Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Navigation

Penumbra

The Premier Stage for African American Drama

2013
Author:

Macelle Mahala

Penumbra

The remarkable history of the nation’s foremost African American theatre company

Penumbra Theatre Company was founded in 1976 by Lou Bellamy as a venue for African American voices within the Twin Cities theatre scene and has stood at the intersection of art, culture, politics, and local community engagement ever since. Based on interviews with actors, directors, playwrights, and critics, this book offers a multifaceted view of the theatre and its evolution.

Macelle Mahala’s Penumbra deconstructs the knee-jerk assumption that African American theaters are limited rather than positively significant. The book’s rich weave places Penumbra Theatre Company at the center of a story that connects to core aspects of this country’s culture and the diverse range of mores, triumphs, and contradictions with which black people live and make theater. Analytically grounded, the book presents a wide scope of views on black theater. It’s an engrossing read.

Robbie McCauley, Emerson College

Penumbra Theatre Company was founded in 1976 by Lou Bellamy as a venue for African American voices within the Twin Cities theatre scene and has stood for more than thirty-five years at the intersection of art, culture, politics, and local community engagement. It has helped launch the careers of many internationally respected theatre artists and has been repeatedly recognized for its artistic excellence as the nation’s foremost African American theatre.

Penumbra is the first-ever history of this barrier-breaking institution. Based on extensive interviews with actors, directors, playwrights, producers, funders, and critics, Macelle Mahala’s book offers a multifaceted view of the theatre and its evolution. Penumbra follows the company’s emergence from the influential Black Arts and settlement house movements; the pivotal role Penumbra played in the development of August Wilson’s career and, in turn, how Wilson became an avid supporter and advocate throughout his life; the annual production of Black Nativity as a community-building performance; and the difficult economics of African American theatre production and how Penumbra has faced these challenges for nearly four decades.

Penumbra is a testament to how a theatre can respond to and thrive within changing political and cultural realities while contributing on a national scale to the African American presence on the American stage. It is a celebration of theatre as a means of social and cultural involvement—both local and national—and ultimately, of Penumbra’s continuing legacy of theatre that is vibrant, diverse, and vital.

Penumbra

Macelle Mahala is assistant professor of theatre arts at the University of the Pacific. Her fellowships include the August Wilson Fellowship in Dramaturgy and Literary Criticism at Penumbra Theatre Company and two Many Voices fellowships from the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis. She has worked with the Illusion Theater, Marin Theatre Company, New World Theater, Pillsbury House Theatre, San Francisco Mime Troupe, The Soap Factory, and Works/Plays.

Lou Bellamy is founder and artistic director of Penumbra Theatre Company. He received an Obie Award in 2007.

Penumbra

Macelle Mahala’s Penumbra deconstructs the knee-jerk assumption that African American theaters are limited rather than positively significant. The book’s rich weave places Penumbra Theatre Company at the center of a story that connects to core aspects of this country’s culture and the diverse range of mores, triumphs, and contradictions with which black people live and make theater. Analytically grounded, the book presents a wide scope of views on black theater. It’s an engrossing read.

Robbie McCauley, Emerson College

Penumbra

Contents

Foreword Lou Bellamy

Introduction
1. Beginnings
2. Building a Repertoire and an Ensemble
3. Black Nativity
4. Mutual Reciprocity: August Wilson and Penumbra
5. Black Feminist Performance
6. Intercultural Collaborations
7. Maintaining a Legacy

Production History of the Penumbra Theatre Company

Acknowledgments
Notes