All posts by Brainuser1

Los Angeles, CA -- October, 2 2008

Under the leadership of Founder/ Producer Wren T. Brown (pictured), the Ebony Repertory Theatre is the Resident Company and Operator of the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center. He is photographed near the entrance of the theatre next to sculptures by Gary Jones, a local artist. ( Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times )

Why Aren’t Our Black Celebrities Supporting Black Theatre … Financially?

Wren T. Brown, Actor and Founder of the Ebony Repertory Theatre in Los Angeles

Wren T. Brown, Actor and Founder of the Ebony Repertory Theatre in Los Angeles

*I know, the headline is a general one, but unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any less true.

Overall, it seems black celebrities…even the ones working regularly now on TV and in film, don’t support black theatre. At least not in the way that they should.

Oh, I’m not talking about just showing up to a production at the theatre (probably comped) because you feel your presence alone is enough to bring it attention. I’m talking about the nuts ‘n bolts stuff. The kind you have to take your checkbook out for. Or dig deep in your pockets to find.

That kind of support.

I am so proud of writer/executive producer Shonda Rhimes on so many levels. Her works on the small screen (Greys Anatomy, Private Practice, How to Get Away With Murder, Scandal) has not only employed, but opened the door for so many black actors and actresses and directors to finally show that skills are not limited to the Caucasian race. And that they have just as much of a right to demonstrate those talents on major networks as anyone else.

This is also true for Tyler Perry; especially since he has teamed up with Oprah Winfrey‘s OWN network.

Many of these actors started in theatre, and many of them return; if only in their “spare time” when not employed in film.

So now I think, great! Black folks are working in their craft! So is it too much to ask that these talents now pay-it-forward and invest in projects coming out of Black Theatre?

It’s not like they can’t afford to.

Roger Robinson currently stars as Oedipus in "The Gospel at Colonus" at Ebony Repertory Theatre

Roger Robinson currently stars as Oedipus in “The Gospel at Colonus” at Ebony Repertory Theatre

And no, not just any black theatre, but professional, quality, black theatre.

A theatre like the Ebony Repertory Theatre; which is Los Angeles’ first and only professional Black Theatre.

That’s gotta stand for something.

For those reading this who are not theater-oriented, what I mean by “professional” theater is that only actors, actresses and stage managers working under the laws of Actor’s Equity Association, the labor union representing American actors and stage managers in the theatre, can work in professional theater.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with two very distinguished and accomplished gentlemen on the topic of Black Theatre.

Mr. Wren T. Brown, an accomplished actor that has been a staple in the industry for decades. You’ve seen him in popular films (Waiting to Exhale), on television (Grey’s Anatomy, The Practice, Moesha) and in theater for decades; and Mr. Roger Robinson, a Tony-award winning stage and screen actor who is currently starring in ‘The Gospel at Colonus’ presented by the Ebony Repertory Theatre, founded by Mr. Brown in 2008.

The two gentlemen are not only colleagues in the business of show, they are also friends.

This writers’ own beginnings in the entertainment industry was through Black Theatre; which makes the topic one that I am passionate about. I saw the hard work and dedication of a woman named Nora B. Vaughn, who founded the Black Repertory Group in Northern, California along with her husband, Birel Vaughn, in 1964.  I walked into her theatre in 1977, three months after giving birth to my daughter, and since that day I saw the diligence, first hand, as I worked in many of the productions before leaving to become Equity-eligible by working in professional theater. The friendships I developed during that time have still endured.

That’s the special ‘village’ the black theatre nurtures. And to know that a busy actor like Wren T. Brown, now dedicates his passion to nurturing an arts establishment in his community, for his people, is at the very least commendable and praiseworthy.

In our interview I asked him where he finds the time to run the Ebony Repertory Theatre.

“Well, you make the time. Honestly, the investment in building this theatre became the real priority. And I could not have endeavored to build this company and keep an absolute 100% full time schedule with my acting career; so it was not about turning away from it, it was pivoting to build something else all along, and now I am moving back into the activity of my career,” Brown states.

