Stages of Struggle, Celebrations
MIKE MCGEE | 11/7/2016, 9:31 a.m.
The Dallas Examiner
Stages of Struggle and Celebration: A Production History of Black Theater in Texas examines African American theater across the state, from plantation shows of the 19th century to the present, while presenting the playwrights, lyricists and arts organizations who have kept African American theater thriving. Written by Dr. Elvin Holt and Dr. Sandra M. Mayo, the work was published in January. A 2014 companion book, Acting Up and Getting Down: Plays by African American Texans, is a collection of plays that explore African American life.
Stages of Struggle and Celebration focuses mainly on Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and Houston. The work has found support with a five-city traveling exhibition currently on display on the fourth floor of the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library downtown.
“I teach theater history and my research area is African American theater so most of my work has been researching and writing about African American theater,” said Mayo, director of graduate studies and associate professor of theater at Texas State University-San Marcos.
The stage artifacts on exhibition include costumes, playbills and photos, taking visitors on a metaphorical journey through the Black theatrical world of the Lone Star State. The Black Academy of Arts and Letters and the Irma P. Hall-founded Dallas Minority Repertory Theatre represent a large part of the exhibit’s Dallas history.
Mayo, a New Yorker who has been in Texas for 25 years, discussed the importance of preserving the cultural heritage of Black stage artists statewide.
“I was in Dallas and Fort Worth and Houston and San Antonio, and I saw the work that was going on. Also, as a working professional, I was at conferences and presenting, and was very interested in a San Antonio playwright, Sterling Houston.” His plays marked him as a Black Texas historian, which captured the attention of the professor.
“My fascination with his work lead me to write about his work and delivering conference papers on his work. I’ve been to South Africa talking about Sterling Houston’s play,” she said. “So that led me to an interest of a greater coverage of what is happening in Texas.”
To Mayo, there remained a need at national theater conferences to get the word out on the work of local Black playwrights.
“Often I would go to talk to about Sterling Houston or talk about what’s happening in Texas and the scholars who were familiar with world theater and Black theater didn’t seem to know a lot of what was happening in Texas,” she said.
She also noticed that books on theater history covered very little of the state’s past. Promoting and preserving such artistic accomplishment through her books and the exhibition has been “a labor of love,” in her words.
“We didn’t concentrate on current practicing theater groups,” she said. “We wanted to go back and tell as comprehensive a story as possible so we went to each of the cities and searched for archives but we also searched archives in historical Texas institutes. For example, there’s an Austin African American museum and history center.”