Co- founder Danny Glover and I had long admired Paul, understanding what he stood for in terms of social consciousness and humanitarian efforts. It was natural then that when Danny and I came to LA and felt a need to fill a void we found that would give audiences here an opportunity to hear Artists of Color particularly Black Playwrights- we chose Robey believing that was a very appropriate name.
The Robey Theatre Company’s creative standards are grounded in the spirit & legacy of its namesake, the Renaissance Man who was able to transcend barriers to achieve artistic success for the betterment of all humanity.
In that spirit, Robey’s Mission is to develop, explore, and produce plays written about the global Black Experience sometimes reinterpreting works that have become classics. We believe that one of the theatre’s responsibilities is to tell stories that reflect our relationships as human beings. In theatre, we are allowed to examine how we behave toward each other. How circumstances and events bring us together and more time than not, keep us apart. Robey is dedicated to offering an environment for telling those stories from a black perspective.
Robey began in 1994 as a readers’ theatre. Mostly the classics and not limited to black work. We quickly became aware there was very little support for Artists of Color who were interested in the creative process. We realized that there was further need not only for classes and workshops but for an actual environment– a community that would be a place to safely nurture those who needed support, time, and an acknowledgment for the belief in the continued development of the Black aesthetic as a priority.
Robey’s collaboration with artists, audiences, and especially our playwrights has cultivated relationships & trust that is the foundation of our collective. It is the force that drives the Company.
The past two years have been particularly satisfying. During that time, Robey has produced five plays.
Bronzeville was commissioned by Robey based on an idea presented to me by playwright Tim Toyama. Tim worked with co-writer Aaron Woolfolk in 2009 and then later that year, Robey selected Joseph A. Walker’s Tony Award winner The River Niger an American classic. Both plays and Robey’s production-cast & designers were recognized this year by seven NAACP Theatre Awards Nominations.
Early this year featured a collaboration with The Towne Street Theatre resulting in the premiere of a commissioned work by playwright Bernardo Solano. The play, Nicolas & Langston, recounted the moving relationship between Langston Hughes and Cuba’s poet laureate, Nicolas Guillen.
This year we produced three plays, all developed over several years through Robey’s Playwrights Program. We started the year with Melvin Ishmael Johnson’s The Emperor’s Last Performance. That play helps audiences understand and recognize the significance of Charles Gilpin often lauded as one of the early great actors of African descent in the US. Gilpin was tapped by Eugene O’Neill to star in the legendary playwright’s play, Emperor Jones on Broadway. That was a first in this country. No Black actor had ever headlined a multi-racial cast on Broadway til then. Melvin took audiences backstage and allowed a glimpse into those two men’s psychological and philosophical struggle over language in that play. Kellie Roberts’ Transitions turned out to be a real crowd pleaser. The play was really three one-acts united by a theme. Family members in each vignette-just two in each scene-asking to connect with the other family member and just not quite being able to. We’re now in production until the end of October with Kimba Henderson’s The Reckoning at the LATC.
It’s important to understand that each of the playwrights has gone through a rigorous process of development in the program with our writing instructor, Aaron Henne & dramaturge Dylan Southard working two, three, & four years bringing the work to where it was ready for production.
The program consists of three 10-week sessions each year. The playwrights meet 10am -1pm and 2pm - 5pm. Those who are interested in further details please visit our web-site www.robeytheatrecompany .
The historical & archival value in developing these plays speaks to Robey’s Mission of exploring & developing work about the Black Experience as seen through our own eyes. Other institutions can’t explore aspects of Black history & the black experience with the same insight & sensibility.
Making these works available to new generations of all ethnic backgrounds is an ongoing mandate of Robey. Robey’s creative staff feels strongly that preserving the events through dramatic depiction that have shaped the history of Black culture is an exciting way to ensure the future of our community’s voice.
The Reckoning production photos by Carlos San Miguel.
Ben Guillory is the Producing Artistic Director at Robey Theatre Company.