Proud and passionate about the fact that the neighborhood he now runs a theatre in, is just steps away from the home he grew up in, Brown could see it no other way than to build and develop a business right in his community.

“This is the community that raised me and nurtured me and shaped me. I was born 150 yards from the front door of the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, so to return in a role of cultural leadership and bring professional theatre to this community; you know, we do professional theatre for the community, not community theatre,” Brown clarifies.

“And we absolutely believe that this community, Washington Blvd., is one of the main arteries. And the surrounding community in the whole of Los Angeles, deserves a professional theatre that speaks to the issues that we’re addressing and the work that we’re addressing. For the community that addresses the ethnic minority, we want people to be able to walk through these doors and to be able to see themselves as whole. As defined by us.”

 Roger Robinson introduced Brown to the late Israel Hicks, after he learned that the actor had been given the opportunity to take the building that was not really generating any revenue as Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, to a new level as Ebony Repertory Theatre in 2008 (they had actually started the process in 2007).

Israel Hicks

Israel Hicks

Mr. Hicks was the co-founder and Artistic Director until his passing in 2010 at the age of 66 from prostate cancer. Hicks was one busy man. At the same time he served as Chair and Artistic Director for the Theater Arts Department at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.

At his passing, Brown told the Los Angeles Sentinel, “The American theatre has been made better because Israel Hicks lived. Words cannot express my depth of love for this extraordinarily brilliant man.”

When I spoke to Robinson, who is bi-coastal to both Los Angeles and New York, as he was preparing to star in his current work, “The Gospel at Colonus,” we got so carried away talking about Black Theatre in general, he didn’t say much about his work in the play.

You can just feel the admiration and respect he has for his friend, Wren T. Brown.

“People don’t know this about Wren. But he has been an aficionado and a working actor for many years. He has a wealth of experience,” he says.

“My only regret is that more celebrities don’t come on-board and support this theatre. They just don’t…If they can just give money because it’s a tax write-off, this is a nonprofit organization, and that hasn’t been forthcoming.”

And sidebar: You wouldn’t believe the hoards of black celebrities who have performed at this theatre, and the shows that originated at ERT that went on to larger theaters and even Broadway.

Robinson does acknowledge a group of women who under the guise of being “Friends of the Theatre” have a goal to support the theatre in their fundraising efforts.

“This theatre is going to need a million, a million-and-a-half per year to function properly,” Robinson elaborates. “I’ve seen how theaters operate and what their budgets are (because I perform in them all over the country). Most of them are in the million-and-a-half and up [category]. The Music Center is $50M a year. The Geffen is $15M. So we’re talking about small potatoes when you come to this.”

“If we had 400 people who gave $2500 per year, and most celebrities can afford that, we would have a million dollars a year; just from our own community, and that’s no money. I know I am putting my support out there.”

I asked Wren about the audiences; if the people in the community (not necessarily known for their interest in theater, historically) support the theater by coming out to see the productions.

“It’s really all about awareness…It’s also about what one is accustomed to, DeBorah,” he says. “And unfortunately, we have never had, in the black community in Los Angeles, from the time of the 30s when the Club Alabam …was one of the greatest arteries in the world; we’ve never had a place where we could consistently go to see the theatre, and be in the theatre, and see plays that were designed, directed and produced by us.”

Photo: Club Alabam at 42nd Street and Central Avenue, 1945.

Photo: Club Alabam at 42nd Street and Central Avenue, 1945.

“It has been a beautiful privilege to be here on Washington Blvd., to cultivate an audience from scratch. We don’t have an anticipation that we’re going to be sold out every single show when we began our existence here. But you continue to build and in the 7-1/2 years that we have been here we have built a very solid audience base. We desire for that base to grow and to add new voices all the time…When you learn that something is there, and that it is there for you.”

–Wren T. Brown

“I am deeply, deeply invested in this community, which is my community. I’m deeply invested in it. It’s not at all superficial,” Brown concludes.

