This article examines how the increase in the numbers of black-operated theaters between the 1960s and 1980s molded the character of black cultural and social movements in the West and nationally. The emphasis placed on institutionalizing black theater demonstrated a significant cultural front within the larger social, political, and economic conflicts of this era. These theatrical institutions were physical manifestations of the heart of Black Power campaigns, facilitating community outreach and sovereignty through separatism. Black theaters reflected local distinctions in leadership and ideology but within a broader, national call for black liberation and black autonomy. Professional theater impresarios Nora and Birel Vaughn began laying the foundations for their theater, the Black Repertory Group, in Oakland, California, in 1964. A repertory theater company performing in a fixed location, Black Rep would cycle through a repertoire of black-culture-specific plays, providing black performers and playwrights both recognition and income. Operating in a black-owned space gave Black Rep control over its productions and performance. Giving neighbors and community leaders the opportunity to participate behind the scenes or even perform in Black Rep theatrical productions endeared the troupe to its supporters, enmeshing Black Rep as a valued communal institution. Black Rep opened its space as an autonomous black community center, running voter registration drives, social and political gatherings, and classes in black culture and history that spread the values of the Black Arts and Black Power movements. In the right place at the right time, Black Rep led a black repertory theater movement that spanned the nation. More importantly, Black Rep survives to this day. It stands as a testament to the strength and vision of the women leaders of black theater, and to the values of coalition building, economic self-sufficiency, and community-based activism that guided its founders.
Keepers of the Culture at 3201 Adeline Street: Locating Black Power Theater in Berkeley, California
Kerry Goldmann is a lecturer and the associate director of graduate studies in the Department of History, University of North Texas. She received her PhD in the history of ideas from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2020 and has taught classes on African American history and culture, Jewish American history, and LGBTQ performance. Her article “The Complexity of Teaching Play Analysis” was published in Texas Theatre Journal. Her chapter on Hamilton: An American Musical and decolonizing historical memory will appear in a forthcoming edited volume from Vernon Press. She received the 2019 University of Texas at Dallas Office of Graduate Education Dissertation Research Award, which facilitated archival research in California for her dissertation.
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Kerry L. Goldmann; Keepers of the Culture at 3201 Adeline Street: Locating Black Power Theater in Berkeley, California. California History 1 February 2021; 98 (1): 98–120. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ch.2021.98.1.98
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