The Black Rep: Expressions of the black experience for all audiences

Sabrina Spence | Contributing Writer

Representation matters. In this day and age, that phrase cannot be said enough, but what exactly are we doing about it? Are we just parroting this phrase back and forth in conversation or are we actually doing something to increase representation? Are we actually making an effort to bring different cultures into the limelight and incorporate them into our day-to-day lives? What if we had the opportunity to do this in our own backyard here at Washington University?

The Black Repertory Co (The Black Rep) is a professional African-American theater company founded in 1976 by “undergraduate students here at Wash. U. because the black students were trying to create more opportunities for themselves at the time,” says founder and current Wash. U. faculty member Ron Himes. “That student group evolved into The Black Rep [and] is now the ‘professional resident company at Wash. U.’”

This upcoming season will be The Black Rep’s 42nd and promises not to disappoint with its selection this year:

“Crowns”—(Edison Theatre) Sept. 5-23

The first show of the season is already open and is sure to dazzle audiences. “Crowns” takes a look at the use of hats in the black community as a means to tell the history of black people and as a way to further explore black identity.

“Canfield Drive”—(Edison Theatre) Jan. 9-27

When asked what show he was most excited for, Himes responded with “‘Canfield Drive.’” “[It’s] a world premiere that we’re doing in January. It’s a play that we commissioned and it’s a play that deals with the Mike Brown shooting and the uprising in [Ferguson, Mo].”

“Marie and Rosetta”—(A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre) Feb. 13-March 3

This production follows Rosetta Tharpe, a pioneer in mid-20th century music known for her gospel tunes, and Marie Knight as they go through their first rehearsal before going on the tour that would cement their names in musical infamy.

“Nina Simone: Four Women”—(Edison Theatre) May 15-June 2

Whether or not you are a fan, there is no denying that Nina Simone’s music carries powerful messages, both personal and political. Join The Black Rep as they unpack Simone’s lyrics to reveal four women torn apart from one another, all because of the color of their skin.

Dwayne McCowan, junior and Black Rep ambassador, is delighted at the opportunity The Black Rep has provided him. “The Student Ambassador program is very new to The Black Rep. We just started this semester, and basically what it is is we’re reaching out to different college students to promote The Black Rep at their specific universities.”

When asked what The Black Rep meant to him, McCowan said, “To me, The Black Rep is a place where we can have African-American theater shown that isn’t necessarily given to us from other theater companies. Most theater companies are white-washed and to have an ethnic-specific theater company that focuses on making theater for black people and by black people is really important to me.”

But The Black Rep isn’t just for black students or black people in general. It’s for everyone. When asked if all Wash. U. students should come to see The Black Rep’s shows, Prof. Himes responded with, “I think that in a community where people are so interested in inclusion, equity and diversity, the answer couldn’t be anything but ‘yes’.”

So there you have it, Wash. U. You can’t say you’re devoted to making more diverse and open spaces unless you actually experience one for yourself. Come and see a Black Rep show at Edison Theatre or the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre sometime within the 2018-2019 school year, or better yet, see all of them. Student tickets are $15, and if you think that’s too much, remember how much your Starbucks coffee cost and ask yourself if that venti mocha Frappuccino made you question how you saw the world and theater in general. Last time I checked, coffee won’t spark conversations about equity, inclusion or diversity, but The Black Rep will.

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