So I ask again, WHY are our black celebrities, and other African American leaders of financial means, not supporting this worthy theatre.

It’s just like Roger Robinson said.

“If we had 400 people who gave $2500 per year…we would have a million dollars a year; just from our own community, and that’s no money. I know I am putting my support out there,” Robinson reveals.

EURweb/ThisNthat Editor, DeBorah B. Pryor with Ebony Repertory Theatre Founder, Wren T. Brown at the post production party celebrating the 2014 production of the play, Paul Robeson

EURweb/ThisNthat Editor, DeBorah B. Pryor with Ebony Repertory Theatre Founder, Wren T. Brown at the post production party celebrating the 2014 production of the play, Paul Robeson.

woman distracted at work

Easily Distracted? 5 Ways to Focus Better at the Office

woman distracted at work*Hey, we’d all like to think we are superhuman. That we have the best multitasking skills, and when we put our mind to something, there is nothing that will get in our way!

At least that’s what we told the person who interviewed us for the job, right?

But the truth of the matter is many of us, most of us, can get distracted from the task at hand. No matter how focused we are. And you’d be surprised at how much time those seemingly “little, itty, bitty, interruptions” actually take once you add them all up.

Well, help has come in the form of showing us exactly what we can do to change that. You’ve heard the saying, “There’s an app for that.”

Well, you won’t need one.

Read more at EURThisNthat.

isis cake

Walmart Denies Customer Confederate Flag Cake, OK’s ISIS Cake in Error (Video)

ISIS Cake by Walmart*Well, it looks like the Confederate flag is about to be removed from the South Carolina state capitol; and companies such as Walmart, Amazon, Etsy and eBay announced that they are no longer selling Confederate flag merchandise in a move motivated by the killing of nine people in Charleston, South Carolina, after a racist gunman was seen in photos with the flag.

So why did Chuck Netzhammer from Louisiana still need an explanation as to why Walmart refused his request  for a Confederate flag cake at one of its bakeries?

Maybe its because they turned right around and approved one for a design with the ISIS flag on it.

Read more at EURThisNthat.

Photo credit: Craig Schwartz

Review: L.A.’s First Professional African American Theatre Presents ‘The Gospel at Colonus’

Photo credit: Craig Schwartz

Courtesy of Ebony Repertory Theatre. Photo credit: Craig Schwartz

*Let the church say Amen. The “Gospel at Colonus” is in town.

Based on the Robert Fitzgerald translation of Sophocles‘ Greek tragedy, “Oedipus at Colonus,” where an exiled King seeks a proper burial place following a complicated past where he killed his father; married (and had four babies with) his mother; then gauged out his own eyes after learning the truth about his ancestry — this production represents a major undertaking for the Ebony Repertory Theatre, where it is being presented through July 19 and welcomes the 30th anniversary of the plays first Los Angeles production.

ERT is the revenue-producing arm of the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, a stunningly beautiful facility named after the former councilman and located in the mid-city section of Los Angeles. The theatre was founded in 2008 by producer and actor, Wren T. Brown along with Founding Artistic Director, the late Israel Hicks (1943-2010).

Roger Robinson stars as "Preacher Oedipus" in the Ebony Repertory production of "The Gospel at Colonus"

Roger Robinson stars as “Preacher Oedipus” in the Ebony Repertory production of “The Gospel at Colonus.” Photo credit: Craig Schwartz.

ERT is the first professional African American theatre company in the history of Los Angeles. It is a modern 400-seat facility and although theatre is the cornerstone, multiple disciplines convene at the facility that include a dance, music and lecture series.

This production is a truncated version of “The Gospel at Colonus” and it is set against the backdrop of a Pentecostal church service. The play is a Pulitzer Prize Finalist and Tony Award-nominated production that was the brainchild of Lee Breuer (“Mabou Mines’ Trilogy”), a playwright and director in experimental theater, who conceived and adapted the dramatic musical.

William Allen Young (L) and Roger Robinson (R) in  a scene from "The Gospel at Colonus." Photo credit: Craig Schwartz.

