New Brooklyn Theater Revives Rarely Seen Black Plays Through Reading Series

Theatergoers will play a unique role in a new reading series. 

Posted: 07/07/2014 10:41 AM EDT

(Photo: New Brooklyn Theater via Instagram)

A young, renowned theater company has devised an innovative way to decide which of four historic, yet rarely produced plays by African-American playwrights will get staged in the fall. Each of the plays is being read at a bed-and-breakfast in Brooklyn and audience members will decide which play heads to production, The New York Times reports.

“Stick around, speak up,” said Jeff Strabone, New Brooklyn Theater’s board chairman, in opening remarks at the first reading last month. “We’d like to see a more democratic American theater.”

Each of the plays focuses on different, grim periods in American history, chronologically exploring issues of racism and the African-American experience.

A reading of William Wells Brown’s 1858 comic, anti-slavery melodrama The Escape; or a Leap for Freedom was held in June at the Akwaaba Mansion Bed and Breakfast in Bedford Stuyvesant followed by a town hall-style discussion among the audience, cast and theater staff.

“Sex, crime, humor; this play is Django Unchained without the millions of dollars,” said Arthur Lee, an emeritus professor of surgery at Morehouse College in Atlanta, who grew up in Brooklyn and saw The Escape reading on a trip home.

“Outside of the slavery, it felt like it could be written today,” said attendee Isissa Komada-John, 26, exhibitions director at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts.

Also included on the July, August and September lineup are William Edgar Easton’s 1893 slave rebellion play Dessaline, Zora Neale Hurston’s 1930 Harlem Renaissance drama Cold Keener: A Revue and Angelina Weld Grimké’s 1920 anti-lynching play Rachel. One play will be read each month.

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