Season 46 of The Black Rep Will Move Audiences with Themes of Resilience and Illumination

Friday September 16, 2022
The African Company Presents Richard III at The Black Rep | Photo by Phillip Hamer

By Rachel Huffman

As an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis, Ron Himes, founder and producing director of The St. Louis Black Repertory Company, collaborated with his friends in the theater department to start a student-run theater company on campus. “My friends weren’t getting opportunities to perform,” Himes says. “The department wasn’t producing work by Black writers, and it didn’t know what to do with those Black students. So, we started a student group, and that student group evolved into The Black Rep.”

Founded in 1976, The Black Rep is committed to producing, reimagining and commissioning work written by Black playwrights, creating opportunities for new voices.

“We aim to heighten the social, cultural and educational awareness of our community,” Himes says. “Everything we do is grounded in that goal. With every season, with every lineup, we look for work that speaks to contemporary issues; we look for new ways to learn about history and celebrate our rich culture. That’s the driving force, which allows The Black Rep to lift up new voices and give young actors a stage to showcase their talents.”

The African Company Presents Richard III at The Black Rep in St. Louis
The African Company Presents Richard III at The Black Rep | Photo by Phillip Hamer

Season 46 of The Black Rep opened with The African Company Presents Richard III by Carlyle Brown. The setting is New York in 1821, and two productions of William Shakespeare’s Richard III are vying for audiences. One is presented by The African Company, a downtown theater known for its growing popularity with both Black and white audiences, but a white theater owner is threatened by the success of his competition and will stop at nothing to shut them down. As you might expect, the play involves villains, intrigue and confrontation – and that’s just backstage.

“As the title suggests, you get two stories for the price of one,” Himes says. “You get the history of The African Company, which was founded more than 200 years ago in New York, and you get snippets of Richard III. Most people think that Black theater started with blackface minstrelsy, when in fact, The African Company was performing Shakespeare 25 years before minstrelsy was developed. It’s important to share that history with our audience. I also teach A History of African-American Theater at Washington University, and I usually start the semester by talking about The African Company.”

The African Company Presents Richard III runs through Sept. 25. To learn how this true story straight from American theater history ends, you’ll have to get tickets to the show.

Next in the lineup, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller runs from Jan. 11 to 29. The classic tale follows traveling salesman Willy Loman and his family, exploring the disillusionment of the American Dream. Facing the end of his career, Willy doesn’t have much to show for his efforts, and he begins to lose touch with reality. At the same time, his wife, Linda, and sons, Biff and Happy, are struggling to survive in the same crumbling world, each desperately trying to reach a version of happiness that proves elusive.

From Feb. 1 to 26, The Black Rep will do a new show called The Light by Loy A. Webb. On their two-year dating anniversary, modern-day couple Rashad and Genesis have plenty to celebrate: a marriage proposal and the promise of a new life together. Part of Genesis’ present is tickets to a concert featuring the same female artist that they saw on their first date; however, the male headliner uncovers memories that Genesis had buried long ago. As she is forced to deal with her trauma, the couple begins an emotional journey of love, laughter and heartache, working to reconcile their past and reaffirm their personal values to live in the truth.

“I have a friend who directed a production of The Light in Atlanta,” Himes says. “He called me and said, ‘You have to check out this play’ – which is how it came to be in the lineup this year.”

The African Company Presents Richard III at The Black Rep in St. Louis
The African Company Presents Richard III at The Black Rep | Photo by Phillip Hamer

In March, The Black Rep will move to the Catherine B. Berges Theatre at COCA, where it will perform Skeleton Crew by Dominique Morisseau. “Set in Detroit, the show focuses on an automotive plant that’s on the brink of closure and the impact that the uncertainty has on the workers,” Himes explains. “Tensions rise when one of the guys who worked on the line for a long time gets promoted to a supervisor position. His co-workers, his friends, expect him to tell them what’s happening, and he gets caught between his loyalty to them and his new responsibilities as management.”

The season will end on a high musical note with Eubie! by Eubie Blake, Julianne Boyd, Andy Razaf and Noble Sissle. A musical revue from the 1970s, Eubie! showcases the groundbreaking American musician and composer, who broke down barriers with his 1921 musical Shuffle Along, the first Broadway musical written, directed by and starring Black Americans, which helped shape American musical theater as we know it today.

Himes has a running list of productions, adding them to lineups as he sees fit given the current climate – cultural, economic, political and social. “Once all of the plays are in place, the theme of the season reveals itself,” he says. “This year’s theme addresses how we respond to barriers – seen and unseen. In each play, the characters face challenges – they struggle – and as an audience, we get to see how they work to overcome those challenges. This leads to other themes of illumination and resilience, as well.”

Whether it’s your first or 50th visit, The Black Rep makes all guests feel welcome. “We want them to feel like they’re part of the family,” Himes says. “And while they’re here, we want to make sure they enjoy themselves. The Black Rep offers some of the best theater in the country, and a lot of our productions can’t be seen anywhere else. I can almost guarantee that when you come to the theater, you will be moved by the experience.”

Single tickets for The African Company Presents Richard III as well as season tickets are on sale now. Get yours here.

On Nov. 12, The Black Rep will also host its 46th anniversary gala at the 560 Music Center at Washington University in St. Louis. The event is open to the public, and it will celebrate the arts, with live performances by the Morehouse College Glee Club, which is one of the major HBCU choral groups in the U.S. Like every production from The Black Rep, the evening promises to be entertaining.

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