William Allen Young (L) and Roger Robinson (R) in a scene from “The Gospel at Colonus.” Photo credit: Craig Schwartz.

With a cast of twenty-one characters including a full-on choir, the play takes on the challenging task of bringing an audience not generally familiar with the classics, up to speed by using a “Preacher Oedipus” as narrator to reveal what happened in the past and what is unfolding onstage presently as “Singer Oedipus” – who represents the preacher after his sight is gone appears.

Confused yet? Hold on.

For years, Oedipus has been living a wandering life of suffrage and repentance due to the sins he committed in innocence. The former King of Thebes, he is now headed to Colonus, with his daughter, “Antigone,” who has been his loyal companion.

Kim Staunton (L) as Antigone with Ellis Hall (seated) as "Singer Oedipus" in "The Gospel at Colonus." Photo credit: Craig Schwartz.

Kim Staunton (L) as Antigone with Ellis Hall (seated) as “Singer Oedipus” in “The Gospel at Colonus.” Photo credit: Craig Schwartz.

Now he reaches Colonus, the holy resting place that was promised to him. And once there, another daughter name “Ismene” finds him and  pretty much lets him know that he can be in peace now, because he will be blessed, along with those that he, as preacher, blesses.

If you assert at this point that the daughters of Oedipus, are also his sisters, based on the earlier mention that he married his mother, you are correct.

This could not have been an easy production to mount. What with the intricacies involved in it being an adaptation of an iconic original, and now, it being introduced to an audience that is likely to be foreign to the world of ‘classic theatre’ with ‘classic’ meaning more European in language (read Shakespeare’s English). Add to that a character trying to inform them about the history of this iconic play/character, and to that, the directing of a full-fledged choir.

Whew!

But director Andi Chapman handles it all beautifully.

Andi Chapman directs "The Gospel at Colonus" in the Ebony Repertory Theatre production.

Andi Chapman directs “The Gospel at Colonus” in the Ebony Repertory Theatre production.

And if ever there was any doubt that black actors can’t handle the language used in generally European productions from the Shakespearean or Roman era, I’d be willing to present a wager…of which I am sure to win.

I’d even venture to say it sounded more natural and seamless than many of the Shakespearean productions I’ve seen where the white actors appear to take on a more fake-sounding speech pattern.

Chapman, an accomplished director who was born in New York City, is also an actor and educator. She received a Best Director Award for her work on the Actor’s Co-op production of “Steel Magnolias,” and has directed other works in the theatre that include “The Ninth Wave” and “Dutchman and A Summer Memory. “The Gospel at Colonus” marks her directing debut for Ebony Repertory Theatre; where she also serves as Associate Artistic Director.

There are many elements to consider in directing a play of this stature.

A huge cast that not only includes actors of various contributory stages (i.e. not everyone has lines, but each character seems to fill an intricate piece of the fabric as a whole); and a full choir (on stage throughout the entire production, and though not singing the entire time is still ‘acting’ on some level). All on a relatively small stage designed simple, yet elegant; with characters that enter and exit continuously.

This could have easily turned into a “gospel concert” highlighted by a lot of hollerin’ and shoutin’ and “gettin’ happy” throughout; but that may have been an easy route. Instead, Chapman took the time to be strategic; and interjected biblical scriptures that appropriately spoke to and reiterated the past or present of the Oedipus character’s life.

Now this play has a history of losing people. And although there was a time or two where “Huh? What just happened here” moments occurred; and we couldn’t connect the dots, so to speak, they didn’t last too long, and we got back on track .

Star Roger Robinson addressed this particular point during an interview with EURweb editor, DeBorah B. Pryor.

When I read the Gospel at Colonus it was confusing. You couldn’t follow the story of Oedipus at Colonus. So she (Andi Chapman) has cut and streamlined and really made sure that that story has come to the fore. Because the complaint, I have friends who was in the original production, who said to me, ‘Roger, the audience has come away kind of befuddled about the story, but loving the music. That was the only thing they could take away was the music. But this one they will take away the story also.

