a separate vital black
theater program with a formal structure and specific function, yet with the ability
to work alongside and in conjunction with the existing theater department. Accor-
ding to Ms. Reid, "Black theater should be a viable part of every theater class, not
just those geared for blacks. It is just as important for whites to study black
The current theater class offerings do not address themselves to the needs of
other minority students as well. Perhaps the reason for this is a lack of interest and
demand. Although Spanish, Oriental and Black drama are touched upon in theater
history, there is not much extensive coverage available.
Among students, there is an overall feeling of disappointment in the oppor-
tunities currently available. All agree that blacks should try out for available par-
ts, including those with traditionally all-white casts. KayJona Jackson says, "Of
course, most directors have preconceived looks for their productions and unless
they are really impressed with someone's interpretation, they won't cast a black in
a white role." But since there is not currently a planned consistency in black shows
and therefore available parts, the actors agree - it's wise to audition for anything
and everything.
The black theater workshops are taught by black teaching assistants, and ac-
cording to Ms. Reid, this produces a "knowledge gap" aggravated by the presence
of 'no faculty professor to turn to for more extensive knowledge or experience.
Despite the enthusiasm and interest in acting within the workshops classes, many
blacks are unwilling to concentrate in theater. Rocky Davis, currently a senior,
says that right now he is the last black male registered as a declared theater
major. As a consequence, he is in demand for scene work, but feels that his oppor-
tunities within the department are disappointing. Delbert Jerkins, who is enrolled
in Janice Reid's workshop class and was in The Lion and the Jewel, has seen many
black productions and is interested in theater.
However, he may well explain the reason why student interest is falling off in
working with the system to produce black troupes or shows, as he explained that he
won't become a theater major here at the University because, "The program just
is not adequate."

The Michigan Daily-Wednesday, November 14, 1979-Page 5
Virtuoso Jaki Byard
after the big game
On Saturday, November 17 after the OSU tilt, Eclipse Jazz will present
pianist Jaki Byard in a solo performance in the Pendleton Room of the Union.
Since the nineteen thirties, pianist Byard has worked with a dazzling array
of jazz musicians. At one time or another, he has worked with Duke Ellington,
Charles Mingus, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Eric Dolphy, Earl Fatha Hines, Don
Ellis, George Benson, Maynard Ferguson, Archie Shepp, Zoot Sims, Clark
Terry, Paul Desmond, and many others.
One of the first Boston musicians to play and write bebop, Byard is most
noted for his solo piano work. He also plays saxophone, trumpet, flute, bass,
trombone, vibes, guitar, organ, and drums. A prolific composer and arranger,
Byard leads two big bands, the "Apollo Stompers", in Boston and New York.
Show times are at Band 10:30 p.m.

Use Daily
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Tickets available at the PTP
Ticket Office-Michigan League
10-1 & 2-5pm Mon-Fri. OR at
Trueblood Box Office prior to
performance. INFO (764-0450)

Luchino Visconti's 1968
Visconti translates one of the landmark novels of the 20th centurv into film,
letting the omnipresent sun, the solitude of the Algerian landscape and Mar-
celle Mastroianni's existential nausea speak the precise directives of Camus.
The director offers a meticulously accurate recreation of Algiers circa 1938-39
in a film that is at once both visually beautiful yet faithful to the spirit of the
novel. With ANN KARINA. Color.
Thurs: Hitchcock's LIFEBOAT





A Afine time washadbyaX1

he Ann Arbor Film Cooperative Presents a Aud A: $1.50
Wednesday, November 14
(Jeff Stein, 1979) 6:30, 8:20, & 10:15-AUD A
A highly entertaining chronicle of a rock 'n roll phenomenon-The Who. An
and KEITH MOON. "More tharalright . .. enough to bring back memories
of glorious performances by one of the world's great rock bans."-N.Y. POST.
Tomorrow: Ingmar Bergman's THE TOUCH at Aud. A

.During the Dresden Staatskapelle Or-
c$ estra's Sunday night performance in
Ann Arbor, one got the feeling that the
mdsicians enjoyed their music as much.
as? anyone in the audience. The or-
chestra's warm, precise playing was
rrniniscent of that of the granddaddy of
all orchestras, the Amsterdam Concer-
tebow. Conducted by Herbert Blom-
stedt, the highly disciplined ensemble
included works by Weber, Strauss,
Beethoven and Wagner in their
The concert 'began with Wagner's
Overture to Die Meistersinger. As soon
as the first chords were played, the or-
eestra's deep tone became evident.
The pompous, melodramatic piece
squnded fully pompous and
Mrlodramatic. In one spicatto (boun-

cing the bow on the-string) passage, the.
first violins demonstrated ensemble
playing which is rarely found outside of
chamber groups. The overture was not
played with the force and power that
Solti and the Chicago Symphony bring
to it, but with a more textural ap-
THE PROGRAM continued with
Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 in F
major, opus 93. The Staatskapelle's
Beethoven playing was slightly thicker
than what is usually heard. The reading
was exciting and insightful though not
especially powerful. The winds were
not always together on their entrances
on the hushed chords of the Minuet but
all solos were played expertly. It is a
tribute to the orchestra to be able to say
that this was the low point of the
The final piece listed on the program
was Richard Strauss's tone poem Ein
Heldenleben, opus 40. The piece

demands that the orchestra produce a
large variety of moods and tonal
colorations. The Staatskapelle was up
to the challenge; this was the evening's
most successful piece. Peter Mirring,
the orchestra's concertmaster, deser-
ves special commendation for his solo
work in this piece.
Mirring played i~ the orchestra
rather than wia, it. He was technically
in command of the music and produced
a warm, elegant tone. The dramatic
qualities of this piece were fully
realized by Blomstedt, who brought the
piece to an emotion-filled finish.
THE ORCHESTRA acknowledged
the subsequent applause by playing
Carl Maria von Weber's Overture to
Overon. Starting out with quiet
passages in the winds and strings, the
piece bursts into an exciting Allegro.
The precision of the Staatskapelle
made the music come alive. The per-
formance was exciting and crisp.

The orchestra will most certainly be'
invited back wherever they play.
Hopefully, it will not be too long before
they accept the invitations.

When in Southern California visitUWeVAn L STUOIOS TOUR
n AcYwa

Guess Who's Back?
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