*Los Angeles is widely regarded as a film town. But did you know that there are a significant number of Black Theatre companies, doing outstanding productions, right here in southern California – as evidenced by the recent NAACP Theatre nominations and awards ceremony?
But only one has been recognized as “an oasis where creative voices and audiences connect.”
Towne Street Theatre, now in their 23rd season, was given that distinction years ago. Co-founded in 1993 by two women who had first met while portraying witches in a 1987 production of Macbeth, Nancy Cheryll Davis-Bellamy and Nancy Renée were on a mission with their new theatre to create positive social impact as a result of the violent outbreak that ensued after the Rodney King verdict in 1992.
But this was no easy task and they fell into the same trap many people who want to make a difference in the world fall into.
They led with their heart.
The women had initially worked to create a theatre for ALL people of color, but as reality often dictates, audiences can be fickle and it was difficult to attract Latino audiences to the African American plays and vice versa. With this, they decided to focus on producing and developing original works reflective of the African American experience along with black classics by generally unsung or underappreciated black authors.
After a long residence in a desolate section of downtown Los Angeles, supported by grants from the City of L.A., the theatre started doing a series of readings by ethnic artists in a loft owned by Nathaniel Bellamy. Later, they moved to the William Grant Still Arts Center, and now, they call Hollywood’s Stella Adler Theatre home.
Today, Towne Street Theatre is host to a variety of projects. They have a Play Reading Series, a Literary Reading series, and a 10-Minute Play Festival.
Scroll down to see photos and a video from some of their various productions.
In October 2015, the theatre produced ‘In Response’ – a Multi-Author response to Systematic Racism in America. The play was brought to life via a series of scenes, poetry, video, song, and movement that ventures from as far back as the 1800’s right up to now.
“As an African American company, we felt we had to do something,” Davis-Bellamy told EURweb about their decision to produce the play; which will return by public demand to the Stella Adler Theatre in April.
“In Response” has been described as an “entertaining, educational & informative“ multi-media event.
The play brings attention to several pink elephants in the room; touching on topics that include interracial relationships, slavery, lynchings, the effects of race on public perceptions, job placement, freedom, and life experiences; while also inserting glimpses of hope and optimism for the future of race relations in America.
“In Response” will feature “Saturday Nighters,” a play about an anti-lynching group of writers in the 1930’s, that included Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Oswald Villard and Georgia Douglas Johnson; and a piece about Emmett Till’s murder and its effect on a small southern town.
Other scenes in the production covers the 1960’s Black Revolution; the impact of drugs and violence in Black Communities across the country in the 1970’s and 80’s; and “Two Sandras” – a short piece that reveals striking similarities between two women of different races, who start the same journey, with tragically different outcomes.
“In Response” also explores the hope and impact of President Barack Obama’s election and his subsequent leaving of office.
The Towne Street Theatre Acting Company is featured in “In Response.” The play is produced by Nancy Cheryll Davis, Nancy Renee, Nathaniel Bellamy, Veronica Thompson, Mark V. Jones, Ken Cosby and Jackie Marriott. Playwrights with works in “In Response” include: Deonte Bolden, Shonte Buford, Samantha Clay, Ken Cosby, Vincent Durham, Tiffany Heard, Mark V. Jones, Madeline Puccioni, Barbara White- Morgan, and William Warren.
It’s obvious that Towne Street Theatre wants to know your opinion of the production, So, during the run of “In Response,” audiences can share feedback on how the topics in the play affect(s) them during the “talk back” segment of the show; which takes place each week after the 8:00 p.m. Saturday shows and the 4:00 p.m. Sunday shows.
The public is invited to share a poem, a spoken word piece, a letter, or a memory and can submit their ideas to [email protected]
“In Response” runs Fridays through Sundays from April 8th – April 24th at the Stella Adler Theatre in Hollywood.
This run coincides with the 48th Anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 4th), and the 24th Anniversary of the Los Angeles Riots. (April 29th).
In honor of April being National Poetry Month, Towne Street has invited a number of Spoken Word Artists to share their poetry and feelings about racism in America.
A special Art Exhibit, curated by local Artist Connie Martin, will be presented in the Stella Adler/LA Art Gallery.
Below watch a scene from “The Interview” by Madeline Puccioni. The play won 2nd Place in the 2014 10-Minute Play Festival.
Learn more about all that is happening with this unique theatre by visiting their website, Towne Street Theatre, here.