Funny, this ‘befuddled’ comment was made to this writer afterwards as she spoke with noted Hollywood actor Bernie Casey and legendary director, Stan Lathan.

And there was still some confusion, but as I mentioned earlier, we got back on track quickly.

An outstanding performance by Roger Robinson (Two Trains Running, Fraternity) who, as “Preacher Oedipus” handles the role beautifully. His approach to the character has an eloquence that makes you think only an actor of his age and tenure could pull it off so seamlessly. Robinson is a celebrated Broadway actor who has performed at most of the regional theaters in the USA.

During our interview, he speaks more at length on the challenges of getting funding for Black Theatre; which is addressed in an accompanying article.

RELATED: Why Aren’t Our Black Celebrities Supporting Black Theatre … Financially?

In ‘Gospel’ serving as the narrator (of his own story) from the pulpit, even as “Singer Oedipus,” appears onstage as Oedipus after he blinded himself (done with undeniable talent, grace and style by the talented former lead singer of Tower of Power,  Ellis Hall, who really is blind).

Robinson draws us in with the emotional range of his speaking voice.

Kudos also go out to brilliant actress Kim Staunton, who plays “Antigone,” the daughter of Oedipus, marvelously. Her Antigone is solid and strong, yet graceful and Staunton handles the language exquisitely. Even in her quiet moments, without lines, you are drawn to her.

Staunton has been a member of the Denver Center Theatre Company for the past 13 seasons, and has performed on and off Broadway and in TV.

Other notable performances by William Allen Young (Moesha, A Soldiers Story) as “Pastor Thesus.” Young, a respected performer who has starred in over 100 television, stage and film projects, may be best known for his role as the father on the long-running TV show, “Moesha.” In ‘Gospel’ he is a loyal adviser/confidante to Preacher Oedipus; Gilbert Glenn Brown as Oedipus’ wayward son, Jackie Gouche as Singer Ismene and Nicoe “Nikki” Potts who killed it with her vocal solo.

Also, major props to the fabulous choir, with music beautifully composed by Bob Telson; the beautiful costume designs by Naila Aladdin Sanders; along with the eloquent and beautiful scenic design and lighting by Edward E. Hayes, Jr. and Karyn D. Lawrence, respectively.

__________________________________________

“The Gospel at Colonus” plays through July 19, 2015 at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 West Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. Performances run Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. Regular price tickets range from $45.00 – $65.00. Single tickets are available online at ebonyrep.org or by phone at 323-964-9766. Groups of ten or more are available via email at “[email protected] or 323-964-9766.

 

Handsome Gorilla

Are We Bananas or is This Dude One Handsome Gorilla?

Handsome Gorilla

They call me “Shabani.” What’s your name, sugar?

*Hey, we gotta give credit where its due. And who says human males are the only species and sex that can be called fine.

Well they lied.

Take Shabani the gorilla. Japanese women are said to be getting to the zoo to see him by any means necessary.

And its not like he doesn’t realize he’s got their attention. Just look at the photos. After a while he just starts posing for them.

Talk about being ready for your close-up.

The recently discovered “sex symbol?” (their words, not mine) has actually been living at the Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Japan since 2007. But I guess it was only recently that he began to grow into his looks.

Apparently, he’s feelin’ himself too, at least from the looks of the photos and video below.

Read more at EURThisNthat.

facebook (1)

Of 10,000 Facebook Employees Only 1% Black – None Are Execs

facebook (1)

*As of March 31, 2015, Facebook had 10,082 people under their employment. These stats come from their own official newsroom webpage. What they didn’t put on there is…

Only 1% of these employees are black. And none are in executive positions.

This info comes via an article on the Financial Juneteenth site, which states that this news was revealed only weeks after Google released demographic data on employment at their company; which showed that only 2 percent of their workforce was black.

Now the Mark Zuckerberg tech mega-monster has come under scrutiny for its own lack of minority hiring. Again.

Word is, these extremely low numbers had always been suspected, but only recently confirmed.

Read more at EURThisNthat.